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Monthly Archives: August 2009

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is a 21st century concept born 60 years ago ahead of its time.  Always about openness and community, the Fringe Director holds the ring and does not curate, programme or select product. Her job is to support all comers in participating in the Fringe.  The Fringe Society “aims to continue to be the world’s foremost ‘open access’ arts festival.

And what a success it is. A huge array of diverse performance activity from amateur groups, students and fledgling professionals, from all over the world.  Last year there were 31320 performances of 2088 shows in 247 venues.  The Fringe contributes £75 m to the Edinburgh economy , a fat slice of the aggregated economic impact of the Edinburgh Festival to the Scottish economy of £186m. It employs 15 people. And all of this with a tiny amount of public subsidy, £20,000 from Scottish Arts Council  and £48,000 from City of Edinburgh Council , according to the 2008 accounts.

 What fantastic value for money.

For years there  have been healthy grumblings about controls and costs, the power of the supervenue, the preponderence of comedy. Last year these were quietened by the roars around the havoc created by the failure of the new  box office system but this year, with the added  pressures of the recession, this year the rumblings are becoming thunderous.

Is the Fringe too big?

Is it too expensive?

Why does City of Edinburgh Council charge so much to grant licenses to venues?

The Fringe Society and others are considering these and other issues.  The Fringe intends to review and modernise its constitution. Some of this will be around a modernisation process to comply with contemporary good practice in for good governance around skills and the number of terms for which a trustee can serve. And around avoiding conflict of interest.  The 2008 accounts reports that two of the directors, Antony Alderson and Charlie Wood, are associated with Red61, the company which runs the box office systems, and  that they have declared that interest. Alderson is also director of the Pleasance and Wood director of Underbelly, two of the ‘big four’ super promoters.

But constitutional matters are only part of the equation and structure must follow strategy.  The primary issue is how to create the right conditions for the Fringe to thrive for the Common Good.  The rising costs which make participation prohibitive for many companies are not simply the easily targeted costs of licensing venues.  The largest costs identified by some performers are the cost of advertising and promotion and many believe it to be essential to hire a professional PR firm in order to be able to compete for audiences with the professional venues.  For in the free market of the Edinburgh Fringe, its the big cats who are kings.  Getting an audience is cut throat because you have to make sales very fast in a very short space of time in the most competitive market imaginable.

So some important decisions for the Fringe Society.  It can change its consitution. It can make some interventions to protect the non professional and new. If the Fringe remains committed to open access and the free market,  there is no guarantee that the fledgling, amateur and small beasts, birds and bees will flourish or even survive.  Even if it decides to restrict or ring fence, or to change pricing structures, the big cats will still be the kings of the jungle. So the Fringe Society is not the only stakeholder who needs to look at how to create a healthy cultural ecology. Those stakeholders who  share in the Common Wealth of the Fringe should collaborate  to create the right conditions. And that means putting in some frames and trellises, protective potting sheds and glasshouses and some judicious pruning and weeding.  And cutting costs of licensing venues.

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men eating pies

Kenneth Roy’s article Unelected Scotland in the Scottish Review challenges the OPCAS Commissioner Karen Carlton on the  Commission’s ambitions for more diversity in the public appointment system.  He comments on the profile and backgrounds of the current board members and trustees of three of Scotland’s arts bodies, the National Galleries of Scotland, National Museums of Scotland and the Joint Board of Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen  and finds them woefully undiverse.

If you would like to contribute to Scottish life through a public appointment in the arts, I offer the following elementary advice: be white; be male; be middle-class; be fairly old; be in finance; and be from Edinburgh.

As the ‘third woman’ on the National Galleries Board, living in a  low powered part of Fife and scarcely connected to the financial sector in Edinburgh to which Roy refers, I would like to dispel  a few myths about being a trustee of a national cultural body and offer some suggestions about how to achieve that diversity.

Myth 1: its a piece of cake

The roles can be quite demanding both in time and in the work. The trustees and board members with whom I work give considerably and proactively. And that is not just the Chairmen past and present (yes they are all men) who Culture Minister Mike Russell cites in his response and who are publicly recognised.   The other, less recognised trustees, all contribute according to their skills and expertise.  On the NGS board, we are particularly dependent on trustees with financial experience and private networks without whom we would neither have achieved the Playfair Project nor planned the Portrait of the Nation Project.

Myth 2: there is recompense

No but there is reward! During the first three years of the National Theatre of Scotland, where I was a founder director and first chair of  the Finance Committee, I was giving up to 2 days a month, and 1 day a month to NGS on various projects.  I say ‘giving’ because these posts are not remunerated as a matter of course, although the current and previous Chairs of the Scottish Arts Council have been largely because they were not men of independent means and were losing earnings through the job.

The reward is in making the unseen, unsung contribution to Scotland’s cultural success.

Myth 3: its the tap on the shoulder

All the public appointments are publicly advertised.

So why are these boards not diverse? Partly its a generation thing.  Most of the chairs not only of NGS, NMS and SAC, but also other cultural bodies, the national performing companies and most venues, are men, and retired from previous careers. There are comparatively few women over 65 who have had the opportunity to gain commensurate experience and profile.  There is a way to go before we reach the tipping point, when women of the next generation take the lead.

I offer the following advice to anyone thinking of applying when the next vacancies occur: Consider the 4 ‘W’s:

Wisdom:  boards need specific skills and expertise to balance those they already have; but they need more than skills, they need the wisdom that comes with experience

Wit: these posts can be highly competitive and good applications matter

Willingness: board members have to be able and willing to undertake a considerable amount of work, attending events, reading papers, attending meetings AND usually undertaking specific project AND acting proactively as an ambassador without any conflict of interest; and satisfaction that the reward of contribution is enough

Wherewithall: board members have to be able to make time which is unpaid and to travel.  Although most board members are retired or are of independent means there are some of us who have made the time by juggling other work  and family commitments.

The Wherewithall requirements for art and cultural boards are greater than that for some other public appointments in the NHS for example.  This is either a simple reflection of a view that either the arts are less important, or that people involved in the arts should not expect financial reward. But the lack of remuneration creates a two tier system and prevents creative practitioners – many of whom are sole traders – from applying.

We need to create a climate where people with diverse backgrounds, skills and experience, including artists, come on to boards when they have what it takes.  To support that, and build confidence, it would help to find a way of giving interested people some experience of what the role demands so that they have reasonable expectations.

OPCAS states

The boards of our public bodies do not reflect the diversity of the population of Scotland.  In addition, during the past three years the average number of applicants for each post has fallen by 30%. If public appointees continue to be drawn from the usual quarters the pool will go on decreasing and be ever less reflective of the population. Conversely, if appointment opportunities are made accessible to all, we can be confident that our future boards will have the very best talent that Scotland has to offer.

The Commission is implementing its Diversity Plan, aimed to attract more diverse appointments.  But the particular challenges of Wherewithall  and the lack of renumeration for public appointments in the cultural sector create additional barriers to attracting the right people.

loch ness

Loch Ness from Taylor Dundee's Flickr photostream

The publication of the large suite of documents and data included in the Ofcom  Communications Market report 2009 contains a great deal of rich information – perhaps too diverse and dense to be as useful as it might be.  The report covers a wide array on information of such different species, from delivery of PSB quotas to public attitudes to the recession, that some commentators are questioning whether Ofcom’s remit is too large to be of benefit now.  The main report, at 334 pages on the web, is supplemented by shorter reports, including the Nations and Regions Communication Report, of which the Scotland version is 117 pages.  Small wonder then that commentary in Scotland has tended to be around the Scottish version and the summary statistics produced. And that some important points have been obscured in Scotch mist and myths.

But there are  important points.  In terms of market behaviour,  there are more similarities than differences between Scotland and the UK in terms of behaviour, attitudes and takeup of new technology.  The percentage differentials are small and the trends are the same. The report includes charts on the differences between Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen and Edinburgh which are more usefully compared with the UK major cities.  This shows  citizens in Edinburgh to be the most digitally enabled in the UK, more than London, and those in Glasgow to be the least in the UK.  But the problem with this data is the size of the sample.  With less than 100 people interviewed in Scotland, Ofcom cautions against drawing too many conclusions but of course people do because the pictures speak louder than the words.  So we again focus on the digital divide in Scotland, clearly shown to be from poverty and poverty of aspiration rather than the availability of cable.

The report describes the progress towards the tipping point where consumers chose digital over analogue, on line experiences over off line broadcasting and entertainment.  Nearly half of people will cut back on nights out – which includes visits to theatres and concerts and nearly one third will cut back on music, books and DVDs, one fifth on newspapers and magazines rather than cut back on internet and communications.  In the ‘what would you miss most?” question, NOONE would ‘miss most’  the activity of  listening to music on the hifi (as opposed to 18% in 2005).

The report also describes the delivery of quotas for nations and regions from Public Service Broadcasters. Although quotas for content production in the nations and regions have been met (main report), the charts and data show decline in spend in Scotland (as there is in the UK), and less in and for Scotland than Wales and Northern Ireland.  The BBC has changed the way it measures things.  Quotas include content made in Scotland and content for Scotland and so the report does not facilitate intelligent response.  No wonder Mike Russell has expressed dismay and asked for clarification. But the figures in themselves are only one symptom of the truth. Scotland should have its own digital channel, as recommended by the Scottish Broadcasting Commission and we need to produce content to, for and from Scotland to complement the international and UK content available to us.

Lies, damned lies and statistics. And some Scotch mist. Ofcom, NESTA and other UK agencies helpfully include Scottish reports as annexes to their UK reports.  Maybe its time we produced some simple, intelligent reports from the perspective of Scotland.

jencks @ Jupiter Artland

The opening of the fantastic collection of commissioned art works from contemporary artists at Jupiter Artland is a shining examplar of 21st century private arts patronage.

Commissions installed currently include two huge land forms from Charles Jencks and works from Iain Hamilton Finlay,  Cornelia Parker, Antony Gormley, Marc Quinn, Anish Kapoor , Andy Goldsworthy, Peter Liversidge, Alec Finlay and Laura Ford, to be followed by a work from Nathan Coley.

In addition to the very significant costs of commissioning these works, the maintenance costs will be substantial and the income generated from sales goes into an arts education trust, representing major patronage from Robert and Nicky Wilson, part of the Wilson family which owns Nelsons healthcare  which includes the old homeopathic brand and Bach Flower Remedies.

Private art collectors have always been the major patrons of art, and public museums have always been dependent on the collectors for loans and bequests.  Private collections, like the Bridgewater Collection,  hold extensive treasures on which National Galleries are dependent.  The recent successful partnership between Antony D’Offay, the National Galleries of Scotland and the Tate has resulted in the national programme of contemporary art Artists Rooms.  But many other collections remain in private hands.

Jupiter Artland’s works are largely contemporary environmental art and sculptures and so the setting is integral to the work.  What differentiates Jupiter Artland from other settings is the location and access.  Whereas access is restricted by facilities,  resources and desire for privacy at Charles Jencks’ Garden of Cosmic Speculation at Portrack House and Iain Hamilton Finlay’s Little Sparta, Jupiter Artland is open all during August.  You book your car in and drive in through the landforms.  This is both thrilling and worrying,

Even better is the location. In contrast to other privately endowed art collections which are open to the public, such as    Mount Stuart ,    Jupiter Artland is firmly embedded in the central belt of Scotland.        Bonnington House, West Lothian turns out to be close to that industrial intersection between the motorways from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling and the Forth Road Bridge, the Newbridge Roundabout. Its a bus ride from Edinburgh.  Its close to the shopping outlets at Livingston.  If you were building a facility accessible to the majority of people in Scotland, it would be there.

Oh and you can take photos everywhere and promote them on blogs, Flickr etc, another example of the access which we expect in the 21st century.

Thank you, Mr and Mrs Wilson.