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Glasgow's Red Road Flats before demolition

Creative Scotland’s  failure to ensure that arts companies felt valued and understood has generated much anxiety and attracted much criticism.  Announcing the end of the medium term funding stream which its predecessor The Scottish Arts Council euphemistically termed ‘flexible funds’ for 49 organisations BEFORE sharing with the majority of  those companies the names and priorities attached to replacement short and medium term funding streams has naturally threatened the stability of the sector. Its like a local council who has plans for a brand new housing scheme or a new town serving eviction notices to residents of tenements without first showing them the lovely new homes and gardens in which they will live.  While not all of the residents will want to leave behind their old loved but run-down homes, the town planners will genuinely believe its better  for health and wellbeing and for many that will be true.  Of paramount importance is that the families always have a home and are never threated with being thrown out on the street.  Many artists now feel that they are being evicted without a home to which to go .

The arts community always protests when there are cuts.  But the outcry from artists to this situation differs significantly from past protests.  The varied and intelligent blogs, tweets, letters and comments shared digitally has raised the level of debate from being a single channelled protest to a sophisticated identification of key issues.  These are not only from artists such as the playwright David Greig but from other cultural leaders and commentators who, in being freelance or portfolio workers, have more in common with the artistic community than with the salaried and pensioned executives of some of the foundation funded organisations or the staff of Creative Scotland.  Equally importantly, contributors from the wider political media have reflected on ideological elements as well as the more traditional lampooning.

When we change the way we communicate, we change society

Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody

In the past, such protests have always been dealt with behind closed doors.  The arts community would make representations to the Culture Minister in a private manner .  That Minister might then direct its cultural intermediary to make changes in an equally non public forum, communications advisors would work  with individual trouble makers to allay concerns and the old order would be restored.

This time, David Greig responds to a request from Creative Scotland to have a meeting by publishing an open letter.

Scottish Cultural workers feel they are part of a success story, making world class work on thin resources. This is not a career to us, this is our life. By approaching the sector as a problem, or as recalcitrant, or as slow thinking luddites you have immediately put them on the defensive. You need artists to be open in order that together you can explore imaginative ways to respond to the funding issues

The chief of CS communications responds on twitter. CEO Andrew Dixon comments on blogs.

All of this creates an unprecedented open conversation which, if it continues, could have a powerful effect on how the arts community in Scotland can play a full part in leadership and decision making instead of having to react angrily to poorly communicated decisions.

Everytime a major change to funding streams is made by an arms length public body charged with allocating the funding we taxpayers provide for the arts , there is an inevitable outcry not only from those who appear to be the losers but also from arts sympathasisers , and a silence from the winners.  Creative Scotland clearly stated in its corporate plan last year that the Scottish Arts Council’s fluffy ‘ flexible funding’ stream would come to an end.  Arts companies did not protest at that time,  both optimistic that it would be alright on the night,that their own company would be a winner in the shakeup, and fearful of putting their own heads above the parapet in case it lessened  chances of being awarded funding.

But now that Creative Scotland has announced its decisions on future awards to those who were in the flexible funding camp, the losers , there has been an outcry from those companies for whom the results threaten their ongoing security.  Flexible funding was never a secure source of funding but the term euphemistically implied that funding might stretch longer and more generously whereas in several cases like the Byre Theatre, it was all too clear that the only flexibility was that the funding could be withdrawn.

Creative Scotland, in common with most world arts councils, and other public agencies, has reduced funds at its disposal as a result of our current economic austerity, although the cuts have been  less great than in some other areas of the Scottsh public sector and  than the English Arts Council. Its strategy is to ensure that what it regards as the core cultural infstructure is secured and that everything else is funded according to its strategic prioirities.  This creates a sharp division in the arts sector. The core comprises foundation funded organisations typically supportd by long term funding and  more likely to be awarded captial funding. They may also apply to deliver strands of activity ‘commissioned’  by Creative Scotland  by Creative Scotand after it announces the results of its sectoral reviews later this year.

Although the strands have not been announced, it would seem probable that there will be a fund for touring theatre to fill the yawning gaps. And it would be likely that some of those companies who were previously flexibly funded like  Grid Iron, Stellar Quines and Plan B might apply to deliver on of these strands. Some of them might be funded for a project which could last five years.

But the problem for these companies is the lack of stability. Firstly, these project awards will need to be non-recurrnet as they are funded through lottery monies which must be used for activities which meet the test of being ‘additional’.    Secondly, its clear that for many companies , the real insecurity comes from not being able to commit to having a stable infrastucture, to pay salaries. The reality is that artists need some sort of secure base from which to take artistic risk and the most prevalent model for this in Scotland currently is the now largely unsustainable traditional small arts company with its own board and salaried staff highly dependent on CS funding.  The fact that there are other models around, like collaborative working, amalgamations, shared admin and production support services like Artsadmin in London or the production hubs in Ireland does nothing to diminish the insecurity in Scotland now.

One of the main differences between Creative Scotland and its precedent the Scottish Arts Council is in its use of language.  The SAC talked about ‘funding’ and CS about ‘investment’,implying that their funds will deliver a return and benefit. Now, with the replacement of the SAC’s ‘flexible’  with CS’s ‘ annual’ and ‘investment based on proposals’ its crystal clear that those organisations who cannot survive without uninterrupted  CS funding can not assume a secure future.  There are all sorts of ways of approaching this, through changing current business models but all of them involve an acceptance of the new realities.

No doubt the fears of some companies will be assuaged as CS announces new opportunities. But will it all be back to the  nornal of the SAC days thereafter? Artists and companies should   reflect on the new realities and apply some of their undoubted creativity to establish support structures which will leave them less vulnerable to winning lottery funding.