End of flexible funding shakes core stability of Scotland’s arts companies

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in several cases like the Byre Theatre, it was all too clear that the only flexibility was that the funding could be withdrawn.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.

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