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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.

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Graven Image Design of Croft Lampshade in Harris Tweed wool cloth for Harris Tweed Hebrides

Creative Scotland has set out its stall in its first corporate plan, Creative Scotland presents an ambitious vision for Scotland’s arts, culture and creative industries – supported by additional funding.  The core Treasury financing of some £35.5m is maintained this year as well as £14.5m of Scottish Government funds for specific initiatives like the Expo fund which supports Scottish work at the Edinburgh Festivals. These funds are topped up with some unspent reserves accumulated during an investment hiatus as the new body took shape. The coffers are further swollen by the reinstatement of lottery funding after the diversion to the Olympics and a significant saving on overheads achieved by the creation of the new agency and the abolishment of its antecedents, The Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen, achieving annual savings of £2.4m through streamlining systems and a reduction of 30% in staff.  That is topped off with the attraction of funds from the Paul Hamlyn and Baring Foundations signalling the intent of the new organisation to attract additional funds to achieve its ambitions.

 

Creative Scotland has a much wider perspective than its predecessors with both a cultural and economic remit across the arts, culture and creative industries to encompass new sectors including the games industry and fashion alongside broadcasting, film, visual and performing arts and literature. That wider remit brings greater responsibility and influence but not more cash, so Creative Scotland has to lead partnerships with other investors like Scottish Enterprise to achieve its ambitious aims, among them to see a growth in Scotland’s cultural economy that exceeds the UK average and to achieve the highest levels of participation in the arts in the UK.

Its plans for using the funds over which it has direct control signal a fundamental shift in how funding is applied.  The Scottish Arts Council, resembling the traditional 20th century arts council model, distributed funding to arts organisations and sometimes, but in a much smaller proportion, directly to artists.  Creative Scotland will use its funds to deliver strategic priorities and to commission activities designed to achieve these priorities.  This fundamental shift means that more than 50% of the organisations funded by the Scottish Arts Council are in a pool which will vanish.  Currently £18.2m is provided to 51 Foundation Organisations and £8m is provided to 60 Flexibly Funded Organisations and this category will disappear to be replaced by strategic commissioning. This is bound to cause alarm amongst the Flexibly Funded Organisations, whose ranks include, for example, the Print and Sculpture Studios in Edinburgh whereas the Glasgow equivalents are included in the Foundation Organisation category, supposed to represent the cultural backbone of the country. And the term ‘strategic commissioning’ sends shivers down the spine of many arts organisations with cries that its all too woolly.

That alarm will be compounded if Creative Scotland does not have the cash which it projects after 2011. While Creative Scotland sets out a ten year aspiration and a three year budget, it can’t commit beyond this year.  The current Scottish Government budget is a pre-election budget and is for one year only.  With elections for the Scottish Parliament this May, which of the contesting parties will commit to funding Creative Scotland’s plans?    In Scotland we have a sort of optimism  since devolution and our current government is clearly committed to culture as an essential element of  Scotland’s international success and home happiness – hence Creative Scotland felt it could present as the default case a continuance of arts funding.  But its not in the bag and we need to see the commitment from all the parties to our cultural funding before May.

In the expectant and dreadful hush before tomorrow’s announcements of the slash and burn of the Comprehensive Spending Review, we have seen some wisps of white smoke giving faint signals of how the arts will be supported. There must be major core cuts as has been trailed consistently and these blows will likely be presented as being softened by measure to encourage philanthropy. The other piece of cushioning is to be provided by changes to the Lottery.

Jeremy Hunt has announced a reinstatement of Lottery Funds for the original good causes after the raid to pay for the Olympics. The arts will regain an estimated £50m each year from 2012.  Unless the terms of the original Lottery Act are amended, these funds will need to be used in the spirit of public benefits and must be applied according to the principle of  ‘additionality ‘. Every penny must be used wisely to support artists and creative experiences and in particular to make sure that the risky innovative creative artists are supported and not lost at the expense of funding the Arts Council and the multiple intermediary agencies.

Rooting around for lottery funds also leads us to NESTA, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, set up with an endowment of £250m, subsequently supplemented with £75m.  It spends around £30m each year but very little of that is in the arts.

NESTA describes its mission as to make the UK more innovative although its statutory objects  in the 1998 Lottery Act are “to support and promote talent, innovation and creativity in the fields of science, technology and the arts”.

In its earlier years, it was involved heavily in the arts but now its priorities are to invest in early stage start ups and to research, experiment and advocate for change and innovation in the delivery of public services.  Its support of artists is restricted to important action-based research into innovation in the arts – which includes the brilliant NT Live.

But now it is to lose its status as an NDPB in last week’s bonfire of the quangos, does that mean it will be free to drop the arts completely?

NESTA has declared its pleasure that it is wholly independent at last from the restrictions of being an NDPB, freer to invest more in early stage companies and to work in the voluntary sector.  The implication is that NESTA’s hands have been tied.  It is now to become a charity.  The Charity Commission’s guidance includes principles for good governance  and for the role, recruitment and remuneration of trustees.  The application of these principles to the NESTA Charity will likely mean some change to the way it is governed.  For example, the guide emphasises “The concept of unpaid trusteeship has been one of the defining characteristics of the charitable sector, contributing greatly to public confidence in charities”, and NESTA trustees are all paid currently.

The real issues are: what will NESTA’s charitable objectives be and who will its members be?

Many charities in the arts suffer from weak governance, with the directors of the company – the board members – being the only members of the company, self-perpetuating and elite. IF NESTA is not to become NEST, the arts need to come higher up the agenda and NESTA’s membership needs to become much broader and more open than it is now. NESTA boasts it is the UK’s foremost expert in innovation. Excellent, it should apply its expertise to setting up and governing an exemplary 21st charity that benefits artistic innovation.