Monthly Archives: March 2009


I love theatre, national or international and believe that new plays, in particular, have a vital role to play in the national conversation and international exchange.

I also like a good party and so the idea of a World Theatre Day as a celebration of theatre internationally appeals to me as a thing.  The problem we have is that World Theatre Day, last celebrated on 27 March 2009  has been a bit of a damp squib in most of the world.  In Ireland there was a coffee morning.  In the UK it was reported but not celebrated.  This is sort of worse than nothing at all.

Its probably because World Theatre Day is organised by a 20th century international cultural institution, the International Theatre Institute.

“What is the ITI? In brief: The International Theatre Institute (ITI), an international non-governmental organization (NGO) was founded in Prague in 1948 by UNESCO and the international theatre community. A worldwide network, ITI aims to promote international exchange of knowledge and practice in theatre arts (drama, dance, music theatre, any of the performing arts) in order to consolidate peace and solidarity between peoples, to deepen mutual understanding and increase creative co-operation between all people in the performing arts.

The ITI does its work through:
– its Regional Bureaus, its Centres and its Cooperating Members;
– its Committees and Working Groups;
– its Executive Council and Executive Board;
– its headquarter at UNESCO: the General Secretariat;
– its individual members of the network”


So it was created in 1948 and its neworks are organised by committees and top down structure.  I know that the ITI has done and continues to do good work but the world has changed.  Because of the internet revolution most of our networks are now those we create and operate ourselves, harnessing the power of the group and so we dont need top down networking structures. 

The global disparity reflected in the digital divide though means that World Theatre Day is more relevant and more celebrated in countries and nations without broadband

So if you google World Theatre Day you do get new coverage for Angloa and Mysore. And until we conquer the digital divide, maybe we need those 2oth century cultural intitutions







Dundee Contemporary Arts, celebrating its 10th birthday last week, is a hugely important venue for Scotland and one which raises questions about the cultural infrastructure we need now,  the role of creative hubs and the strategic funding of such venues.  DCA’s sister venues include the cross art form and media venues in England including Cornerhouse in Manchester and Watershed in Birmingham.


These venues are held up as examplars of cultural centres for the 21st century in the age of ‘clicks not bricks’ .  As creative hubs, the venues demonstrate a capacity for enabling creative experiences for today’s creative cities. Tom Fleming’s 2008 report   Crossing Boundaries The role of cross-art-form and media venues in the age of ‘clicks’ not ‘bricks’  for the UK Film Council ACE  and AHRC summarised “As place-based centres of excellence in this field they are well-positioned to build a leading role as generators of activity; connectors between content producers, consumers and technologists; and pioneers in the education work around digital literacy”



As intermediaries, these venues broker creative experiences, both by commissioning and by collaborating.  They typically have cinemas, art exhibition space, cafes and are fully engaged in digital creativity.

They typically have been catalysts in cultural regeneration. Individual creative hubs will have regional partners, artistic specialisms and diverse activities and facilities.  All of them are innovators and driven to support artists and creative practitioners develop their work.  All of them provide an environment for collaboration, boundary breaking and the mash up of ideas.


And all make a major contribution to the creative identity of their city or city region.  DCA is no exception to this.


The challenge in the current economic climate is how to ensure that our cultural infrastructure is fit for the times we live in.  The success of cultural centres such as DCA will be determined as much by the resources it has, the broader role it undertakes and the networks it connects with as by its artistic and community vision, building and coffee.



In the current economic climate, there is almost certainly going to be less public subsidy available to the arts and creative enterprises.  Critical to our success will be the targeted investment of public money to support infrastructure and to support artists.  The infrastructure must include key creative hubs which have a multiplying cultural, social and economic value to their city/region.  That might mean gatekeepers and strategic agencies prioritising 21st century cultural centres over those of the 20th century.


Further, DCA, like all cultural venues, is faced with the imbalance of its economy, as the costs of running the building increasingly displace the amount available to fund artists, art and creative enterprises.  The role of the artist and creative practicioner is the most important in all of this discussion about creative experiences and creative hubs and must be enabled to succeed.  





 Dundee Contemporary Arts celebrates its 10th birthday this weekend.

A buzzing social and creative centre, DCA is a cultural centre for the 21st century. It hosts art and artists, presents cutting edge contemporary visual art and cinema, engages audiences, children and young people, sells contemporary design and crafts, and of course has the all important great coffee. It was created in a partnership between Dundee City Council,  Duncan of Jordanstone, Scottish Arts Council,  Dundee Printmakers and more.

The birthday celebrations yesterday included a think tank where directors of UK cultural centres and others chewed over current and future challenges for the success of cultural centres and, in particular how the value of the cultural centre is expressed and articulated.

Clive Gillman, DCA’s director expressed a concern that there has not been enough articulation and advocacy for the cultural as opposed to the economic or social value of DCA and others.  This has been the case recently as public policy has been focussed on the creative economy and while policy is developing and structures changing.  But this doesn’t change the essential value of the cultural centre as a place for creative experiences, whether collaborative or curated.

At the civic reception, local politicians celebrated on the success of DCA and there was little civic boosterism from the city of jam and jute.  The deputy lord provost reflected on the City’s scepticism about DCA – changed after an economic impact study demonstrated the value to the City, and further dissipated after the year on year high attendance figures. He proudly spoke of DCA’s success in delivering cutting edge art.

So the economic argument matters.

This doesn’t dilute the core cultural values of DCA.  These are about art and engagement, about providing the environment in which artists create and audiences experience.  And there is a need to articulate this. 





NESTA’s report  Demanding Growth published today makes the case for supporting the games industry to recover from the recession including cultural tax credits for sector as both France and Canada have done.

The measures include several suggested by those in the games industry in Scotland for it to build on the  competitive advantages it has.  In Dundee in particular there is a cluster of  globally competitive talent in this industry – which needs recognition and support.  The Scottish Government and public agencies- Scottish Enterprise is currently active in this area – have an opportunity to act now to support Scotland’s competitive advantage.   This is an area we expect Creative Scotland to be active when it comes into being but the time for action is surely now.

NESTA calls for Westminster and the UK public agencies to deliver a package of measures to remove barriers to innovation and growth including:

•changes to the existing R&D tax credit system to improve its benefits for video games studios including giving R&D tax credits should be given before production commences to incentivise development of new products

• Prioritising video games in current initiatives to support innovation, such as the Technology Strategy Board’s (TSB) Creative Industries R&D Fund

• prioritising online gaming and serious games for training purposes

• a video games prototype fund to improve the UK capabilities at generating original IP

•A ‘kitemark’ for video game courses to improve the industry-readiness of their graduates.

•A Games Education Fund to finance the placement of lecturers in video games studios, as well as research fellowships and prioritising  research projects with Open Source outputs that can be extended, adapted and improved by video games studios themselves.

•Creating a Centre of Excellence on Educational Games

•Rolling out of student placements such as the highly successful ‘Dare to be Digital’ prototype competition across the UK.

Iain Smith’s resignation from the Joint Board of Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen is a loss for both organisations and in particular for Scottish Screen given his eminence, expertise and connections in the film industry.

His resignation highlights issues not only about Scottish Screen and Creative Scotland but also questions around the role of boards in NDPBs in Scotland at this time.

The main reason cited for Smith’s resignation is the perceived side-lining of the Joint Board of SAC and SS in the establishment of Creative Scotland, now led by a new board, Creative Scotland 2009. Specifically he is quoted as being concerned that CS 2009 will not champion film as a creative and economic driver for Scotland.

The particular political circumstances around the establishment of Creative Scotland have led to the current rather messy situation but one that is expedient.

The members of the joint board of SAC and SS have had to govern in particularly difficult circumstances.  They were set up by the Scottish Government with the purpose of establishing Creative Scotland AND governing the antecedent organisations.  This is in itself proved not to be a good route for creating a new organisation that was to be more than the sum of its parts and where the parts had very different cultures.  The difficulty of the task was exacerbated when the Creative Scotland Bill fell in June 2008 and there was a period of uncertainty as to how Creative Scotland would be established.

The Joint Board had to hand over the transition project to a new board.

All of that is difficult enough for board members who are, with the exception of the Chair, unpaid.  And, unlike most boards in the cultural sector, several are independent and freelance workers whose time is paid for neither by personal wealth nor pension nor public sector salary.  All of them are on the board in order to give public service to areas of the arts and creative industries where they are passionate and have expertise.

But there is a further challenge to the effectiveness of boards of NDPBs at this time in Scotland’s trajectory of self-governance.  The current administration is focussed on ensuring that public sector bodies deliver Scottish Government policy as well as on simplifying the public sector landscape. 

For a board which is an intermediary this presents further challenges.  Several key players in this field have remarked on the tighter directions provided by the Scottish Government over the last year or so.

Further, there can be an undermining of such boards because members are appointed and not elected – suffering from challenges of legitimacy and the ‘democratic deficit’.

The principles of arms length governance are surely a vital part of democratic public governance.  But it could be seen to be a task which is at minimum thankless and perhaps worse.

 At a time when there is a need to innovate in the delivery of public services, its important that the governance arrangements for any NDPB make it significantly capable of discharging its role well and at a cost which is better than any other arrangements.  This includes clarity of purpose and responsibilities and appropriate skills. Hopefully this will be the case with Creative Scotland moving forward.

 A report published by NESTA yesterday,  Why radical  innovation is needed to reinvent public services for the recession and beyond  throws down the gauntlet to the public sector to innovate and take radical action in the context of the recession.  


This is a timely report for Creative Scotland 2009.

The world has changed since the original planning for the new organisation was considered through the Transition Project.Faced with the stark realities of increased social and economic challenges and the forecast reductions in public funds, Creative Scotland 2009 could now consider further innovations in the way that it will provide a public service.


Amongst the recommendations the NESTA report makes are


• Opening up services to more ‘actors’, including enabling smaller, less established but potentially more innovative organisations (including social enterprises) to become providers

 •Strengthening ‘intermediary organisations’ 

Loal authorities, artists union, the cultural alliance, creative hubs, indie creative enterprises, voluntary organisations  are all potential partners in innovating in providing cultural and creative public services.

  The NESTA report argues that

 without bold new approaches our public services will be over-stretched by the short-term demands of the downturn and overwhelmed by the long-term challenges of the future

public services will have to deliver significantly better performance at significantly lower cost

we need a new way of innovating in our public services –a rigorous experimentation which encourages and embraces local solutions

we need to put users, consumers and citizens at the heart of innovation in public services as never before, as a force for change and as partners in designing and delivering services 

 we need to strengthen the methods by which we discover, develop, and diffuse innovations – including a greater capacity outside of existing organisations to support great ideas from inspiration to implementation.

The pressure on public finances caused by the recession is likely to lead to nearly £40 billion (England and Wales according to the report)  in reduced funding in the next few years, which will impact on the charities, voluntary groups and private sector companies that deliver public services, as well as the public sector itself.



The recession is exacerbating many major challenges, increasing the demand on existing services. For example:


Rising joblessness is impacting negatively on health and wellbeing, causing greater rates of family breakdown and depression.


  Crime and anti-social behaviour are rising.


 The recession is wiping hundreds of billions of pounds from pension funds.



Great to see that Black Watch was recognised at the Olivier Awards last night as best new play.  An accolade justly deserved for National Theatre Of Scotland, Greg Burke, John Tiffany and the actors and creative team.  Black Watch has won many awards but there are two aspects of the Olivier awards which make this unique.

Firstly, because they are highly prestigious,  awarded only to theatre in London,  the theatre capital of the world.  Black Watch was judged against plays in the West End, Royal National Theatre, Royal Shakepeare Company and other stars of the theatre world and found to be the best.  This award establishes NTS, only 3 years old, as a major player in the elite theatrical league.  And that matters for Scotland .  It was a leap of faith by the Scottish Government to create NTS as a non building based company.  The model came from the theatre community itself – it wasn’t a top -down policy driven venture.     And the most important decision that the founding board directors made (myself included) was to appoint the leader with the vision, to take the risk. In appointing the young English woman, VickyFeatherstone, as the first Director of NTS, we went against the expectation that we would appoint a more usual suspect. 

Secondly, the awards include categories for creative specialisms, recognising the importance of excellence in various specialisms which are part of the creative team.  In recognising Gareth Fry for Best Sound Design  and Steven Hoggett as  Best Theatre Choreographer, as well as John Tiffany as  Best Director, the Olivier judges are recognising the extended excellence of our team.