Dear David – response to David Greig’s post

Dear David,

Thank you for your 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 points. It would be terrible if some of the important issues raised were lost in a tirade of personal comments which painted the theatre community as whinging luvvies.

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 through the board of CS playing an active role and through 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 comments on the similarities between the two but also on the differences which go 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

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28 comments
  1. Mairi Byatt said:

    Both NTS and CS are bodies thrust upon us and neither of them have gone anyway to proving themselves as anything the Scottish Cultural community could be proud off! We are completely and utterly still stuck with control and command. People who offer support and suggestions are still continually ignored if they have rubbed up against the wrong people in the past! Stonewalling is not a part of connections, cooperation and collaboration is not a part of either organisation, and I have extensive proof of this!

    • Hi Mairi

      I’m afraid that in the case of NTS that simply isn’t true. It came about following a sustained and long-lasting campaign that involved most of the Scottish theatre community.

      I know that there were several people who didn’t agree that establishing a National Theatre in Scotland would be a good thing. That certainly doesn’t mean that NTS was ‘thrust upon us’.

      Everyone will have an opinion of NTS and it’s work, but I don’t think that anyone can deny that NTS hasn’t made a massive impact when it comes to promoting Scotland and it’s theatre community on the world stage.

      Respectfully

      Stramash

  2. Dear Anne

    I think that this might be the most constructive and important contribution that anyone has come up with so far. I’d like to thank you for the clarity of your insight, and for producing such a clear set of proposals for moving the conversation forward.

    You’re absolutely right in saying that things have been moving at a breakneck speed in the last week. Partly that’s because there has been a lot of ground to cover, but it’s also partly to do with the way in which each of our postings (yours, mine, David and Roanne’s) have all fed off of each other, moving the discussion forward as we go.

    We’ve covered an awful lot of ground in the last few days and I’d say that what you’ve posted here provides an excellent suggestion for how Creative Scotland can start responding when they (hopefully) rejoin the conversation tomorrow.

    I think that the contributions that each of us has made in the last week has helped to map out the terrain that needs explored, and has provided a framework for the debate.

    I now feel as if I’ve said everything that I set out to say and I want to take a step back to allow others the space to respond. I intend to spend the next couple of weeks holding off from publishing any further analyses or polemics and I’m going to focus on encouraging people to use Stramash Arts as a forum for airing their own perspectives.

    And you’re quite right in saying that the artist’s voice in this debate should not be defined by the theatre community alone. There are both structural and historical reasons why Scotland’s theatre community is often the fastest to organise and the most assertive in making it’s views known. I hope that Creative Scotland will recognise that these views are not just confined to the theatre community, and that this row has nothing to do with ‘whingeing luvvies’. The fact that we even have to worry about that perception says a lot about the prevailing lack of mutual trust and respect.

    We now need to let people from visual arts, film, music, literature and every other sector come forward to express their views. I know that there are many people who are itching to take part.

    Huge thanks for your invaluable contribution – I’m now confident that we’ll start to see some sort of change in the weeks ahead.

    Yours in admiration

    Stramash Arts

  3. I am sorry but as a response that reads more as an absolution OF responsibility. Anne, your own opening paragraphs allow you to sidestep involvement and pontificate from the sidelines. Poor. Very poor.

  4. Peter Arnott said:

    That’s a useful breakdown of the agenda for a public, or at least properly minuted meeting with press in attendance, Anne. But we had LOTS of meetings through the Scottish Theatre Forum (chaired by Sheena MacDonald) that looked at particular issues. It may be just my inner Trot emerging, but I fancy that what you so icely call “ideology” that may be top of the agenda….in that it informs everything else.

  5. Dear Anne

    I would concur with Peter that perhaps we should consider ideology first as that informs the strategies now adopted, such as competitive tendering and organisational flexibility.

    As you say, ” CS is not an arts organisation. It is an instrument of government albeit at arms length.” This is a fundamental shift and was a concern of the artistic community throughout the development process, and in fact led to a very succinct letter, signed by many prominent members of the arts community in 2009 and sent to Mike Russell MSP, then Minister for Culture, highlighting the dangers of the Team Scotland approach:

    http://creativescotland.blogspot.co.uk/2009/03/open-letter-to-mike-russell-msp.html

    Surely the bottomline reason we publicly fund culture in the first place, is to nourish a culture that cannot find form in the commercial sector – a free democratic space where artists can expand and express ideas that have currency within society – sometimes these might fit the goverment’s priorities but sometimes they might not – sometimes they might even counter the general political consensus. Surely that is why we publically fund culture?

    Best wishes
    Johnny

  6. Peter and Johnny, I think that the ideology debate is one which should be ongoing and evolving and in an open and non hostile forum.
    Johnny, the Scottish Arts Council was not an arts organisation either, it was an NDPB accountable to ministers just as CS is. Its just that the arm was longer in the years leading up to devolution. The more that culture matters to the Scottish Government, the shorter the arm.

    • Dear Anne

      I don’t think the arm just happens to be shorter – its because of a reconfiguration of what the government sees culture as doing.

      The Scottish Arts Council used to make its funding decisions based on capacities of organisation to deliver and then they would be free to deliver within the framework agreed. Indeed that was why Flexibly funded organisations were created to offer for space and stability for organisations to build on their strengths.

      Increasingly with the most recent Labour government in Scotland, we saw swathes of additional (Lottery) funding being channelled towards more instrumental ends.

      I believe the current move to project funding for the organisations means that they will not be judged so much on their capacities but on the content of their proposals – and whether that fits with Creative Scotland’s agendas. For me that represents a loss of independence in the short term, the destablising effects of creative pressure to perform and deliver and a transfer of power from the producer to the funder which can only weaken the strength and diversity of the sector in the long term.

      With very best wishes

      Johnny

      http://cargocollective.com/johnnygailey/A-Cultural-Greenhouse-1990-2011

  7. Anne – I can accept that we haven’t got the communication on this right despite advising people over a year ago of the plans. However the key thing is that we communicate in person face to face with the various sectors. The recent work by Christine Hamilton on the Creative Scotland theatre review has been doing just that and the final report is nearing publication.

    More than anything I want to remove uncertainty. We are committed to building on success and planning a clear future for ALL of these companies to play a part in delivering quality theatre to the people of Scotland and for international audiences. Many of these companies like Catherine Wheels, Fire Exit, Grid Iron, Vox Motus have been central to the Made in Scotland programme. Others like Visible Fictions, Cryptic and Vanishing Point , Stellar Quines are already international ambassadors for Scotland.
    Ultimately we will address the uncertainty through one to one meetings with the companies and clearer communication from Creative Scotland about the route to the new budgets available. Some will be resourced through strategic commissioning, others through Lottery budgets for Quality Arts production, touring and access. Many will benefit from transition funds or international budgets, and there will be the potential for new commissions in Glasgow 2014.
    We can debate the future strategy and funding particularly with regard to the use of lottery funds v grant in aid . My current roadshow presentation covers this in some detail. In the longer term we would hope to see increases in the core support for theatre in Scotland. However the arts in Scotland have done well in the recent spending rounds and we have to work strategically with the resources we have. It is not just about companies, It is also the agencies. We were criticized by some for putting ‘ non producing agencies ‘ like FST and Cove Park, Moniack Mhor and Playwrights Studio Scotland on annual funding (secure in our budget for 3 years) and yet these bodies are critical to the broader investment in talent. Let’s now focus on the achievements of our writers, directors, producers and venues.

  8. Thank you Andrew for acknowledging that communications have not been right , your commitment to removing uncertainty and improving communication and to future debate.

  9. Dear Anne
    I note that Andrew refers to the Theatre Review which we undertook. I just wanted to clarify that this work was separate and did not deal with the funding review and the changes to flexible funding. For Creative Scotland these were two separate processes. I don’t believe that Andrew is suggesting otherwise, but I don’t want there to be any confusion- very easy when the debate gets intense!
    Best, Christine

  10. Dear Andrew,

    Thank you for joining in the discussion.

    I note your point about “advising people over a year ago of the plans”. In the past few days, I have spoken to three directors or chief executives who say they did raise their concerns either with you or other CS staff at the appropriate time, so it’d be wrong to give the impression that people are only just waking up to the problem. They have made an effort to contribute to the discussion and, rightly or wrongly, don’t feel they have been listened to.

    Good that you’re planning to improve communications – so often the cause of disputes of this nature – but I hope you don’t use that as a way of sidestepping the well considered objections that many people have to the plans themselves.

    All the best,
    Mark

    • Mark – if you ever want a briefing on all of this do let me know. I realise that people don’t like change but the FXo and those companies who didn’t get through last time will hopefully have a more stable future on their own terms when our plans are allowed time to work through. I have just read a very good first draft of the Theatre Review and this will provide the basis for more serious and holistic long term discussion about what is needed to strengthen theatre and reach audiences across Scotland. In the meantime we have a great Fringe programme and a strong Autumn to look forward to. I’m just back from seeing a really positive radio play project at Go North in Inverness and tomorrow I’m off to see Grid Iron’s work in progress and Theatre Project’s move into community film in Fife. In all of this FXO debate few people are talking about the work. I saw 56 events( not all theatre) in last year’s summer festivals and know that we have much to celebrate and promote.

      • Thanks, Andrew.

      • Oh, and I should add, Andrew, that a lot of people have been talking about the work. You may have missed it over the holiday weekend, but do a Twitter search for #TSworldclass and you’ll get an amazing sense of how much Scotland has been giving the world – and this is in theatre alone. There’s a belief among theatremakers that not all your staff in Creative Scotland appreciate what an achievement this is.

      • Sorry, I mean #stworldclass

  11. Andrew, if I may. I have to agree with those who have suggested that, of Anne Bonnar’s list of seven issues, ideology should have been first, rather than sixth. From my perspective, it seems that Creative Scotland’s problem (as a government body with a very well remunerated leadership) is not that it has not communicated its (ideologically driven) policy position well enough, but that it has done so too well.

    Excuse me for daring to bring politics into this, but it seems obvious to me that CS is a product of the ideology of ‘Creative Industries’, which is, at base, all about introducing a sort of cultural Darwinism – complete with massive uncertainty and a high degree of ‘competition’ – into the realm of the state subsidised arts. In other words, the marketisation of the sector precisely at a time when ‘free market’ economics can be seen to be a global disaster.

    I’m simply not with Anne Bonnar on the notion that the uncertainty introduced by CS’s recent announcements comes down to poor communication and “cock-up”. I’m far from being alone in believing that the threats posed by CS decisions to the futures of a number of previously core funded arts organisations in Scotland are a true reflection of the ideological stance of CS.

    Goodness knows there was dissatisfaction over the SAC’s decision making processes. For CS to have so quickly created the impression that its processes are considerably worse is quite an achievement. You have a job on your hands to convince people that this debacle, with all the uncertainty and anxiety it brings, is not exactly what CS and the neo-Thatcherite, ‘free market’, sink-or-swim ideology of Creative Industries intended all along.

    Yours,
    Mark Brown

  12. joycemcmillan said:

    From Joyce McMillan

    I’m not sure how aware Creative Scotland are of the extent to which their language and structures reflect certain neoliberal ideological assumptions. These are now so pervasive in the British public sector, along with the ghastly language that accompanies them, that people tend to see them as in some way normal, or inevitable.

    Nonetheless, whether it is deliberate or not, I’m sure the time has come when these ideological assumptions have to be named, challenged and reversed, a process I tried to encourage in my Scotsman column of 25 May. They represent, and have always represented, a reductive insult both to the complexity of creative processes in culture and society, and to the positive role of wise government spending in supporting real creative freedom and achievement. Artists will always, and rightly, react to that language, and that approach, with anger and mistrust. And as Mark B. points out, the catastrophic failure of that ideology, on a global scale, is now a matter of record.

    • A good place to start would be to drop the talk of investment and return to the more honest subsidy.

      • lauracameronlewis said:

        Rhetoric around the word ‘investment’ is a tricky one: on the one hand it is more accurate in subsidy in terms of the overall returns for society in both economic terms and well being. Unfortunately, there is the danger that if one doesn’t have a grasp of the complexity of the economic picture, then one might interpret a wise ‘investment’ as one that produces a profit on an arts organisation’s balance sheet. Thus it never shall be – the arts always produce returns for the larger economy but not on their own balance sheets. It is for this reason that the sector reacted with dismay when CS held up two Canadian performance companies as models we should emulate. The key here is to be clear about what we expect from the ‘return on investment’. If its great art, challenging work, legacy for society over the long term then that’s great. If the ‘return’ is expected in monetary terms or short-term superficial flashbulb moments, then that is not conducive to describing how we might support great art. It’s critical that we evaluate the language that we use and the assumptions and implications inherent in it. If we cam enter these discussiosn with the best of goodwill and honesty, then we can lay the ground for more productive future dialogue.

        L x

      • lauracameronlewis said:

        Should read, ‘more accurate THAN ‘subsidy”

        iPhone autocorrect intervention!

      • Good points, Laura.

        I like the term “investment” to the extent that only a foolish capitalist would under-invest in a product. A lot of public subsidy has been wasted because it has been too low to allow the artists to continue and develop. Capitalists try not to let that happen because it’s their own money they’re wasting. There’s no point in investing less money than a company needs, because the company will go to the wall and you will lose your investment. (It would also be crazy for a capitalist investor to introduce the kind of insecurity we’re currently seeing in Scotland, but that’s another story.)

        In addition to the problems you identify, the danger of Creative Scotland seeing itself as an investor not a subsidiser is that it fundamentally alters the relationship between state and artist.

        When you talk about subsidy, the artist is central. When you talk about investment, the investor is central. In the same way that Heinz makes the beans, it now looks like the funding body is creating the art rather than the artists.

        Naturally, artists are resistant to this and I think it accounts for a lot of the current anger.

  13. As you point out, Anne, there is more to the arts in Scotland than theatre. Not all flexibly funded organisations are theatres or producers. Till the beginning of this year, I was chair of an FXO dance organisation which has been thinking about and, as far as possible, planning for the transition since it was first announced.

    As long as that organisation can can bid for project funding that runs for more than a year, (because overseas touring commitments are booked a long time in advance) I felt that the change shouldn’t be detrimental. At the Creative Scotland roadshow in Inverness yesterday, Andrew Dixon said that there will be a sum of £3 million available to assist FXO transition and that the FXO organisations would bid for that with projects which could run for more than one year. That sounds do-able.

    The announcement about this could have been handled better, maybe, but I also understand (from a journalist) that the press were quick to seize on some off the cuff remarks. Things seem to have gotten out of proportion so it may be a good time to take a deep breath and calm down. Everyone makes mistakes.

    Having started and overseen change structural in a much smaller arts organisation, I have considerable sympathy for Creative Scotland which, remember, was born only two years ago after a scarifying period of uncertainty and has instigated a massive amount of change.

    With the benefit of hindsight, it seems pretty obvious that the mapping and all the sector reviews could, and should, have been done during those lost years so that the new organisation had all the data at its fingertips from the beginning.

    I spent my previous life in the film and television business. No core funding there, no subsidy, just dog-eat-dog. But here in Scotland we have a government which recognises the value of the arts and puts its money on the table to support the arts, through an organisation which speaks the language government and business understands.

    Like it or not, that’s the way things are at the moment and it could be a lot worse. If we want it to be better, communication – across the country, across all organisations – is the key. Not just the theatre world in Glasgow and Edinburgh – with all due respect – but all of us.

  14. Art_Avenger said:

    1 – This is not all about theatre, but rather all art forms and there needs to be a balance between shared ground AND specialism
    2 – If there is a desire to use the language of investment, then – to use an over-used term – “bring it on!” Arts organisations convert “investment” into a) culture; b) jobs; and c) increased spend. And the rest.
    3 – “It could be a lot worse” is never an argument for anything
    4 – It is the benefit of logic, not hindsight, that suggests sectoral reviews should have been undertaken in advance of review of funding structures.

  15. Shelagh C said:

    Right now every time I hear ‘CS’ I reach for my gas mask!

  16. Shelagh C said:

    While everyone celebrates its second birthday here are CS’s four broken promises

    1. Looking out and not in – A little more navel gazing wouldn’t go amiss. The big casualty has been accountability. Getting info or speaking to a knowledgeable representative on the phone are both nearly impossible. The grants awarded were once published religiously on the website but no more. Even the holy grail of informed decision-making has been tainted; the process in too few hands and those people with specialist expertise being diminished and sidelined. And let’s not forget the baffling forms, market economy babble, managementspeak, lack of accurate minutes for funding decisions. Many people working in the arts/film/creative industries have had their worst fears well and truly confirmed. There remain serious questions to answer.

    2. Staff important and a great place to work – Staff are important, especially the claque of creative directors. The rest get fed the crumbs from Kantor’s table. As a result most of the managers and officers have no idea of what is expected of them. Artists and producers don’t need an information phoneline but specialists who understand their work and with whom they can have open and intelligent conversations. In the FX fiasco – did no members of staff dare to speak truth to power? The high-handed review of FX organisations has risked achieving the opposite of what it supposedly set out to do – no mean feat. And only publicity reasons account for the temporary (and unseemly) backtracking. The organisation appears arrogant and out of touch with the constituency it serves.

    3. The organisation a household name – The vast majority of Scots have never heard of CS or have little idea of what purpose the public body serves. Media coverage is negligible. The PR has been shockingly inept and counterproductive. The board is invisible. Love or loathe previous chairmen at least they were wheeled into the light now and again. The CEO has become notorious for his self-aggrandising photo-calls. But does he know that a reputation can be ruined in minutes? Who is advising him? The recent Twitter and Facebook firestorm has provided an angry backlash against the organisation which needn’t have happened and made the organisation and its senior staff laughing stocks.

    4. The best website of any cultural agency in the world – If you’re the national agency tasked with promoting new media and digital development then it’s a good idea for you to have a website that works properly. Whatever happened to the promise of an integrated online funding system enabling clients to track the progress of their applications, the chatrooms for creative people to share ideas, the video clips and downloadable samples of music, the microsites, phone app, live streaming etc? Key sections of the site are still under construction two years after the organisation was established. For an organisation that is supposed to be at the forefront of promoting digital development in Scotland this is not just an embarrassment (tardy updates, bad English, web administrators’ names showing up on pages etc) but a disservice to the wealth of new media talent in the country. The organisation has, arguably, the worst website of any cultural organisation the world.

  17. Shelagh C said:

    Never mind all that – now we’ve got slebs on a daytime TV cooking show. Anne, was this really what you envisaged as transition director of CS?

  18. Shelagh said:

    bit harsh

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