Monthly Archives: May 2009

Creative Scotland is to be established as a Non Departmental Public Body (NDPB) through the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Bill  published yesterday and introduced by John Swinney MSP on 28 May 2009. This is another positive step forward to achieving Creative Scotland and the considerations and detail encompassed in the documents are of a robustness and quality much improved on the documents considered last year by the Scottish Parliament.    The documents provide clarity on many issues and address many of the concerns raised before by other public agencies, MSPs and members of the arts, cultural and creative communities regarding the role and responsibilities of Creative Scotland.   They also address other concerns regarding a perceived imbalance between the economic benefits of the arts , culture and creativity as opposed to the intrinsic benefits.  Further they address issues of definition as to culture, arts etc which vex some of us. 

But the relative clarity in the documents won’t be enough for those who want absolutes and who want everything to be black, white and/or in boxes and/or defined to the nth degree.  In the 21st century we live with ambiguity and our thriving arts and creative enterprises are operating in a world where content and technology converge.   Our citizens,  arts and creative industries are best served through collaboration between public agencies, including local authorities, enterprise agencies and the British Council and Visit Scotland, as well as collaboration with a wide range of voluntary, private and public sector bodies.  Creative Scotland will need to work with others and will benefit from the expertise of others.  It will have a lead role in advocacy, intelligence and coordination of support for the arts and creative industries. Its functions as published in the Bill are .

(a) identifying, supporting and developing quality and excellence in the arts andculture from those engaged in artistic and other creative endeavours,

(b) promoting understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the arts and culture,
 (c) encouraging as many people as possible to access and participate in the arts and culture,
 (d) realising, as far as reasonably practicable to do so, the value and benefits (inparticular, the national and international value and benefits) of the arts and culture
(e) encouraging and supporting artistic and other creative endeavours which contribute to an understanding of Scotland’s national culture,
 (f) promoting and supporting industries and other commercial activity the primary focus of which is the application of creative skills.

Lets hope that the contents of the documents dissolve the territorialism and absolutism which was manifest last year and that debate this year is balanced by positive contributions from the arts and creative sectors which want Creative Scotland as soon as possible.


The Bill is the mechanism to achieve a more streamlined and efficient (and less costly) public service for Scotland and it sets out the rationale and policy for all of this. The Bill is accompanied by a Policy Memorandum and Explanatory Notes.

This suite of documents sets out the rationale for Creative Scotland, the roles and functions, its relationship with other agencies and arrangements for governance etc.

The Policy Memorandum sets out the policy objectives behind establishing a new national body for arts and culture, embracing the creative industries: Creative Scotland.
Overview of policy aims
129. The Scottish Government wants Scotland to be a truly creative nation, both now and in the future, with a strong national identity which our vibrant arts and culture help to reflect, shape and define.
130. The Government wishes to encourage and support artists, creative practitioners and enterprises, as well as attract increasing numbers of creative people to Scotland; and to build Scotland’s cultural profile as part of a broader international reputation.
131. The Government wishes to ensure that the work of Scotland’s artists and creative practitioners is accessible to as many people as possible, and equally that the opportunity to participate in artistic and creative endeavours of all kinds is open to all
In summary, Government policy is to support the arts, culture and creativity; and to maximise access to, appreciation of and participation in, the arts, culture and creativity.

The full documents associated with the PSRB are available here

All the Creative Scotland documentation is extracted here

Something that not many of us realised last year is that anyone can comment on the documentation to Parliament as it goes through the Parliamentary Process so in the interests of achieving our creative Scotland and of democracy some of us may want to do that when the timetable is published  Last year  there were few submissions and those were largely by absolutists and academics and professional bystanders.  This time those of us who want a Creative Scotland and who need the agency to support our creative success should speak up.



Trog on John Osborne's battle with critics 1966: British Cartoon Archive






Trog on John Osborne's battle with critics 1966: British Cartoon Archive

British Cartoon Archive

The symbiotic relationship between theatre artists and producers and critics has been a rich seam for discourse and drama for decades.  Full of skirmishes, fawnings, cries of foul play, there have also been the celebrities, none of whom have ever equalled Kenneth Tynan this side of the Atlantic. 

A critic is a man who knows the way but can’t drive the car.

A good drama critic is one who perceives what is happening in the theatre of his time. A great drama critic also perceives what is not happening

And the most influential 

I doubt if I could love anyone who did not wish to see Look Back in Anger

I spent several years in theatre PR when critics really mattered not only to the box office success (in London’s West End, where they still do) but to international reputation (at the Glasgow Citizens in the 70s/80s when it was an international star).  I wined, dined, ferried, fed intelligence to, and generally smoothed the way for national and international critics who came to Glasgow. In London I made sure that starry critics got the best seats and dealt with quite a few tantrums from some of those who abused their importance.  That was all because it mattered to cultural and economic success.

Now in London and New York it still does, and the influence of the main critics has a direct commercial impact.

But what about  outside of the West End and Broadway? At a time when the newspaper industry is in decline or crisis, and when critics abound in the blogosphere,do critics matter?

Fiach Mac Conghail, Director of the Abbey Theatre stated last week in the Irish Times 

  the relevance of the theatre critic to Irish theatre has been minimised. The days of an Irish Times review improving (or reducing) ticket sales at the Abbey Theatre are diminishing as the reader loses any sense of a continuous relationship with its theatre critics  

Mac Conghail argues that this is because the business is not taken seriously enough, with insufficient preparation by critics and insufficient space given in newspapers.  No matter how significant the play, there will only ever be 500 words, not enough, he argues, for a fullsome critique.

An intensified preparation and more print space might make for more informed reviews, but would these reviews be more intelligent and would they be more influential?

Irish Times writers have responded and Deirdre Falvey  makes a fair point that the play and production should be legible when they are presented to the critics. Peter Crawley agrees that 500 words is not enough. 

Mac Conghail’s point about the loss of a continuing relationship between an audience and a critic is more fundamental. 

The social revolution which is going on now because of the changes in the way we communicate must change the relationship between theatres and critics.  As we can all get involved, the exclusive relationship no longer holds the power.  A challenge not only for critics but for the whole PR machine.  

In the 21st century, we will see both increased collaboration in criticism and increased specialism.

As audiences buy and read less newspapers and as they refer more to other sources of media including  blogs and through social networking, we will probably see real time collaborative audience reviews using Twitter and the like. We will need the specialist theatre writer to provide a very intelligent and informed view on the play, the production and why it is important.

Neither of these two threads can be held in a 500 word review in a newspaper.



Bebo is changing its strategy for web drama as it becomes clear that the format is flawed. An article in C21media includes an interview with Kate Burns of Bebo who describes the success of the format with programmes such as Kate Modern and Sofia’s Diary.

The commercial success of the format has its parallels with the original Soap Operas, broadcast on radio as commercials for soap powder. Bebo’s web drama embeds advertising in its content as did Procter and Gamble.

“We do not fund the programmes ourselves anymore. They are 100% ad-funded. We don’t take the risk”

So it may be profitable but is it drama? A third series of Sofia’s Diary is reportedly on the way but it is clear that despite this format’s success and that of KateModern, Bebo’s enthusiasm for scripted online drama is perhaps on the wane. “Narratives are challenging because they don’t encourage sharing too well unless you’ve followed the story from beginning to end, or unless you can have each episode stand on its own,” and this in itself creates challenges for writers and producers.”

Of course. The collaboration in drama is around the production of the work – writer, actors and the creative team who make the mise en scene – director, designers etc. The power of theatre and broadcast drama comes from the action of telling a story. And the creative vision comes from the team who tell and encact this story and engage us, the audience, in a collective experience as they do so.
So collaborative web drama is flawed as a format.
It can work where the audience influences the story by selecting discrete elements – like the endings
But to suggest that the whole drama and its all its elements can be the subject of mash up, crowd sourcing and the like will only be a dilution at best and mess up at worst.

The collaborative world of web 2 offers real opportunities for the arts as the rules of creative engagement rapidly change.  The rere are opportunities for all of us to participate in creating art, to collaborate on programming and to personalise our consumption.  Through crowdsourcing we can give birth to new creative experiences. We can carry our preferences in own clouds.

But the heights in drama are those created by a brilliant story, brilliantly told, enacted and put into a scene in a collaborative production process.  And for those of us in the audience, in the room with the actors to share in the collective experience as the drama unfolds.

So what does Web 2, the world of The Art of With, offer for all of us in theatre?  There are certainly opportunities to use digital technology in the way we put plays on stage.  Audiences can collaborate on reviewing, we can encourge tweeting during a play, blogging, participation in programming, voting on repertoire.  We can encourage micro-investment, mini angels supporting a production by a small on line donation.

But the creation and production of theatre itself may prove itself unadaptable for the web 2 world.  Lets hope that some of the evolutionary measures will be enough for it to thrive in the 21st century and not become a dinosaur.

photo of Scottish Parliament courtesy of

The verdict on the success of 10 years of devolution in Scotland this week is that it has been a succss with a Times poll published today demonstrating that 70% of voters believing it has been good for Scotland.  And that is how it feels.

The verdict on impact of devolution on culture is not so easily measured. The last 10 years have seen two administrations and 8 (or is it 9) Culture Ministers, some confusion around cultural policy and a preoccupation with structures.   But despite that, devolution in Scotland has been an enormous boost for our confidence in our culture in Scotland and this confidence is growing.  And there have been some stars.

The most significant date in devolution for those of us in the arts was St Andrews Day 2003 when the then First Minister, Jack McConnell gathered us to hear his St Andrew Days Speech when he declared the vital importance of culture and the arts to Scotland.  We in the arts in Scotland were flabbergasted to hear our senior politician committed and passionate about the importance of culture, having spent years advocating to seemingly deaf ears.  And the centrality of the arts, creativity and culture to Scotland is now a truth, forming a core part of political manifestos before the last election and is promoted by the First Minister.  Our creative talent, and our engagement in arts and culture are vital elements of our global and local success,  for the expression of our cultural identity and the competitiveness of Scotland’s creative economy.  And there is no doubt that this political recognition has engendered a growing confidence in the arts, culture and creative industries, not just from those of us in the sector but throughout Scotland.

There has been a lot of consideration on policy and structures and the role of intermediary cultural agencies especially Creative Scotland and other bodies within Scotland- local authorities, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise. 

We have also began the interrogation around policies in areas of culture and the creative industries where Scotland does not have devolved powers and where Westminster influences dominate, including in broadcasting with the Scottish Broadcasting Commission  and in international cultural policies with the British Council.   All of this interrogation is a necessary early years process of defining how Scotland can best deliver culturally and creatively although  the inward focus and delay in establishing structures has led to some weakened connections between Scottish and UK agencies as well as frustration in the sector.

The issues of tax varying and tax raising powers is also an element which impacts upon cultural and creative policy, with solutions still to be found to support calls and commitments to fund artists and support the games industry in Scotland.

So, while this is all unfolding, its worth highlighting some of the stars. The stars have been big artistic ideas from the creative community in Scotland, whose time has been right and where these ideas have been backed and supported by the Scottish Government, without need for developing top down policies.  These include the support for the Artists Rooms and National Galleries of Scotland  .  The brightest star is the National Theatre of Scotland.  The demand for this, and the model for the non building based theatre, came from the Scottish theatre community.  The time was right and the idea was backed by the Scottish Government.

Mike Russell, the Minister for Culture is demonstrating clarity, confidence, understanding and a drive for action.  If he can establish the policies and deliver the structures, we can look forward to the next years of devolution really celebrating and supporting culture and creativity in and for Scotland with yet more of our stars in the ascendant.


Being a woman who is interested in the impact of digital media on our use of language and conversation, I was amused by an article by Stuart Jeffries in the Guardian last week about the way that the internet is changing our punctuation protocols and in particular the way we use exclamation marks!!

“exclamation marks – those forms of punctuation derided by the funless and fastidious – are making a comeback, thanks to an internet renaissance that is bleeding over into every form of written communication. Once it was bad form to end a paragraph with an exclamation mark. Now it’s borderline obligatory. Once it was enough to put a sign on your door: “Back in five minutes.” Now, without the flourish of an exclamation mark, that sign lacks verve or at least zeitgeisty voguishness. Go figure!”

This is one of several ways in which our digital media impacts upon our use of language. In Here Comes Everybody Clay Shirky compares the digital communications revolution to that of the printing press 500 years ago. Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type spawned a revolution in reproducing print, which impacted upon distribution and content. This innovation was followed by others. Manutius developed the format, printing the octavo size – smaller format which would ”fit in a gentleman’s saddlebags”. The new format allowed new content – in this case including novels with erotic passages.

Today’s communication platforms encourage two polarising trends in content – MORE and LESS. The MORE – publish then filter model – is what we are all involved in when we blog. And we are developing that more and more using Writetoreply for example – see write to reply pages for Art of With.

But its the LESS that interests me. The origin of LESS is SMS. The first years of txtg cr8d nu tk and new language, on the one hand because the text message had to be within a small number of characters to be charged as one message, and on the other because of the clumsy technology which required multiple tapping on small buttons. Not only was text language created but we also learned to think of smart and short ways to communicate. Increasingly we used marks which could communicate complexities and nuances. Think of the different meanings of the simple x when used in various configurations x, xx, Xxx or even XXXX! And of course emoticons.

But the 100 character text message, like the 146 character tweet, constrained conversation. So we needed an equivalent of Manutius’ innovation to allow nuanced communication.

Having been an Iphone woman for 18 months now, I now hold a  number of threads of conversation. Some will be the usual ‘wot time meet?’, ‘where ru?’, ‘good luck’ conversations. But there are several more which include words, ideas and thoughts which would never be emailed (too private and confidential) and never have been texted on an old phone (too nuanced, rich and unconstrained by length).   There are dialogues,drama and ipoems all of which have developed because of the platform and the format, better than the original text message. 

For me there are two specific aspects of the Iphone which contribute towards communicating essential meaning without being reductionist.

One is the record of the threads of conversation in the Iphone conversation – I now have several going back 18 months which show the relationships and themes developing. 

But the main thing is the physical act of messaging on Iphone – it just encourages flow

Actually I intend to publish  one of these conversations  I have had with Fiach Mac Conghail Director of the Abbey Theatre  as part of a narrative  about the Abbey and its essential roles and responsibilities as the National Theatre of Ireland. 

 But, as ever, most of  of my Iphone conversations remain strictly private, confidential and inaccessible.

The death of Tom McGrath this week marks not only the loss of an important playwright, poet, musician and mentor but also the loss of an artist, idealist and activist who shaped cultural provision in Scotland in the 70s and 80s. One of my personal memories is of heated debates he and I would have about the role of the arts administrator.

Tom was a founder and the first director of the Third Eye Centre in 1974, an arts centre in Glasgow which evolved into the CCA.   The Third Eye Centre was part of a movement of artist led venues, which operated as far as possible cooperatively, communally and collaboratively.  But as the Third Eye, and others like it, entered into agreements with public agencies in return for public subsidy, there came an increased need for accountability and administration.  Such arts centres started off employing an Administrator to fill in the forms and pay the wages but as time went on, through the 70s, 80s and 90s, the demands of the state for accountability grew to gargantuan proportions.  The need to demonstrate achievement of an ever increasing set of policy outcomes, such as social inclusion and audience development, together with need to comply with data protection, equal opportunities, working time directives demanded more and more administration.  This, combined with the worship of management and its spawning of processes such as appraisals, planning, evaluation and monitoring led to the institutionalisation of the arts organisation.  As we created more cultural infrastructure over the last 30 years we also had to train people to run and manage cultural buildings in a way that could manage the demands we placed upon venues. This is part of the complex 20th century cultural machinery we created.

Somewhere along the line there was a disconnect between artists and arts organisations.  Artists like Tom no longer drove the direction of venues.  Venues became more accountable, attracted more people, created more diverse programming under the skilled leadership of cultural entrepreneurs.

And artists became more disenfranchised.  Visual artists in particular, but also writers and other artists, increasingly voiced dissent about this disconnect and the feeling that cultural venues and arts organisations had their own agendas and were more concerned with administration rather than art and artists.  As venues became stretched by increasing demands and increasing fixed costs, some became  disconnected with artists and threw  the baby out with the bathwater.

Our arts infrastructure is facing a major challenge with the likely long-term reduction of public subsidy and its time for some change. The Third Eye Centre/CCA may be an example of a creative hub, a venue which has a key role to play in creating spaces where artists and audiences can engage, brokering connections, enabling collaboration. 

The problem many of our creative hubs face is that they don’t have enough money even now to run their buildings and support a critical mass of creative activity.   

The Cornerhouse is one such venue and this week it opened up its exploration of how to change in the  We Think world.  It has commissioned an essay by Charles Leadbetter, the Art of With and will run a seminar in June.  The Art of With discussion is wide, around arts creation and curation and also around business models.

Much of the discussion around the Art of With is about internet enabled collaboration with audiences and participants and this is vital.

But when we think of collaboration, lets remember the artists.  Lets pick up the threads of the artist led initiative and focus on collaboration and connections with artists as well as participants.

I am not advocating a return to the artist managed venues of the 70s. They were often exclusive and poorly managed.  But at these times of fundamental reappraisal, lets get the balance right.

RIP Tom McGrath