No room for dyed in the wool parochialism in Scotland’s cultural leadership

The good news that Creative Scotland has appointed its first CEO in Andrew Dixon marks the moment when that agency can get motoring.  Andrew Dixon has wide experience across the arts, film, cultural regeneration and policy.  And some of that experience is going to be particularly useful for Creative Scotland.  Dixon was CEO of  Northern Arts, in the days of largesse from the lottery and EU and other public purses, and when regional arts boards had a fair degree of autonomy from the Arts Council of England.  Furthest away from the mother ship in London, Northern Arts was possibly the most independent of the regional arts board.  Under Dixon’s leadership, and Peters Hewit and Stark before him, Northern Arts proactively advocated and brokered a raft of regenerative cultural projects including Angel of the North, the Baltic and the Sage. He also initiated the merger of three funded film agencies to create the Northern Film and Media Agency.

Why thats good for Creative Scotland is because the agency’s roles will be as champion, broker, supporter and investor, where Dixon has delivered.

There have been some murmurings from small-minded people that he is not Scottish.  No, but he is also not a one man band.  He will be working with a team of people who are embedded in Scotland’s culture and with a board and chair whom we hope will be widely and deeply connected and expert in Scotland’s arts and creative industries and their global connections.

In the bad old days, when we in Scotland were less confident about ourselves as a creative nation, there was criticism from mealy mouthed miseries every time a new cultural leader was appointed, because they were, more often than not, not Scottish.  The carping has quietened as the fruits of   higher risk appointments have been harvested.

But there is a residual chauvinism that borders on racism which has no place in a creative Scotland. One of the last undignified gasps was breathed last week at a National Library of Scotland event about the birth of the National Theatre of Scotland where a platform was provided for an old guard to bang on about the need to present old Scottish plays and to repeat them as an act of heritable homage.  Five years ago, this position had many more supporters than it does now. Now, with a generational shift and a more confident nation, we have moved on and need to shut the door firmly on the last remnants of cultural racism.

  1. somewhat ironic, then, that the BBC’s drama supremo in Scotland, Anne Mensah, should cite (at Monday’s Future of Scottish Broadcasting conference) the importance of commissioning adaptations of the literary classics as part of diversifying their output. There’s nothing inherently chauvinistic about reviving ‘old Scottish plays’ so we should beware conflating the two quite separate issues

  2. This is about the difference between producing art and preserving heritage. There is a huge difference between ‘reviving’ extant Scottish works and classics where they relevant today – this is art; and ‘presenting’ plays just because they exist on a list and as an act of preservation. Lets present the best of work,old and new, Scottish and not because the work speaks to us now.

  3. How telling that news (in The Herald) of Mr Dixon’s appointment should include his having spent 34 weeks of a 51 years life on holiday in Scotland. Mr Tough, the chief executive of Scottish Arts Council, is moving south of the border, to Arts Council England, North. (A near-job swap, to Mr Dixon’s old job). But no report of how many weeks holiday he has spent in England.

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