Scotland’s eminent artists could provide leadership without controlling resources

Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Temple of Apollo at Jupiter Artland

Much of the recent furore over Creative Scotland is about how it communicates with and engages with artists. Several meetings are to take place, some open events organised by individuals and more with the various umbrella organisations which represent particular sectors. The problem with umbrella agencies like Playwrights Studio and Federation of Scottish Theatres is that they are funded directly and indirectly by Creative Scotland. While they can advocate, and do so, their ability to do so is dependent on funding from Creative Scotland. They are all part of the subsidised arts society where control begins with the Scottish Government which appoints the board members of Creative Scotland. Creative Scotland then funds subsidised arts organisations most of which are run as charities.  Some of these subsidised organisations also pay memberships to umbrella organisations who are also funded by Creative Scotland.  Their independence is therefore limited.

Many leading and eminent artists are not bound up in the hegemony of the subsidised arts.  With  fingers on the pulse of the wider cultural community in Scotland, it is their leadership which has achieved a clear response from Creative Scotland. Artists must  be able to play a lead role in culture not only through dialogue with Creative Scotland and its board but outwith Creative Scotland providing a vital counterweight to the state subsidised system.

The idea of an artists academy for Scotland has been around for some time and the time is right for it to be established. This should not be an agency or an instrument of state. Its members should be eminent artists, the primary function of the academy to recognise artists as civic leaders, and the role to contribute to cultural and wider policy and provide leadership, a bit like, but not the same as, the Irish Aosdana.  It should not be involved in the administration of funding, this is the role of Creative Scotland. Above all, it must be independent. If the artists academy had existed in 2002, when the idea of Creative Scotland was first mentioned in the Quinquennial Review of Scottish Sreeen in 2002, or by Mike Watson in 2003 before the match was lit under the bonfire of the quangoes, it could have contributed ideas and opinions about ideology and policy.  It could have contributed to the Cultural Commission, whose one artist Craig Armstrong resigned when he discovered he was the only artist in a committee of administrators, and to the many changes of policy over the next five years.

As Makar, the redoubtable Liz Lochhead occupies the sole official position for a leading Scottish artist.  Establishing a national artists academy with a role in national cultural leadership could bring artists in from the cold and allow more balanced and considered setting of cultural policy. In addition, increased fiscal autonomy could be used to provide a time limited allowance for artists and creative workers to develop their work, either in tax incentives or a creative enterprise allowance. This would loosen the singular dependence on Creative Scotland and create a more balanced system for artistic and cultural leadership in Scotland.

This would provide a counterweight to Creative Scotland, whose board is charged with achieving CS objectives as approved by the Scottish Government and with ensuring that public money is used efficiently, effectively and delivers government outcomes.

Board members of Creative Scotland are appointed by Ministers and not remunerated, in contrast with Scottish Enterprise or NHS. Not only does this signal that culture is less important than enterprise but it precludes applications from those artists who must prioritise work which generates income.   There is an artist on the board, musician Gary West, and others who practice art in their spare time but in selecting a chair closely associated with Scotland’s financial services, Fiona Hyslop has prioritised financial stewardship. Alternative structures involving artists would signal government recognition of their importance and reduce the singular focus on what is just one part of the cultural landscape.

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4 comments
  1. Edward Harkins said:

    An Academy; but to what effect or purpose? Perhaps to help the ‘arts sector’ in Scotland strive for something more of a coherent agreement about what it is, wants to be, and is seeking – and to much better organise and articulate the arguments for the securing of adequate public funding?

    Recently I heard several of the sector’s high and not-so-high profile personalities and vox-pop-style interviewees on BBC Scotland’s Newsnight Scotland. That left me perplexed. The personalities and interviewees seemed to collectively offer an over-broad perspective on the sector. On this perspective it seemed implied that just about the only real issue was seen to be the need for maximum public grants and subsidies, minimally conditioned – sometimes to be given out on the basis of ‘just trust us’. There were debatable assertions made on how liberal arts funding is in all other ‘civilised’ European countries in Europe. An ignorance of what role social enterprise could have was also evinced, unconvincingly.

    A few days later, and others in ‘the sector’ were more emphasising that artists were ‘not arguing about the amount of funding, it was about the way Creative Scotland was dealing with people’. On one late evening current affairs TV programme I saw a single person from the ‘arts sector’ fairly sternly haranguing Andrew Dixon in a personalised and derogatory way, without offering any evidence or reasoning for this, or setting it in any kind a meaningful context.

    Doubtless, as remarked by one of the speakers on Newsnight Scotland, there is much art that has something essential to say but is also uncompromising and perhaps unwelcome, and will therefore require anything up to 100% unconditional public funding to make it possible. It is however, a fundamental misjudgement to create the impression that this truth is being used as a basis for a catch-all argument for funding of the entire sector. To state the obvious, not all the sector’s output is in need of majority, still less100%, public funding. I appreciate that such funding is not what many from the sector are arguing – but that can often be the strong impression that is given. That gives ammunition to those who routinely decry and deny public funding for ‘the sector’.

    Almost any other section within the Third Sector in Scotland will make similar demands on public funding and financing because that section is, it will argue, serving essential public good or sustaining the needs of a civilised society. Notwithstanding this, other such sections have had to, more or less willingly, move on in the matters of mixed public and private funding, and to also partly utilise other models such as social enterprise. Within the arts and culture sector there are those who have already significantly moved in this direction. If the ‘arts and culture sector’ as a whole is to prevail in its case, it needs to better argue the case in the public domain for its uniqueness and value in serving society’s needs.

    If an Academy is going to help the Scottish ‘arts and culture sector’ to better debate, comprehend and agree on something of a coherent view of itself, and far better articulate and promote these matters in the public domain – well and good.

    If we are, incidentally, to accept that there is an order of ‘leading and eminent artists’, and if we institutionalise that status in the format of an Academy, what’s to stop a subsequent sense of apartness or elitism among the eminence – and consequent failures in empathy and good communication? After all, some spokespeople for the sector’ have argued over the past weeks that the whole problem is to do with a lack of empathy and good communication.

    Finally, if an Academy is to be ‘a counterweight’ to Creative Scotland how – realistically – is that Academy to be resourced? Given the state of our politics and political system, is any foreseeable Government in Scotland going to fund an Academy to be a ‘counterweight’ to that Government’s main culture agency?

  2. I think this comments thread on Charlotte Higgins’ clog is pretty relevant to your suggestions here, with contributions from Peter Arnott, Variant, and Tam Dean Burn: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/charlottehigginsblog/2012/oct/09/open-letter-creative-scotland?CMP=twt_fd

    I’m broadly in agreement with your suggestions and their intenton. But “the hegemony of subsidised arts” is not the only relevant hegemony to consider. What mechanismss should be in place within a national Academy to ensure space for dissent, plurality, experimentation and radical proposals? If it is to be led by eminent artists, how do we ensure that this does not stagnate our national arts culture but rather keeps it moving? How do we support dissent within a structure of established excellence? I’m genuinely interested in potential answers here, because I think there’s a lot of scope in the suggestion.

  3. Some folks who seem so intent in giving Creative Scotland a right good kicking – and in public – might be well advised to bear in mind a little context, proportion and possible consequences with today’s news in England, “Arts Council loses one fifth jobs”.

    I recall that in a recent Newsnight Scotland negative comparisons were asserted as between Scotland and ‘all the other civilised countries in Europe’ with regard to funding the Arts. Wonder if England was being included as one of these other European countries?

    http://www.civilsociety.co.uk/finance/news/content/13683/arts_council_england_to_lose_one-fifth_of_staff?utm_source=31+October+Fundraising&utm_campaign=31+October+Fundraising&utm_medium=email

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