A more constructive dialogue with Creative Scotland means paying more attention

fuciods in tide swept condition

The reaction of the arts community to Creative Scotland’s end of the euphemistically-titled flexible funding stream continues to gather steam with this weekend’s open letter from leading playwrights. And playwrights say it better than most of us.  David Greig’s masterfully compelling open letter set a tone which has swept along artists and sympathisers in a tide of protest.

When Creative Scotland announced the end of flexible funding over a year ago there was no such outcry.  Perhaps if playwrights and artists had applied their thinking , passionate prose and inflence around the announcement of the end of flexible funding a full year ago, the dialogue could have been a lot more constructive.

 And it is conceivable that the whole protest could have been avoided had Creative Scotland not only announced the new funding streams with which it intends to support the existing companies but discussed and  finessed the details of how that would work for the companies BEFORE simply announcing the end of the specific funds which support the companies currently.

That moment has passed but the hostile atmosphere created by the process will make a smooth transition to the new funding streams very difficult.

But let’s imagine for a moment that Creative Scotland’s new funding arrangements will, as promised by Andrew Dixon, delivers support worthy of the arts companies.  The Creative Scotland senior team is still relatively new and comes not from the arts community in Scotland. Their communications head comes not from the arts at all.  This could be seen as a refreshing lack of baggage, enabling bold decision making and communication unfettered by being too embroiled with our cultural community.    The recent seemingly lack of consideration of the impact of CS’s communication on those whose stability it affects may  reflect this limited experience and understanding of the arts community in Scotland.  A sin of omission rather than one of commission perhaps.

The Chair of Creative Scotland, Sir Sandy Crombie, has batted back an open letter to the open letter of the playwrights, reaffirming the commitment to those companies funded under the current flexible funding arrangements.  He also draws attention to the other 80% funding provided by CS including for the foundation organisations, like the Traverse, Tron, Dundee Rep, Lyceum and Citizens’ Theatres, which have supported and commissioned much of the fantastic world class theatre highlighted in Greig’s  #stworldclass twitter feed.

All of us in the cultural community in Scotland need to pay more attention to avoid the more negative aspects of this outcry, the anxiety caused, the sucking of energies into defensive action rather than developing ideas and making work.  That means that CS should improve its communication strategy.  It also means that those of us outside, particularly our brilliant writers and poets, should pay more attention to announcements from CS, the Scottish Government and all and reflect on implications for the sector before decisions are made.

An important emergent issue for the future is the extent to which our artists and arts organisations are going to be dependent on lottery funding. The increased reliance on lottery funds rather than recurrent grant-in-aid funding has been emphasised by Creative Scotland.   Lottery funding must be ‘additional’ and can never be core. Therefore, no organisation entirely funded by lottery funds can  expect a seamless security if it is largely dependent on CS rather than other income.  It would be useful to understand what CS principles are going to be regarding the use of grant in aid and lottery funds.  Are only the foundation organisations to be funded from grant in aid?

And we should build on the positive aspects of the furore. The intelligent challenge from individual commentators such as Stramash Arts and Roanne Dods, the openness of communication and leadership from artists are things to be celebrated and on which we should build.

  1. Thanks a lot Anne – there’s some very good points there and I’ll providing my own take one them in the week ahead.

    Stramash Arts

  2. Hi Anne, you’re right and very wisely put, as usual.

    I was first anxious about Creative Scotland soon after its inception when I was working with The Scottish Society of Playwrights to liaise with them about how best to continue to nourish playwriting in Scotland – something we regarded as a success story. Our impulse was that this new moment was a chance to establish communication and to find interesting ways in we could co-operate. We felt it was important to go towards this new organisation and not hunker down suspiciously.

    I was very affected at that time by the imaginative way Vicky Featherstone had steered the National Theatre of Scotland. That too had been an new institution led by someone from outside Scotland. It too was characterized by a bold re-imagining of the possibilities. It too was not without teething troubles, and grumbles from the community. But NTS had built its foundations well and was setting about creating something genuinely surprising. Despite the anxieties around the birth of Creative Scotland my colleagues and I felt it was best to approach CS with a feeling of goodwill and willingness to listen.

    However, even then, a number of issues troubled me: it seemed to take and age to appoint someone to be responsible for theatre. I noticed weird language about CS ‘not wanting to be a funding body’. There was an apparent carelessness with due process in decision making. I was also worried to see a swashbuckling, experimental approach to restructuring things being married to an apparent ignorance of the institutions and processes under review.

    I decided to withdraw from the liaison process because I thought I must be wrong. I wanted the relationship to be one of good will but I wasn’t feeling it. It’s very easy for artists to become caught up in funding rows and it’s debilitating. I thought I was probably just being grumpy and middle aged. Andrew Dixon does like to say that some artists ‘don’t like change.’ I thought perhaps he was right. I had been rather fond of the old Arts Council. It was the environment in which I grew up. Maybe I was just being silly and old fashioned and these new ways of working were the future. So I went back to writing plays.

    I reconnected with the process last week by accident and somewhat joltingly. I was hearing a great deal of anger from my colleagues about the FXO decision. I read the press comments about how Scottish Theatre should learn from Cirque Du Soleil and Robert Lepage. It all seemed so odd, so misguided, that once more I assumed I must be wrong. Surely I was missing something. So I asked the question on twitter: Is anybody in favour of these proposals? No one was. But what I did discover, in my emails and messages, was a large number of makers who felt just awful… depressed, angry, impotent and bewildered at their relationship to their main funding body.

    Joyce Macmillan confirmed that the response to her blistering article in the Scotsman was the same as I had had to my tweets. So when CS got in touch with me to ‘put their side of the story’ I wrote back. That letter took on a certain momentum and I found that along with yourself, Roanne, and StramashArts, I was involved.

    If the response from the makers was surprising the response of CS to all this was frankly strange. Andrew Dixon glancingly referred to the affair at a roadshow saying it was ‘a private matter between a couple of journalists and a couple of artists.’ Sir Sandie’s letter to the playwrights simply doesn’t begin to address the breadth and depth of the problems they face. The story that all the companies who have had their meetings are happy is simply not true and the letters big headline argument – that total funding has increased – is beside the point. The FXO Companies are not yearning for more funds but for more stability. They would gladly swap an increase of available birds in the bush for a smaller but secure, bird in the hand.

    Further exploration reveals that the issues which troubled me two years ago continue to plague CS. Lack of leadership in theatre is characterised by the observation that they commissioned Christine Hamilton to Review all Theatre in Scotland but they didn’t wait for her review before announcing their plans for a major part of the sector. The fine distinctions in definition between ‘core’ and ‘project’ funding by which they finesse the use of lottery funds smacks of the same lack of regard for due process which I identified at the start. The communication is still full of bizarre language, blather and jargon, management speak and zen-like contradictions. And the swashbuckling attitude to Scottish Culture remains married to a heartbreaking lack of curiosity about the processes of the culture itself.

    So what now? You rightly say we need to find and build on positivity. You also identify that peculiar debilitating bitterness which comes of constant opposition and which saps creativity. How should we go forward in the coming weeks so as to avoid that bear traps? I would be really keen to hear your thoughts, as I think you’re a clear head in all of this whereas I tend to get rather emotional. A steer would be helpful to us all.

    As an emotion-led person, though, I do believe that Creative Scotland have a chance to make this situation better straight away by speaking to our hearts and not speaking at our heads. If they can be big enough to admit that there IS a problem – they don’t even have to admit that the FXO decision is a mistake – just admit that there has been a breakdown in trust. Then the people who work in our sector will feel that they have been heard. Our shoulders will relax. The talking can begin. People only shout when they’re not being listened to.

    And isn’t there something good in all of this? Something which you identified in your previous blog post. At last it’s all out in the open. The doors flung wide and we’re talking. If makers can recognise that arts funding needs to change and funders can recognise that art thrives when among a measure of stability – then an imaginative conversation is possible. If we can believe in each other’s good will then we can go back to first principles and redefine the relationships that produce the work which the people of Scotland deserve to see. There’s such talent in this country. It’s a brilliant place to be an artist. In my experience people in Scotland are astonishingly creative and they’re proud of their artists. That’s why they’ve taken NTS to their hearts. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in five years time, Creative Scotland was as admired and valued as the National Theatre of Scotland is now? Is that possible? I hope so.

    Thanks again for posting…


  3. “When Creative Scotland announced the end of flexible funding over a year ago there was no such outcry. Perhaps if playwrights and artists had applied their thinking , passionate prose and influence around the announcement of the end of flexible funding a full year ago, the dialogue could have been a lot more constructive.”

    Dear Anne

    Can I recommend you have a (re?)read of the very thoughtful articles by, and interviews with, people involved in the visual arts collected by Variant, and published last Winter (i.e a year ago) following on from Andrew Dixon’s interview with Variant in the Spring 2011 issue.


    Re-reading the texts its clear that there is a gathering sense of concern about the direction of Creative Scotland, and the drift of towards the situation we are in now, despite the lack of clarity of process regarding funding strands, strategic commissioning, etc.

    There was, of course, no response from Creative Scotland to the publication, so I think it’s unfair to suggest that the lack of constructive dialogue comes from lack of arts community trying…

    With very best wishes


  4. Dear David,
    Thank you for this response.
    I have not been involved in any of the discussions between Creative Scotland and artists or organisations and have not intended any of the roadshows, so am not qualified to give an authoritative view about what has gone on. So any suggestions I can give will be informed only by general experience and common sense.
    Firstly, I think it would be a good idea to separate the various issues and deal with them one at a time. The current piling in of views about everything is a bit overwhelming and in danger of tipping into some personal mudslinging which would be detrimental to expressing good and important points.
    One way of grouping the issues would be:
    1. Uncertainty about the future stability of companies affected by the end of flexible funding
    2. Current communication issues regarding the companies
    3. Lack of trust many in the sector feel about CS (largely related to 1 and 2 above)
    4. Future strategy and funding particularly with regard to use of lottery funds v grant in aid
    5. Process of decision making
    6. Ideology
    7. Communication generally

    I would take the first three for now.
    I would wait and see what CS has to offer as a cogent plan. Andrew Dixon has consistently said he values the companies and , recently, that there will be funding and even more funding for them under different funding streams and strategic commissions. It seems that the companies believed this when he said it at first, that they were told not to worry and that it would be all right. Much of the current anxiety is around the uncertainty of the future. Companies have been told that one stream has ended without knowing what the next one is. So if Andrew and the companies are right, this is simply a matter of timing and a very unfortunate communications process.
    From the outside, I have seen the process of the end of flexible funding as more threatening to some of the companies, and have exhorted companies to develop new sources of sustenance. But that was before the introduction of new lottery funds so lets hope I am wrong.
    I believe CS should acknowledge their part in this communications debacle. I tend to side with the cock-up over conspiracy theory. I hope I am right and if I were then we should expect some acknowledgement of this from CS.
    This would go some way to rebuilding trust.
    Secondly, I do believe that there is a need to establish some sort of ongoing open communication between the wider sector (not necessarily the funded organisations) and CS, and possibly wider. There are several different ways of doing this, including the board of CS playing an active role and the creation of a forum. I don’t have any specific proposals but I am sure others will.
    The comparison you make of Creative Scotland and National Theatre of Scotland invites not only the similarities between the two but also the differences which goes some way to explaining some of the current communication problems.
    Both NTS and CS are new models created from different combinations of the same ingredients: political and cultural ambition, demand and disquiet. Both have had to develop trust and credibility in the arts community. Both had chairs appointed by the Culture Minister.
    But whereas NTS is an arts organisation, and a limited company with charitable status, where the board directors are appointed independently and where the board appoints the director without any Government influence. Under the leadership of Vicky Featherstone and the guidance of the board, NTS has consistently worked on relationships to build credibility and trust. NTS success and even survival is dependent on good working relationship with the arts community.
    CS is a non departmental government body (NDPD) whose board are appointed by Scottish Ministers to deliver its purpose as determined in law. Scottish Ministers may give directions, although not on matters of artistic judgement, and CS is directly accountable to Scottish Ministers not to the arts community. CS is not an arts organisation. It is an instrument of government albeit at arms length.
    I share your aspiration that CS should become an internationally recognised leading Scottish cultural organisation. Like NTS, it is a new model which we have invented for the 21st century as part of Scotland’s national journey. And like NTS, making the model really work will be dependent on connections, cooperation and collaboration rather than 20th century control and command.
    Anne x

  5. thanks Johnny, have reread and been reminded and yes it takes both sides to have a constructive dialogue. hope communication improves

  6. Henderson said:

    ah – a perfect storm in a sinking little Scotlander teacup – argue all you like, it’s still sinking…

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