Hi there – my name’s David Morgan and I’m a theatre producer based in Liverpool. The reason why I’ve been asked to talk today is because about a year ago I started writing a blog called Stramash Arts. The opinions that I posted on that blog partly helped to kick-start this whole debate, alongside major contributions from Joyce McMillan, David Greig, Roanne Dods and Anne Bonnar. I should also acknowledge the long-standing contribution that Variant has made across the last 5 years or more.
I’m going to try not to talk too much about what’s been going on over the last year or so – anyone who wants to know my views on that can visit the blog at stramasharts.wordpress.com. Instead I’d like to talk a bit about where we might go from here and what I’d like Creative Scotland to be. I’ve put some images together to help illustrate what I’ve got to say.
Here’s the first one – can anyone tell me what it is?
Well it’s a set of cliffs that lies about 800 miles North-West of here in Thingvellir National Park in Iceland. It’s the original meeting place of the Icelandic Allthing – the longest running parliamentary democracy in the world. It’s where all of the Freemen of Iceland came together to settle property disputes and dispense justice. Over time the Allthing grew to become the largest social event in the calendar with a whole fair surrounding it. It was kind of like the parliament, the supreme court and the Edinburgh Festival all rolled into one. It’s worth noting that the Icelandic Government have awarded the site protected status, meaning it’ll remain the property of the Icelandic people in perpetuity. It can never be sold and can never be developed.
So that would be my starting point for what Creative Scotland might become. At the Tramway World Café event back in October I summed it up by saying that Creative Scotland needs to become the forum for debate and stop being the subject of the debate.
We need to create a culture, not just in the arts but in the whole of our public life, where people are willing to speak openly about the issues. That’s not going to happen unless we have public institutions that are open to having those debates. The big failing of Creative Scotland Mark One was that so many people felt alienated because they felt that there was no room for discussion, no room for debate, no room for dissent.
Well – so what? Why is this important? Why should anyone care?
Hands up everyone who saw You’ve been Trumped when it came out last year. It’s a great documentary and if you haven’t seen it yet then you really ought to. But for those who haven’t here’s a little clip that the producers have kindly agreed to let me show.
So just to put what’s happening in context here – this is the moment where the documentary makers get arrested by Grampian Police and held for four hours, largely at the behest of the Trump organisation.
Does anyone know this guy? No? Well that might be understandable. This guy is Ian Taylor and he’s the President and Chief Executive of Vitoil – one of the world’s largest oil brokers. He’s also a major donor of the Conservative Party and he’s currently the major funder of the Better Together campaign, having provided almost half of all the funds they’ve raised so far.
Last month when his involvement in the Better Together campaign was announced a pro-independence campaigner called Michael Gray decided to have a look into Vitoil’s background. Sure enough a ten minute internet search was all it took for him to turn up a string of allegations about Vitoil’s dealings. This included the fact that Vitoil had paid $1 million to the Serb warlord Arkan, along with allegations about a string of questionable oil deals in Iran, Iraq, Libya and Congo. All of this information was in the public domain and The Guardian had published the story about Arkan more than ten years ago.
Michael published what he’d found as a blog on the National Collective website. Within about 3 days National Collective, Wings over Scotland, The Herald, The Guardian and various others received letters from Ian Taylor’s lawyers demanding that they remove the content in question and issue a full and immediate apology, or else they would be sued for “substantial damages”. On receiving these letters National Collective decided to temporarily suspend their website and engaged Aamer Anwar as their lawyer. This particular story is still ongoing and probably has a long way to run yet.
Lord McCluskey – chair of the McCluskey report on press regulation in Scotland. I’m not going to go into the full ins and outs of the report just now, suffice to say that it recommended that blogs (potentially including personal Facebook and Twitter posts) should be fully subject to the same level of press regulation as major newspapers. It seems as though the Scottish Government have already shelved the report, but I can tell you right now that if McCluskey’s full recommendations had been in place this time last year then Stramash Arts almost certainly wouldn’t exist, and it’s possible that this whole Creative Scotland stushie may never have taken off in the way that it did.
A Herald front-page headline from August last year.
Ongoing protests against the application of the governments anti-sectarianism legislation. And lastly, bringing us full circle again…
Janice Galloway’s concerns about the fact that Creative Scotland edited her winners statement from last year’s Book of the Year award, removing any mention of issues around arts funding.
Ever since I started writing about Creative Scotland around this time last year I’ve noticed a really worrying trend in political life in Scotland – a trend towards trying to stifle criticism, debate or even free speech. For me this is the complete antithesis of what the Scottish Parliament and its institutions ought to represent
The Scottish Parliament doesn’t sit distant and detached from its electorate. If voters have questions that they want to put to our politicians, even to ministers, then there’s really no reason why they shouldn’t be able to sit across a table and ask those questions face-to-face.
So what’s this got to do with Creative Scotland I hear you ask? Well the connection between all of these various events is that all of them are underpinned by the question of values – or rather perceived conflicts of values.
When we look over so many of the problems that flared up over the last year almost all of them have to do with this conflict of values. Probably the best example of this was the Creative Scotland awards – some people questioned how appropriate it was to have the Daily Record acting as media partner, given then general tone of much of its arts coverage. Pretty much everyone was appalled by the fact that not a single woman was selected to be part of the judging panel.
I want to end by talking about a more recent example. Can anyone tell me where this is?
This is Loch Fitty in Fife. Scottish Coal want to build an opencast coal mine here. The plan is to completely drain the Loch, strip out the coal and then re-landscape the whole thing again. They intend to replace it with an visitor attraction called ‘Scottish World’ and they’ve commissioned Charles Jencks to remodel the whole site, which will feature an artificial lake shaped into a map of Scotland. Last year Scottish Coal applied to Creative Scotland and were awarded funds as part of the Year of Natural Scotland to include a “large-scale artwork symbolising local regeneration” as part of the project.
Now I just want to make something really clear here. The reason why I’m bringing this up isn’t to make any kind of personal attack against the judgement of anyone who was involved in assessing or approving this application. What’s at fault here isn’t necessarily the people who are making the decisions – it’s the criteria against which those decisions are being judged. As long as cultural projects are judged principally on the benefits they bring to the economy or to tourism then we’re going to keep on getting decisions like these time and time again.
And that’s a problem, because whether we’re talking about a golf resort on the Menie Estate or whether we’re talking about a Loch that’s been re-shaped into a map of Scotland it all boils down to the same thing – a conception of our culture that frames the whole of Scotland as a theme park.
I hope that this series of discussions marks the start of a transition towards that type of organisational culture that I’d like to see Creative Scotland adopt – we certainly can’t let this be the end of the process. And if there’s one thing that I’d like to see coming out of today it’s a sense of what values people think that Creative Scotland should be standing for. Thank you.
At the start of February Creative Scotland announced the process for recruiting a new Chief Executive. The statement also confirmed that the organisation is about to announce a series of open meetings to ‘discuss the process of change’.
Since the resignations of Andrew Dixon and Venu Dhupa in December the #CSstooshie has fallen out of the headlines somewhat, but this doesn’t mean to say that discussions and debates around the subject aren’t still ongoing. In fact the next few months are without a doubt going to be the most important phase in the entire process. If Creative Scotland is to flourish then it needs to be open and responsive to different ideas.
As preparation for these open meetings I thought that it might be worthwhile to write up some of my thoughts regarding the original conception of Creative Scotland and the processes that brought it into being.
The aim of doing this is to try and help put a finger on some of the key issues and events that led to Creative Scotland evolving in the way that it did. If we can avoid repeating some of these mistakes again then we’re already on the way to shaping a better, stronger organisation – one that is capable of delivering not just for artists, or for politicians, but for everyone in Scotland.
In order to untangle some of these issues I thought it best to break them down into separate headings. The first set of issues concern the evolution of public policy relating to the arts, the second set of issues revolve around the interaction between politicians and the communities that they serve.
I’d like to start by going back and revisiting some of the first principles that have shaped the development of arts policy in the UK over the course of the 20th century.
‘The Arts’ vs ‘The Creative Industries’
One of the major driving forces behind the Creative Scotland debate has been the unresolved tension between the competing philosophies that shaped arts policy over the last 70 years.
Born out of policy ideas that developed rapidly over the course of the late 90s and early 2000s, Creative Scotland was supposed to be the country’s ‘one-stop-shop’ for the promotion of the whole of the creative industries in Scotland. Its overarching remit brought together support for business sectors as diverse as; Advertising, Architecture, Crafts, Design, Fashion, Photography, Publishing, Software and Computer Games and Television and Radio (as well as Music, Visual and Performing Arts).
In theory there is no reason why a single body shouldn’t be able to provide both financial support and business advice to all of these industries. When it came to the practice, however, any hopes that Creative Scotland could effectively promote all of these areas were already dashed before the organisation even came into being.
Back in 2005 the original plan had been that Creative Scotland would not just combine the responsibilities of the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen, but that it would also take over responsibility for a number of sectors that already fell within the scope of Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and, to a certain extent, CoSLA (the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities).
Originally the idea had been that a tranche of Scottish Enterprise staff would transfer over to Creative Scotland, taking elements of the Scottish Enterprise budget with them. In the event it transpired that Scotland’s business sector could prove even more intransigent than Scotland’s artistic community.
During the transitional phase that was supposed to lead to the establishment of Creative Scotland it gradually became clear that a three-way turf war was developing between the enterprise agencies, CoSLA and the people who were charged with leading the transition process. It rapidly became obvious that Scottish Enterprise had no interest in giving up its influence over spheres such as Software Development, Advertising, Design or Fashion.
Eventually Scottish Enterprise got its way and we were left with a Creative Scotland that had responsibility for the creative industries in name only. The whole project reverted back to a straightforward merger between SAC and SS, with the only difference being that the organisations that the new body supported were increasingly expected to conform to business models that were more appropriate to the kind of commercial enterprises that Creative Scotland no longer had influence over.
The inadequacy of this situation was flagged up last year when many in Scotland’s computer games sector took issue with a report that listed the economic value of their sector at £0. Even though Creative Scotland was not the sole author of the report they still wound up being the focus for much of the criticism. This was largely due to the fact that those working in the games sector had, quite understandably, come to believe that Creative Scotland was supposed to be their champion. The truth was that they were dealing with an organisation that had both hands tied behind it’s back and was thus unable to live up to the entirely reasonable expectations that they had for it.
There is no reason why a single body shouldn’t be able to support a range of different sectors built on a wide variety of business models. However that requires a great many staff with specialist knowledge of each field and in-depth expertise regarding the different ways in which each of those sectors operates.
The time has come to ask whether Creative Scotland’s main priority is to support the arts and screen industries, or whether it is to support the whole of the creative industries. If it’s the former then the organisations mission, policies and funding mechanisms need to reflect that. If it’s the latter then there now needs to be a fundamental restructuring of the whole organisations, built around a significant increase in both staffing levels and budgets.
The arms length principle
One of the biggest worries that faced the original founders of the Arts Council of Great Britain was the fear that state funding of the arts would inevitably lead to either the co-option or the coercion of artists, as politicians sought to dictate the kind of work that was created in furtherance of their own goals or agendas.
Their thinking was defined entirely by the immediate examples of how both Hitler and Stalin had harnessed the arts for propaganda purposes, ruthlessly purging anyone who failed to conform to their own ideological orthodoxy.
The solution that John Maynard Keynes put forward was that the Arts Council should be governed according to an ‘arms length principle’, in which politicians would commit to funding the arts but the Arts Council would be responsible for deciding which artists or projects should receive funding.
In more recent times we’ve seen a shift away from general support for the intrinsic value of the arts as a common good, and towards a greater focus on the instrumental benefits that the arts can provide in terms of promoting economic development and social improvement. This drift has gone hand-in-hand with the development of theories around the creative economy, and its potential to act as a replacement for the decline of manufacturing industry.
Discussion of the creative economy is nothing new, however in the last couple of years we have seen a major shift in the way in which politicians seem to understand and interpret the arms length principle.
During the course of the Creative Scotland saga there were a number of occasions where Fiona Hyslop invoked the arms length principle to explain why she would not intervene directly in the management and running of Creative Scotland. In the last couple of months we have also seen Maria Miller, the Conservative culture minister, invoke a similar interpretation of the principle in response to questions about redundancy deals for senior Arts Council England staff.
It’s important that we acknowledge this shift because it marks a complete reversal of the arms length principle as it was originally understood. In effect we now have a culture in which politicians are only too happy to issue directions as to what sort of work should be produced (through initiatives such as the Year of Creative Scotland, Year of Natural Scotland and some elements of the now defunct plans for strategic commissioning), but who rapidly invoke the arms length defence when it comes to addressing issues of policy or management competence.
One of the questions that we now have to ask ourselves is whether the arms length principle is still relevant. If it is then we need to have clear and consistent guidelines as to how it is applied, and we need to ensure these are fully understood by all concerned.
The Ivory Tower
The whole journey to Creative Scotland was an eye-opening experience for me. It was the first time that I’d been involved in any sort of public policy consultation and one particular moment has always stuck in my mind.
During the course of the Edinburgh Fringe I was invited to a consultancy session being carried out by one of the UK’s most cultural industries theorists. At the outset of the session we were encouraged to think creatively and open ourselves up to different ideas and possibilities.
At a certain point in the discussion we were asked what we thought of some of the potential alternatives to grant funding, such as loans or endowments. Entering into the spirit of the event several of us discussed the ideas and we all concluded that such mechanisms might be of benefit if, and only if, they were not used as an alternative to, or replacement for, sustained funding of the arts from central government.
Fast forward a couple of months and I was taking my seat at a major conference that had been convened to explore how Creative Scotland might operate. The consultant that had led our discussion was scheduled to appear early on in the programme and I waited eagerly to hear what they had to say.
Sure enough they were presenting the results of the consultation work that they had carried out with us. We heard about the potential for creating new models of finance for the arts. We heard about how keen artists were to embrace these new opportunities. We learned that actually artists were so keen on these ideas that they were way ahead of politicians or policy-makers in their enthusiasm and their thinking.
I kept waiting for the most important part of our discussion to be flagged up, but of course it never was. This was a version of our discussion that had been stripped of every ‘if’, ‘but’ and ‘maybe’ that had featured in our conversation. We were being presented with a conversation that had been neatly repackaged so that the people who had paid for the consultation to be carried out didn’t have to hear anything that they didn’t want to hear.
That was unfortunate because those of us who had given up our time to volunteer our views had raised those points, not because we were determined to stand in the way of progress, but because we viewed the ‘ifs’ the ‘buts’ and the ‘maybes’ as essential conditions for success.
Over the course of the last twenty years government, and government agencies, have come to rely on outside experts and consultants to do a great deal of their thinking for them. An entire class of professional thinkers has built up to cater for the demand, in most cases charging the kind of daily rates that even successful and well known artists would struggle to earn in a month.
Worse still is the fact that these consultants then take on the role of mediating a lot of the organisations key relationships. It’s a form of intellectual outsourcing that allows both politicians and civil servants to distance themselves from actual decision-making and, by extension, to absolve themselves from taking responsibility for the decisions that have been taken.
We don’t yet have a clear sense of what the precise objectives of Creative Scotland’s Open Meetings will be, but as far as I’m concerned the only way that they can be successful is if those involved in policy making at both Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government are actively involved in them and if they are willing to listen to people’s opinions directly, rather than through a filter. The question now is whether Creative Scotland has enough confidence and belief in it’s own staff to entrust them with managing that process.
The purpose of this piece has been to flag up some topics that I believe are worth discussing over the next few weeks and months. Now, as ever, it’s over to you.
A few weeks ago Roanne Dods asked us to provide some thoughts reflecting on the Tramway World Cafe. So here they are…
Originally posted on Tramway World Cafe:
Like many folks at the World Café event I couldn’t help but give a wry laugh as Janice Galloway read out Don Patterson’s 2005 poem ‘We, the Scottish people’”
We, the Scottish people, undertake to find within our culture the true measure
of the mind’s vitality and spirit’s health
Late yesterday afternoon we received a copy of a letter that has been sent to the Chair of Creative Scotland. The letter is signed by 100 people who are now choosing to speak out about the crisis.
The list of signatories is astonishing in its diversity. World-famous artists, musicians and authors appear alongside up and coming talents. Together they outline a range of things that they would like to see happen in order to try and bring about an improvement.
At the end of this month there will be two public events intended to create a forum for debate. This letter begins to pave the way for a broader discussion around the future and we would strongly encourage everyone to try and make it to either Jen McGregor’s Open Space event in Edinburgh or Roanne Dods World Cafe event at Tramway.
To Sir Sandy Crombie,
Dear Sir Sandy,
We write to express our dismay at the ongoing crisis in Creative Scotland. A series of high profile stories in various media are only one sign of a deepening malaise within the organization, the fall-out from which confronts those of us who work in the Arts in Scotland every day.
Routinely, we see ill-conceived decision-making; unclear language, lack of empathy and regard for Scottish culture. We observe an organisation with a confused and intrusive management style married to a corporate ethos that seems designed to set artist against artist and company against company in the search for resources.
This letter is not about money. This letter is about management. The arts are one of Scotland’s proudest assets and most successful exports. We believe existing resources are best managed in an atmosphere of trust between those who make art and those who fund it. At present, this trust is low and receding daily.
In his address to Holyrood Mr Dixon asked why more artists do not address their concerns to him directly: the answer is straightforward; they have. Letters of concern have been sent by representative groups from Theatre, Dance, The Games Industry, Visual Arts and Literature. Individual voices have also been raised from many quarters both privately and in public. These concerns have gone unanswered or been met with defensiveness, outright denial, or been ascribed to problems with ‘communication.’
It is time for a fresh start. We ask that The Board of Creative Scotland consider the following requests with the utmost urgency. We ask that you:
1. genuinely acknowledge the scale of the problem;
2. affirm the value of stable two to three year funding for small arts organizations;
3. end the use of business-speak and obfuscating jargon in official communication;
4. revisit CS policies with an eye to social and cultural as well as commercial values;
5. collaborate with artists to re-design over-complicated funding forms and processes;
6. ensure that funding decisions are taken by people with artform expertise;
7. establish an effective system of dealing with complaints as swiftly as possible.
We do not sign this letter lightly but we feel we are in an unprecedented situation. We call on you to act swiftly to make what changes are necessary to the organisation to repair trust and restore communication before any further damage is done to Scotland’s cultural landscape and international reputation.
Away back in the earliest posts I raised a couple of questions about the way in which Creative Scotland plans to use Lottery funding to support the companies that currently receive Flexible Funding.
At the time I questioned how it was possible that Creative Scotland could be using Lottery funding as a direct substitute for Grant in Aid funding from the Scottish Government. One of the founding principles of the Lottery was that all of the funds that were distributed to good causes should supplement and enhance existing government spending, not act as a direct substitute for it.
This may seem like a technical point to labour but I believe that it’s really important that we look closely at this issue because it has implications that reach far beyond the arts. These issues affect every charity and community organisation that benefits from Lottery funding, whether their projects relate to arts, sport, health, education or the environment.
These issues also have implications for organisations right across the UK. David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ may seem like a dim and distant memory now, but the reality is that third sector and public sector organisations are still reeling from central government cutbacks – with the majority of the planned cuts still to be made over the course of the next two years. As the full force of the cuts starts to bite governments across the country are increasingly likely to be tempted to raid Lottery funds in order to camouflage the cuts that they have to make to direct funding.
In order to try and understand the full implications of Creative Scotland’s funding policies it might be worthwhile taking a moment to go ‘back to basics’.
The history of the additionality principle
When John Major’s government was originally investigating the feasibility of establishing a national lottery one particular issue came up time and time again. Charitable organisations of every sort expressed widespread fear that the Lottery would become a back door for the creeping dismantlement of government funding.
A broad consensus emerged which said that if the Lottery was to be of benefit then there had to be a clear separation between Government funding and Lottery funding. In essence the Lottery should enable new things to happen that wouldn’t have been possible without the additional support.
In order to help allay these concerns the Major government developed what was known as ‘the additionality principle’ – a supposed guarantee that no government, now or in the future, would use Lottery funds in order to make up for cuts in central or local government expenditure.
The principle was laid out in the 1992 White Paper that paved the way for the creation of the National Lottery:
41. Under standard conventions, the disbursements of a national lottery will be classified as public expenditure in the national accounts. The Government does not intend that the money provided from the lottery should substitute for that provided in other ways: the proceeds will not be brought within the planning total, and the Government will not make any case by case reduction in conventional expenditure programmes to take account of awards from the lottery proceeds.
It’s a principle that most organisations that have applied for Lottery funding over the last 20 years are very familiar with. Most Lottery distributors insist that applicants have to outline how their project is additional to their regular activity.
Organisations that receive Lottery funding have come to take it for granted that additionality is the foundation of Lottery funding. It therefore probably comes as a surprise that the National Lottery Act 1993, which created the Lottery and which stipulated how good causes would benefit from it, makes no mention of additionality at all.
As is often the case when it comes to legislation it seems as though the Act was left deliberately vague on this point, in order to provide governments and Lottery distributors with as much leeway as possible to interpret the rules.
Nevertheless the spirit of the ‘additionality principle’ continued to be honoured as a kind of gentleman’s agreement between government, Lottery distributors and the organisations and individuals that benefitted from funding.
Additionality finally finds it’s way into legislation
The National Lottery Act 1993 has subsequently been revised twice – in 1998 and 2006. It’s not until the National Lottery Act 2006 that we finally find the additionality principle being written into legislation:
12 Distributing bodies: annual reports
In section 34 of the National Lottery etc. Act 1993 (annual reports) after subsection (2) insert—
“(2A) The report shall set out the body’s policy and practice in relation to the principle that proceeds of the National Lottery should be used to fund projects, or aspects of projects, for which funds would be unlikely to be made available by—
(a) a Government department,
(b) the Scottish Ministers,
(c) a Northern Ireland department, or
(d) the National Assembly for Wales.”
So now we finally have something set down in legislation: as part of their statutory reporting requirements Lottery Distributors are supposed to outline the ways in which they ensure that Lottery funding does not act as a replacement for government funds.
But now we hit a bit of a snag – because Creative Scotland doesn’t seem to have complied with this legal requirement.
The only set of Lottery accounts that Creative Scotland has published so far doesn’t “set out the body’s policy and practice” in relation to these issues. Even though the accounts in question run to 52 pages they don’t include a single mention of the word ‘additionality’. In contrast p. 143 of the Arts Council England’s Annual Accounts provide a clear statement on their additionality policy.
I’m not a lawyer, but it seems pretty clear to me that the changes to FXO funding very clearly represent the withdrawal of existing Grant in Aid funding, and it’s replacement with Lottery money – largely in order to cope with a £2 million reduction in Grant in Aid from the Scottish Government.
On the 18th of September Andrew Dixon will be appearing at the Scottish Parliament’s Education & Culture Committee to answer questions about the changes to FXO funding. I would respectfully suggest that there are now several questions that could do with being answered. They include:
- Why does Creative Scotland appear to have failed to meet its statutory reporting requirements under the terms of the National Lottery Act 1993 (as amended 1998, 2006)?
- What is Creative Scotland’s “policy and practice in relation to the principle that proceeds of the National Lottery should be used to fund projects, or aspects of projects, for which funds would be unlikely to be made available by the Scottish Government”?
- What actions have they taken to ensure that the changes to FXO funding comply with this principle?
As the curtain comes down on the Fringe for another year we all emerge blinking back into the light, trying to remind ourselves what’s been going on in the real world outside of the Fringe bubble. It’s a time for taking stock, for counting up takings, and for hatching plans for the year ahead.
Many of the performers will no doubt be taking a week or two to try and recover, but those who are permanently based in Scotland have far more to worry about than a nasty closing party hangover. The row about Creative Scotland’s strategy and purpose has resolutely refused to go away, even though it may have dropped out of the limelight while the circus has been in town.
Some of the latest gems to crop up during the festival included:
- Andrew Dixon inferring in a BBC interview that Scottish artists had never had it so good, since they were lucky enough not to be having to create work in a war zone.
- Janice Galloway revealing that Creative Scotland had ‘edited’ her statement on winning the Scottish Book of the Year Award, removing any mention of issues to do with arts funding.
- Creative Scotland proudly announcing that it’s to help support the production of a new TV cookery show being produced by STV and the BBC (cue plenty of people asking why these two organisations seem to be unable to pay for the production themselves).
And last, but not least, my own personal favourite:
- CS Chairman Sir Sandy Crombie kicking off Creative Scotland’s festival reception by telling the assembled throng that he was there in a suit and tie because he ‘has a proper job’.
As the 2012 festival fades into memory it seems as though things are likely to gear up again throughout the course of the autumn.
Here at Stramash we’d like to encourage people to give some thought to what alternative futures for Scottish creativity might look like. It therefore couldn’t have been more timely for us to receive a contribution from an anonymous correspondent that asks us to consider just that…
3 August 2022: The Creative Scotland (Co-operative) Bill was published today. The Bill will transform Creative Scotland into a fully fledged Co-Operative owned by the members. It is expected to receive unanimous approval by MSPs. At the Creative Scotland offices this morning AV, the Chairperson over the last 10 years, was given a standing ovation as she arrived for work.
Co-operatives are organisations run for mutual benefit. The first formally constituted co-operative was probably the Fenwick Weavers Society, set up in Ayrshire in 1761. The principles behind the co-operative are voluntary and open membership; democratic member control; economic participation by members; autonomy and independence; education, training and information; and concern for community. Co-operatives emerged as distinct from ‘charity’ where priority is given to the ‘deserving,’ as opposed to the ‘undeserving.’
Co-operatives have also been set up and run by artists, e.g. Transmission Gallery in Glasgow and before that the New 57 Gallery in Edinburgh. Since 2012 a number of organisations moved to adopt co-operative structures including The Common Guild and Scottish Opera. This is the first time a public body has transformed itself, moving away from a corporatist model to become owned and operated by its constituency.
The Bill doesn’t rehearse the history of the staff takeover of the organisation following the crisis of 2012, precipitated by the departure of the then Chief Executive.
His departure followed a vote of ‘no confidence’ taken amongst the staff, although at the time it was ascribed to the widespread revolt amongst artists and cultural activists, culminating in a series of increasingly angry open meetings during the Festival Season and the ‘storming’ of the International Cultural Summit (which happened to be taking place in Edinburgh following the London Olympics). The chant was, “You’re not producers, we are. You’re not curators, we are. You’re not artists, we are.”
It’s believed that ZC, the Chief Executive, moved to Bermuda, but he has been unavailable for comment. Visitors to the island say that he is running a 70s themed cocktail bar.
AV, the Chair of Creative Scotland, is quoted today as saying, “We are all very excited that this new way of working is being legitimised. It’s been a long time coming, and we have worked hard to demonstrate to the Scottish Government that cultural policy can be delivered through a co-operative, democratic model.
We are very much looking forward to the next stage. Membership forms will go out to every household in Scotland and we really hope that people across Scotland, not just those directly involved in the arts and creative industries, will join. It’s incredibly important that culture and creativity are seen as, yes the right, but also the responsibility of everyone.”
She went on to say, “When we first started, it seemed like the only thing to do. It’s a long time ago and I don’t what to dredge up history, but we’d been through so much change and uncertainty, we wanted to ensure that the culture in Scotland continued to thrive through work of brilliant artists, excellent organisations and enthusiastic audiences.”
Readers will remember that during the period that AV is referring to, EG, the Culture Minister at the time, was talking about establishing a Cultural Commission, whilst the Board of Creative Scotland were looking for a financial bail-out. The staff formed a collective. Although originally an interim measure, it has gone from strength to strength. The HR audit commissioned by the Scottish Government reported that staff are completely committed to the co-operative model.
BJ, Culture Minister in the Scottish Government, said, “We are very supportive of Creative Scotland. They clearly demonstrate best practice in public service, listening to and, wherever appropriate, acting upon, the concerns of the sector. They have a strong partnership with artists, and with local government.”
FU, President of the Scottish Artists Union, said, “We’ve been working increasingly closely with the staff collective running Creative Scotland over the past ten years, and we will be recommending to our membership, which now stands at some 5,000 to take up membership of the new Co-operative Creative Scotland. The other Unions representing musicians, actors, writers, journalists and technical workers will be making the same recommendation.”
KE, publisher of Variable, said, “Creative Scotland is a fantastic organisation which we wholeheartedly support. The staff have demonstrated the possibility of a genuinely radical approach to cultural development. The arts and creativity are no longer restricted to a privileged elite. The co-operative model has made a real difference.”
Cc. Sir Sandy Crombie, Venu Dhupa, Anita Clark
20 June 2012
The Work Room is a membership organisation that represents over 80 independent dance artists and companies, offering support, time and space for artists to research and develop new work.
As you would expect from an organisation which promotes our constituency, we are keen to effect positive change on behalf of the audiences we serve. It is in this spirit that we are writing to you. Recent discussion with members has revealed deep concern that the way Creative Scotland works with artists, and recent proposals to restructure investment, have the potential to destabilise what is already a fragile independent arts sector in Scotland.
We value your endorsement that you recognise that the dance sector in Scotland punches well above its weight. It is to be celebrated that increasingly our artists are respected across the UK and internationally. Sadly, however, we risk losing some of our brightest talents since they feel that infrastructure and investment changes do not support them. The reality is that it is now more difficult than ever to generate an income through working as an artist. We cannot replace excellence, craft or experience with volunteer labour.
We would ask that you consider whether it is appropriate that some of your communications messages appear to place artists in opposition to the public. In countries all over Europe there is Government-aided support for artists to promote economic growth through the arts and cultural sectors. There is a wealth of data that demonstrates achievement via these kinds of strategies. Artists are already on the front lines working with the public; indeed it is their calling to serve the public. We all wish to make a better future for Scotland’s people, by making the best work and ensuring it is at the heart of Scottish cultural life. Artists are key stakeholders in this vision; they are Scotland’s people.
We are concerned that responsibility for major decision-making is in the hands of too few and that these processes are not transparent. We would like to understand why overarching decisions about the future infrastructure have been taken before the outcomes of the sector reviews are published. We welcome new models and ideas, but we would also like to be able to share with you the wealth of our experience.
Our sector is complex, collaborative and interconnected, and we do not feel that market economy models are stable or appropriate for future sustainability. This position is based on our observation of the economic circumstances at ground level, where market-driven models do not (yet) achieve results. We would be keen to enter into the thinking around this question, and wonder, for example, how Creative Scotland plans to prevent monopolies and stagnation or provide stimuli crucial for independents and sole traders?
We hear repeated concerns that many of the current processes for Creative Scotland investment streams are adversely affecting the work of independent artists. At times conflicting information is distributed by Creative Scotland staff; individuals/organisations have been advised to apply for programmes which do not meet their needs; budgetary requirements have been misadvised; applicants report difficulty obtaining meetings or speaking to staff on the telephone; and the outcomes of applications are sometimes delayed beyond your published turnaround time of 3 months. These outcomes risk affecting the functional livelihoods of artists and their long-term credibility and relationships in the international sector. Artists are fearful to report these issues, since they do not wish their applications to be assessed unfairly. These concerns might be assuaged, but key to this is to ensure transparency and include future safeguards such as specialist advisors, selection panels and public reports.
We are keen to do whatever we can to make cultural life in Scotland stronger and more enriching. Most of us contributed our minds and hearts to the Dance Review process, and know that this will represent a sector that is hungry to aspire to quality and to serve/benefit the people of Scotland with our work. We are hopeful that together we can determine ambitious proposals and a long term vision for the development of Dance and movement arts in Scotland. Understanding that all momentous change is a long process, which requires the input of many, we would urge you to take on board the recommendations of the Dance Review and integrate that into your future thinking.
As a sector we are energised and look forward to embracing positive changes. We are open and willing to continue the conversation and play our part in making Scotland a leader on the world stage.
We would like to request a meeting with you to discuss these concerns. Our imperative in writing to you is to be open about the issues that are being fed back to us, with the aim of generating a dialogue around how to preserve and grow opportunity for artists to work in and from Scotland.
The Work Room
Independent Dance Membership