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.