Why we should value our public arts trustees as much as our economic ones


Critics of the current system for Public Appointments in Scotland which has led to a perceived imbalance towards financiers on public arts bodies might compare the conditions offered around some other current public appointments.  Scottish Enterprise, the lead economic agency is recruiting board members and remunerates them at  under £12,581.  NESTA is seeking a Scotland Trustee at £5ooo per annum.  No public appointees in the arts and culture in Scotland receive any remuneration, bar the Scottish Arts Council Chair.

This might shed some light on the lack of diversity on the boards of public art bodies. The reward for serving on an arts board must be described purely in terms of altruism and the desire to provide public service whereas serving on a health board or economic agency is valued financially as well.  Underlying this custom and practice are some anachronistic beliefs about art and culture and a value system which does not serve well our arts and creative industries.

There is an old belief  that artists and creative practitioners are content to starve in a garret – best not to bring filthy lucre into the equation.  By extension, those involved in governing the arts should not be recompensed financially.  Therefore, there are only two types of trustee who can reasonably be expected to serve on a board: those of independent means, the descendants of private patrons in the arts,  and those who expect to suffer (financially)  to support the arts organisation.  This tends to exclude great numbers of artists and creative practitioners who are freelance, sole traders or micro businesses who need to earn income.

The current system not only restricts the types of people who might serve on boards to those who are able to serve for free but also sends out a signal that, as a society, we value arts and creativity less than economics and other areas of public life.

The creative industries is a key growth area for Scotland and the arts and culture a major contributor to the global success of Scotland.  So why do we not value the contribution made by expert boards in the same way as we value expert boards in other sectors?

There is an opportunity to address this in the establishment of Creative Scotland.  If the board roles were suitably remunerated, then we should get the most expert, hard working trustees available and the leadership role could be multiply discharged throughout Scotland.   And if those happen to have independent means or chose to starve in a garret, that’s fine, they can gift their remuneration to the arts.

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