Creative Scotland Still Under Fire

1 Nov 2012

THE PROTEST over the way in which Creative Scotland is working with its clients continues to gain momentum.

FOLLOWING a fair bit of recent criticism in the press, last month saw an escalation in opposition with the publication of an open letter signed by 100 artists (hundreds more have since added their support).

Ian Rankin

Ian Rankin was one of the 100 high-profile signatories to the letter

Addressed to Sir Sandy Crombie, the Chairman of Creative Scotland, the text read:

“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 organisation, 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 considers 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 organisations;

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.

Yours sincerely,

Sam Ainsley, Davey Anderson, Peter Arnott, Clare Barclay, Anne Bevan, Karla Black, Martin Boyce, Katrina Brown (Dr), Tam Dean Burn, Roddy Buchanan, John Byrne, Lorne Campbell, Richard Campbell, Jo Clifford, Nathan Coley, Deborah Crewe, Jeannie Davies, Peter Maxwell Davies (Sir), Chloe Dear, Finn den Hertog, Ella Hickson, Roanne Dods, Jude Doherty, Jaqueline Donachie, Joe Douglas, Rob Drummond, Oliver Emmanuel, Catrin Evans, Rob Evans, Graham Fagen, Andy Field, Pat Fisher, Luke Fowler, Fiona Fraser, Vivian French, Janice Galloway, Andrea Gibb, Suzy Glass, Douglas Gordon (Prof), Mickey Graham, Alasdair Gray, Stephen Greenhorn, David Greig, Kris Haddow, David Harding OBE, John Harris, Zinnie Harris, Ben Harrison, David Harrower, Lewis Hetherington, Corrina Hewat, Mark Hope, Philip Howard, Kieran Hurley, Chris Hunn, Callum Innes, Kathleen Jamie, David Paul Jones, James Kelman, AL Kennedy, Laura Cameron Lewis, Liz Lochhead, Ali Maclaurin, Linda Maclean, James Macmillan, Caoihin MacNeill, Aonghas MacNicol, Willy Maley (Prof), Andy Manley, Michael John McCarthy, Nicola McCartney, Francis McKee, Bernard McLaverty, Alan McKendrick, Linda Mclaughlin, Becky Minto, Alexander Moffat OBE, Gerry Mulgrew, Rona Munro, Andrew O’Hagan, Janice Parker, Don Paterson, Toby Paterson, Mary Paulson Ellis, Aonghas Phadraig Caimpbeul, Philip Pinsky, Karine Polwart, Lynda Radley, Ian Rankin, Robin Robertson, Fiona Robson, Muriel Romanes, Lesley Anne Rose, Lisa Sangster, David Shrigley, Ross Sinclair, Gerda Stevenson, Pete Stollery (Prof), Richard Wright”

The old Scottish Arts Council had more than its share of critics and controversies, but I cannot recall anything like the current levels of discontent with the workings of the national funding body. At a time when money for the arts is scarce from any source, this is a hugely damaging and potentially disastrous rift for the arts community.

Sir Sandy Crombie wrote the following letter in reply, and assured the signatories that their views will be taken seriously:

“I hope you will not mind if I address this letter to you as a means of reaching all those who put their names to the letter you distributed yesterday and kindly sent to me via a colleague. A copy of this letter will be sent to media contacts after a delay that will allow you to forward it to all of those you can reach by e-mail.

Before I turn to the points in your letter, let me put my response in the context of Creative Scotland’s development and its aspiration to create strong relationships with creative communities in Scotland.

Creative Scotland is two years old. It has a broader remit and in total distributes more funds than its predecessors. We make one third more awards with one third fewer staff. I think it is fair to say, and unsurprising, that in some cases our working methods are still developing. Are we perfect? No. Can we do better in a number of areas? Yes. But equally there is no shortage of evidence that we can and do perform well across a broad range of our activities.

Ironically, I saw your letter just after meeting a group representing a constituency of artists and organisations working across a range of sectors. The conversation with that group started after they wrote a letter in June expressing concerns similar to yours. For my part, I found that conversation positive and productive. I think it showed that Creative Scotland’s desire to create relationships based on trust and mutual respect is no less strong than that of those with whom we engage. Meeting one representative group like this is not enough, though. We are determined to engage with as many people as are willing to engage with us, through conversations in a range of places and formats in the coming months.

Let me turn to your letter. It is admirably concise, and, as one would expect from those named, eloquently expressed. Your points are well made. In choosing to be concise, you have of course sacrificed the provision of detail at a level that my board colleagues and I can investigate. Nevertheless, I assure you and all those who joined you in signing your letter that we do take seriously every issue, complaint or concern made to us, whether by individuals or groups. We will examine thoroughly every point raised with us. Two sub groups of our board members are currently working with staff to probe further into a range of topics that can influence both how we distribute funds and what artists and organisations experience when dealing with us.

Your letter coincided with the announcement of decisions on awards for the previously flexibly funded organisations that had applied into the first round of the new funding programme. Now that the decisions are public you will know that funds were generally awarded for two years, the only exception being the result of a request for a shorter award period from one applicant. These valuable organisations will be able to apply again in the future.

You have commented on the use of language and complications in our forms and processes. Every professional community – even the arts world – has its own jargon, but we have no desire to be anything other than clear and understood by all. I expect that the comments we have received directly from you and others and the planned conversations I have already described will help us be better informed of issues and able to test ways of expressing ourselves.

On processes, we share a desire to simplify. If applicants find things over-complicated then it is almost certainly the same for our people. We intend to simplify paperwork further and reduce processes to the minimum necessary to comply with audit requirements. We welcome your offer to join in helping to achieve this.

You have commented, as have others, on who is involved in funding decisions. As a first move, we are making more information available on how such decisions are taken. We believe that those taking decisions have both the knowledge and expertise to do so, but acknowledge that this can be questioned. One of the board sub-groups is considering this challenge. This same group will be looking at our handling of complaints.

In closing, I hope you will trust and accept that we have a strong desire to perform as an organisation for the people of Scotland. At current rates of expenditure one thousand million pounds will pass through Creative Scotland in the course of a twelve-year period to be used in support of arts and cultural activity. They who provide the money have a right to ask what will result from that investment. The return does not rest solely in economic or commercial benefits, important though those are. It can come through social, cultural and reputational gains and of course through artistic excellence. We at Creative Scotland are absolutely committed to playing our part in producing those gains, but realise we can achieve nothing without the active participation of artists and companies working across the whole spectrum of arts and cultural activity. We have every desire to engage with you, your co-signatories, either individually or collectively, and indeed any party who shares our aim of doing our very best for everyone.

I would therefore like to offer to meet yourself and as many of your co-signatories as you think useful to listen to your concerns in more detail and to create the foundations for a constructive dialogue that will help address the issues raised.”

It is a situation that needs urgent resolution, and it will be interesting to see where this debate takes us in the coming months, and whether any of it translates into meaningful action.

We were very saddened to hear of the sudden death of Dundonian singer and songwriter Michael Marra in late October, aged only 60. Michael had many personal and artistic connections with the Highlands & Islands, including his collaborations with Frank McConnell’s Black Isle-based plan B dance company, and a project with An Tobar on Mull which we covered in the very first year of Northings. A unique voice and a thoroughly good guy, he will be greatly missed.

Kenny Mathieson


© Kenny Mathieson, 2012