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Viewing Platform at Collective: Simon and Tm Bloor

The arts, culture and creative sector in the UK are amongst the most devastated by the results of the vote to leave the EU on Thursday.  Leaving Europe does not only have negative implications for trade, attracting talent and for EU funding, but, more insidiously, reverting to apparently splendid isolation strikes at the heart of the value to culture of international collaboration and exchange.   Cultural exchange within Europe has become a defining element of how the arts in the UK operate and an industry in itself.  The opportunities for European funding through collaboration have led to many productions on art house stages.  Associations such as the Informal European Theatre Meeting (IETM) have become essential networking events for the sector.  But this breakaway from Europe offers a pause to reflect on how the UK arts community should collaborate internationally.  Freed from the obsession with Europe, could we exchange more globally and meaningfully?

 

I have oft found myself in international think tanks and conferences  to consider cultural policy  in privileged surrounds including on one occasion on the country estate of Ingmar Bergman. I chaired a three day session on Trust for IETM in Dublin. Each time, the participants have been largely European culturatti with regular doses of Australians and Americans.  The presbyterian in me gnaws at me in these sessions, concerned that we are talking only to ourselves.

 

International cooperation and understanding is critical for the arts and culture.  At this time, when families drown in the Mediterranean or are marooned with a blanket between 6 and no water, that cooperation has to go beyond Europe.

I have no idea how much the UK would have extra for culture in the Brexit fantasy maths scenarios.  But lets imagine that its at minimum £5m pa (based on the current €1.46 billion allocated by  Creative Europe with admin costs of 20% divided by 28;  there are several other funds which could be identified and added to this).  The likelihood is that a fraction of this would be allocated to cultural diplomacy just as it is now through the British Council or other government agencies, with international projects taking place in those countries deemed economically and politically important.

But what we really need is for our artists to exchange with artists in countries where we do not understand, in Africa, in the Middle East.  Its difficult to imagine artists having that much influence within Westminster’s current democratic system and Whitehall’s control of funds.

While the cultural sector is the most organised its ever been, with the  Federation of Creative Industries clearly advocating to remain in the UK, its now apparent that lobby groups and industry bodies are not enough to bring about change or to make our voice heard.

In Australia, where there is PR, artists are seeking to contribute in full through standing for election.  The Australian party for the arts reminds us of Plato’s warning:

One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors

 

 

Here in Scotland the vote  to leave Europe has additional and more profound implications. We want to remain. Our values are increasingly different to those of parts of England and we hope that a solution will be found for us to remain in Europe.  But we could benefit also from a wider interpretation of internationalism.

The Edinburgh International Festival was begun after the  Second World War to provide ‘a platform for the human spirit’, aiding peace, international understanding through great art.

Scotland  needs to work in and beyond Europe, and beyond official cultural diplomacy to create new platforms in this fractured world.

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Creative Scotland has announced regular funding for three years 2015-2018 of £99,696,859 to 119 organisations. These organisations can be viewed as the core infrastructure which Creative Scotland supports to deliver its overall policy objectives over the next three years. Inclusion within this portfolio is associated with a recognition of value and significance by Creative Scotland, including in terms of excellence.

The awards need to be seen in the context of other public funding available to the arts and culture in Scotland: Creative Scotland itself will be funding artists, companies and projects through other programmes over the next three years; the Scottish Government’s culture budget (draft) for 2015-16 totals £174.7m; Scottish local authorities can be expected to expend close to £100m; the British Council will fund some arts activity and UK Lottery funds are available not only through the arts lottery, through by Creative Scotland, but also HLF and the Big Lottery.

The 119 organisations in receipt of Creative Scotland’s regular funding will receive an estimated £33,232,286 in 2015/16, one-third of the three year total and can be compared with 3 groups of funded organisations in 2014/15:

 

2014-15
Foundation Funded Organisation Programme Organisation Annual clients/other Total Regular Funding Awarded 1 year average
45 36 47 128 119
18,735 4,634 7,486 30,854 33,232

Bonnar Keenlyside’s analysis of these by art form and location (BK Analysis Creative Scotland Funded Organisations 2015) identifies that overall the art forms have all received more funding than previously, if the £400,000 award to Sistema in 2014/15 is discounted.

It further identifies where the funded organisations cluster – and where there are gaps. Even when using the 14 larger health board areas as opposed to the 32 local authorities, there are some parts of Scotland where Creative Scotland’s funded organisations are scarce –  Ayrshire and Arran, Fife and Lanarkshire or, in the case of he Scottish Borders, non-existent . By the same token, the Islands, Highland and Tayside have attracted relatively high amounts.

There are a number of factors which contribute to this: a place’s tradition of engagement in the arts and culture and in encouraging arts organisations; where artists have found support; where local authorities and civic leaders have weighed in – and some great applications. Equally, there might be a dearth of compelling applications from artistic organisations in those areas which have not attracted support.

In making this historic three year commitment to a national portfolio, Creative Scotland now has the opportunity to look at gaps and to work with the members of its portfolio, its funding streams and its partners including the Scottish Government, national performing companies and local authorities to support artistic and cultural activity where there is little.

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reviving the 50p seat at Citizens Theatre 21012 - ©

In today’s highly codified and regulated subsidised arts sectors, all sorts of business and quasi-business behaviours are required. Strategies, plans, systems for delivering objectives and for measuring success are all extremely useful tools.  But in the days before market principles were applied to public expenditure, and before 25 years of increased public expenditure on the arts led not only to more investment in artists, arts activity and buildings but also to a proliferation of policy makers and monitors, there were far less requirements.  The weight of encouragement which public agencies provide to extol arts organisations to  ‘innovate’  , to improve or change their ‘ business models’ and to train their boards and leaders in being more ‘entrepreneurial’ and strategic, for example, could give the impression that arts leaders do not naturally do these things for themselves – left to their own devices.

But successful leaders in the arts have always taken risks and often demonstrated a razor-sharp instinct for business as an essential element of achieving ambitions to create great art and to attract audiences to enjoy and appreciate it.  Long before Glasgow had any cultural policy or arts development officers and when the Scottish Arts Council was a small organisation with a few officers, these was some serial innovation happening in the Gorbals under the direction of Giles Havergal, Philip Prowse and Robert David MacDonald.  Not only did they transform the Theatre artistically but they attracted an audience of a size and demographic mix which would turn today’s  ‘audience development’ agency green with envy.  The reputation of the productions was the greatest factor in this and there were also all sorts of experiments including the radical ‘All Seats 50p’ policy.  I have gone back to the box office and financial records to assess the effect of this and the detailed results are in this article for the Scottish International Journal of Theatre and Screen. This shows how, at the same time as its cheap seat policy,  the Citz increased and diversified audiences at the same time as increasing its box office income while also attracting additional subsidy and putting more money into the work.  It did this through some luck  and some clever tactics, not least an extremely commercial approach to its annual pantomime, for which the tickets were not 50p.  It was not all plain sailing, with the SAC at one point granting  the Citz 5% less than the other Scottish producing theatres on the ground that the Citz refused to increase its ticket prices. And subsequent innovations, like no advance booking, were less successful.

Havergal was a risk taker, refuse-to-take-no for an answer leader with a mission to produce and present great work for the audiences of Glasgow. The Citz directors did not use business plans or strategies to shape their innovation but rather an intuitive experimentation. The simple mantra for all innovation, whether artistic or business was, as Philip Prowse often said “Not to change in art is to die”. A ‘taught’ entrepreneur AKA a manager using established business tools and techniques, would not have considered a flat ‘low’ ticket price after what had been three years of growth in revenues and attendances. But for Havergal, there was no formal strategy, no management objectives, no annual review. “ I don’t think we knew what had happened. We just looked at the money we had for the year ahead”.

Havergal and Prowse did it to shatter the inherited mould of complicated ticketing and to see if that might attract more and different people. The experiment was successful not only in its contribution to attracting additional audiences but in achieving more income from public bodies. The Havergal regime led the way on innovation, income generation and audience development and the public funders followed. In today’s arts funding system which is heavy on policy, strategy, measurement and evaluation, could similar theatrical entrepreneurialism flourish?

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

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.

Glasgow's Red Road Flats before demolition

Creative Scotland’s  failure to ensure that arts companies felt valued and understood has generated much anxiety and attracted much criticism.  Announcing the end of the medium term funding stream which its predecessor The Scottish Arts Council euphemistically termed ‘flexible funds’ for 49 organisations BEFORE sharing with the majority of  those companies the names and priorities attached to replacement short and medium term funding streams has naturally threatened the stability of the sector. Its like a local council who has plans for a brand new housing scheme or a new town serving eviction notices to residents of tenements without first showing them the lovely new homes and gardens in which they will live.  While not all of the residents will want to leave behind their old loved but run-down homes, the town planners will genuinely believe its better  for health and wellbeing and for many that will be true.  Of paramount importance is that the families always have a home and are never threated with being thrown out on the street.  Many artists now feel that they are being evicted without a home to which to go .

The arts community always protests when there are cuts.  But the outcry from artists to this situation differs significantly from past protests.  The varied and intelligent blogs, tweets, letters and comments shared digitally has raised the level of debate from being a single channelled protest to a sophisticated identification of key issues.  These are not only from artists such as the playwright David Greig but from other cultural leaders and commentators who, in being freelance or portfolio workers, have more in common with the artistic community than with the salaried and pensioned executives of some of the foundation funded organisations or the staff of Creative Scotland.  Equally importantly, contributors from the wider political media have reflected on ideological elements as well as the more traditional lampooning.

When we change the way we communicate, we change society

Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody

In the past, such protests have always been dealt with behind closed doors.  The arts community would make representations to the Culture Minister in a private manner .  That Minister might then direct its cultural intermediary to make changes in an equally non public forum, communications advisors would work  with individual trouble makers to allay concerns and the old order would be restored.

This time, David Greig responds to a request from Creative Scotland to have a meeting by publishing an open letter.

Scottish Cultural workers feel they are part of a success story, making world class work on thin resources. This is not a career to us, this is our life. By approaching the sector as a problem, or as recalcitrant, or as slow thinking luddites you have immediately put them on the defensive. You need artists to be open in order that together you can explore imaginative ways to respond to the funding issues

The chief of CS communications responds on twitter. CEO Andrew Dixon comments on blogs.

All of this creates an unprecedented open conversation which, if it continues, could have a powerful effect on how the arts community in Scotland can play a full part in leadership and decision making instead of having to react angrily to poorly communicated decisions.

National Performing Companies: average attendances 2007 /08 - 2010/11

Its five years now since the Scottish Government took direct control of the funding relationship with the five national performing companies.  Since then, the companies have enjoyed increased funding as the Scottish Government has been keen to ensure the financial health of the companies, providing not only increases year on year in revenue funding but also international touring money, capital funding and one-off monies when required, (aruund £1.7m in 2010/11).  The companies have flourished in the secure and fertile environment provided by cash and, equally if not more importantly, in the pride continually expressed by the Scottish Government.  Its no surprise then, that in launching the annual review of the companies, Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop emphasised the positives.  Highlighting the international and artistic acclaim acheived, Ms Hyslop also grabbed a few stats from the reports to boast that there had been a 20% increase in attendances over the last 12 months.

“In the four years since Scotland’s five national performing companies came into a direct funding relationship with Government, they have delivered more than 3,500 performances to over 2.2 million people.

“In 2010-11, people the length and breadth of Scotland were given opportunities to experience and participate in the fantastic work of the companies – with activity delivered across all of Scotland’s 32 local authority areas, and I am delighted to see that their combined audience grew by a fifth over the year.

“This remarkable achievement highlights the huge contribution the companies make to Scotland’s rich cultural life.

“As well as stimulating pride in Scotland’s rich heritage at home, our National Performing Companies have attracted significant artistic acclaim abroad – showcasing Scotland’s modern, vibrant and diverse culture to audiences around the world.”

The report shows the National Theatre of Scotland, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Scottish Ballet, Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Scottish Opera gave 903 performances, reaching a combined audience of 457,774 people.  Most media coverage centred  positively on the increase in attendances.

Comparisons of the figures over the four years since they have been gathered were more negative.

So what does an analysis of the four year data reveal?

Over the four years both performances and attendances have slightly declined.

The variances over the years are related to the timing of activity, the types of shows, the scale of venues and also to the popularity of the programmes. The National Theatre, in particular, performs at all scales, from the village hall to the large scale theatre.

The average attendances for each of the companies over the period illustrates that none of the companies is on an upward trend, with overall stable performance from National Theatre of Scotland, RSNO and Scottish Opera with declining trends in average attendance from SCO and Scottish Ballet.

But these statistics are only one part of the picture.  The  companies’  contribution to the Scottish Government’s objectives of reach and international reputation are referred, positively, in its report.    A balanced appraisal would have to include artistic quality, a dimension not made public in the report beyond referencing the international peers used to assess quality.  So we will make do with the statistics and the warm words.

And wait for next year’s statistics with interest.