cultural governance

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The Scotland Devolution Commission represents an important opportunity for the value of culture in a flourishing Scotland to be recognised by Holyrood and Westminster government, for the arts and  and culture to be further embedded in the civic life of Scotland and for artists to be involved in civic leadership and governance.

My job is to create a process through which politicians, civic institutions and the Scottish public can come together, work together and agree the detail of what those powers should be.

“To that end, I am working to one aim: to produce a unifying set of proposals by the 30 November 2014.

Lord Smith of Kelvin

The members of the Commission are two from each political party.  For those not in the tent, the way to have your say is to submit views by 31 October.

This is my submission:

The Scotland Devolution Commission represents an important opportunity for the arts and culture to be further embedded in the civic life of Scotland and for artists to be involved in civic leadership and governance.

Further, for both the UK and Scottish governments to recognise the value of culture to a flourishing Scotland.

In the years since devolution Scotland’s arts and culture have flourished and thrived. They have been recognised as being of high value to Scotland across many economic and social/civic spheres, bringing benefits to individuals, communities and the nation. These benefits include contributing to our sense of identity, to how we understand the world and to our international reputation and contributing to learning, health, wellbeing, confidence and quality of life for individuals and for our communities.
Artists have become recognised as having an important contribution to make to civil society and their voices and views have been increasingly sought in the period leading up to the referendum on independence.

In order for culture to play its full part in a flourishing Scotland, the Commission should consider four elements:

1. The enshrining of the value of culture to Scotland in any legislation and statement of principles which define in statute the Scotland settlement;

2. The use of fiscal instruments to support artists, the arts and culture;

3. The devolution of broadcasting to Holyrood;

4. The creation of a system for broader and more open leadership in Scotland than the current political system, including the involvement of artists.

1. Enshrining of the value of culture
A high level statement of principles stating Scotland’s values should be included in the legal documents enshrining the outcomes of The Scotland Devolution Commission. In tone this should be equivalent to a constitution.

These principles should enshrine the value of culture to a flourishing Scotland, stating simply that culture is core to Scotland’s people, our future, and that taking part in cultural life is a human right.

Cultural value should inform all policy areas to recognise the value of culture to a flourishing Scotland.

2. Use of fiscal instruments to support artists, the arts and culture

The Scottish Parliament should have powers to raise income tax, national insurance, corporation tax, inheritance tax, petroleum revenue and other taxes and fiscal instruments. With this, artists and culture should be supported in ways additional to the current system of subsidy.

In particular, there should be available a tax-free research and development allowance available for artists and entrepreneurs in culture and the creative industries. This could be based on schemes in other countries and also the Enterprise Allowance Scheme of the 1980s, which supported many artists and creative entrepreneurs including young people. (This differs from the current UK New Enterprise Allowance Scheme in several key aspects including age restrictions, business eligibility and duration).

There is additional potential to consider the use of other tax breaks including for investors in film and creative business in Scotland. Tax incentives used in other countries as a means to attract artists to reside in a nation, for example in Ireland, are not be as relevant to Scotland at this time.

3. Devolution of broadcasting

Scotland has its own culture, political system, institutions and history and there should be a greater devolution of broadcasting than is currently the case. The precise nature of this will need fuller consideration.

4. A system for broader and more open leadership involving artists

One of the major themes of the last few years and the referendum period itself has been the positive involvement of civil movements and the desire for a more inclusive democratic system in Scotland. I urge the Commission to be mindful of this and to consider the creation of a system for leadership in Scotland which is inclusive of civil movements including those involving artists. These movements, such as National Collective are not the type of constituted institutions which lend themselves to absorption into governance models where power is organised and controlled by political parties and civil servants and where systems of representation are dependent on the existence of constituted institutions.


These measures are presented as suggestions at a fairly high-level. Some need further consideration and appraisal. They have the potential to help Scotland flourish.

Lets hope that our views are heard, that we can become more involved in the future of Scotland and that the old political system doesn’t close the door on artists.



Bricks and Blocks from Steve Rhode's flickr photostream

There are some great boards governing arts organisations in the UK. Engaged, expert, connected to their communities, robust and committed, the directors do it for love and from a sense of civic responsibility.  Its certainly not for financial gain, as the members of boards of charities are in the main unpaid, and its rarely for recognition, with only the chairs of top (drawer) arts organisations regularly receiving honours.  But for all the successes, most of the discussion about governance in the arts world is critical.  Individual executives complain about lack of support and understanding from board members and the governance of subsidised arts organisations is a vexed area.  Much of this is due to the widespread adoption of a standard, bespoke model for arts governance , created several decades ago as mechanisms whereby organisations could comply with fiduciary and legal requirements, avoid corporation tax and receive arts council and other funding. 

But one size does not fit all.  All the focus on the weaknesses of the current system tends to ignore not only the examples where the present model is absolutely fit for purpose, but also diverse altnerative governance structures which exist in the arts.  Peers in the MMM Revolution programme coming together to discuss governance at Newcastle’s Live Theatre were variously involved in shareholding companies, or in Community Interest Companies as well as the standard model.  In an arts ecology where collaboration and distributed leadership have taken firm root and where new financing, practice, resources and community relationships are emerging, its time to take a closer look at governance.  In particular, its time to recognise that in a diverse ecology, there are several valid species of arts governance models which will best suit diverse artistic enterprises.

The test needs to be, what is the best governance structure and system in each case to support artistic and organisational mission and to be truly accountable to  beneficiaries?  The consideration of beneficiaries is key.  In a subsidised arts organisation receiving public money, the beneficiaries will include the  general public and  artists.  But can the current prevalent governance systems in the subsidised arts support effective accountability to the public and artists ?

There are many types of structures and  organisations in the arts,  from those with tight and clear links with government to those where there is little relationship with public funding agencies. At each end of the spectrum , there is relative clarity about accountability.  A national gallery or one of Scotland’s national performing companies, for example, is directly accountable to government with directions and targets to meet.  A small community arts organisation with a mixed economy, volunteers and strong community interaction, will be very visible in its community and focussed on delivering benefits for its public.  Its the large number of arts council and subsidised organisations in the middle where there is less clarity.

The standard model of a subsidised arts organisation in the UK looks something like this.  Constituted as  charity, the boards will typically include as directors  members of the public with skills and expertise in arts, community, management, marketing, fundraising, financial, legal and other specific skills. They may also include specific representatives of their local authority and of key user groups like amateur societies.  The governing documents for boards will enshrine both charitable objectives and powers as well as operating rules.  Boards will do their best to govern with care, dligence and skill, providing support and challenge for executives, hiring and firing, advocating, and balancing compliance and risk.

But unlike shareholding and membership organisations and charities, most arts organisations are governed by boards whose members do not directly or wholly represent shareholders or members. The board directors may be openly recruited but there can be a lack of clarity about accountability.  By law, most board directors are accountable only to themselves as the directors will be the only members of the company.  This lack of wider accountability  can serve to weaken their perceived legitimacy. While some boards regard their responsibilities as being to all stakeholders, others take a narrower view, often focussing on the highest profile twin forces of the executive leadership and the major investor – the arts council.

Questioning the current prevailing models of governance in the arts  is not confined to the UK. Diane Ragsdale, speaking at the MMM Revolution event, described some of the pitfalls endemic in the US model of governance of arts organisations (give, get or get off). One danger she observed was that US boards tend to focus on preserving the existing structures rather than focussing on achieving artistic mission – a focus which in itself might mean leaving behind existing structures, like a building.   Another pitfall she identified was the undue influence on artistic programmes exerted by board members who are major donors.

He who pays the piper always influences the tune.  In the UK, the piper is unlikely to be a major donor but more likely to be funders representing the public interest and /or state policy,  in particular the arts council and local authorities representing the public interest.    But while the private donor in the US and the local authority in the UK will often be directly represented on the board, stating their claim, their priorities and sometimes their taste, the arts council will not.  While some arts councils sometimes send observers to board meetings, the general policy is to leave governance to the board. Arts council board members or officers never serve as full board directors.  How much clearer it would be if, within an overriding commitment to act corporately to achieve the mission of the organisation,  the arts council had shares on the board representing its interest, along with other shareholders like local authorities, commercial operators, user groups and so on.

Governance structures which include arts councils as shareholders?   Creative Community Companies? Operating without a board at all?  Its time to unblock the one size fits all model and legitmise alternatives more fit for purpose.

Bust of Jimmy Reid, trade union activist and writer: by Kenny Hunter
at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery: ©Kenny Hunter

Today’s strike action by public servants has closed large parts of the nation’s cultural institutions and local authority services.  Libraries are closed and the fabulous new Scottish National Portrait Gallery has had to disconnect its first day of opening to the public with St Andrews Day in a sad case of poetic injustice.  Libraries and museums are bound in to public services, carrying the heavy weight of civic responsibility in conserving collections  held in trust for the nation or in providing education and information. These civic cultural facilities which we support through our taxes are operated by public sector workers and today those workers are on strike over changes to their pensions.

The arts, on the other hand, are relatively unfettered by civic burdens. Free to take risks, make money and entertain as well as educate, stimulate and inspire, arts facilities are largely run by people without a pension. Most people who work in the arts do not enjoy the benefits of pensions and other terms and conditions associated with the public sector.  Most people who work in the arts are self-employed artists, actors, stage managers, dancers, writers and illustrators.  The majority of those who are able to earn a full-time living in the arts are the support staff, the managers, arts centre directors, box office staff and technicians and few enjoy the protected conditions of the public sector.

So today, some arts centres are flexing their entrepreneurial muscles and imaginatively engaging with their communities. Horsecross Arts in Perth are running music and dance workshops for children looking to get involved in the arts since their schools are closed. And for most, from the Corby Cube to the Brunton Theatre Musselburgh,  its business as usual even if they are run by a local authority.

A few municipal arts facilities are closed because of strike action like the Pontardawe Arts Centre,  and The Princess Royal Theatre.  But there are other closures  in arts centres where the local authority has put the arts out to trusts to operate, like Glasgow Life. Most local authorities establishing cultural trusts do so mostly to avoid paying VAT and Non Domestic Rates.  But in TUPEing staff over to the new trust, the old local authority terms and conditions apply and sometimes stick.  So the Tramway, one of the most innovative and risk taking contemporary arts centres in Europe which is part of Glasgow Life has had to close today and cancel a talk by artist Lili Reynaud-Dewar.  The talk, rather ironically is about the exhibition Jean Genet’s Walls, Speaking of Revolt, Media and Beauty.  But there will be no Speaking of Revolt today as workers at the Tramway strike to protest about pension changes.

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.

Vivid Purple from Joachim Kreamer’s Behance portfolio

The Literature Working Group, set up by Scotland’s Culture Minister,  has delivered its report.  And, as befits a membership which includes writers, academics and publishers with impeccable literary credentials, the report is written directly and with technicoloured  arguments and some purple prose.

Its terms of reference wide ” To recommend a new approach to public sector support of literature, focusing particularly on writing and publishing, and to report to the Minister for Culture and the Chair of Creative Scotland”, the group has published what it describes as a Policy for literature.

The report is proudly partisan, arguing for a bigger slice of the public sector cake on the basis that more people read than attend the opera.  The group is not obliged to take into account the complexities of the cultural economy, the differences between creating live performance and writing, and the vast difference between the business models  and markets for opera and literature.  Rather, it waves the flag for literature and writers and advocates change.

The group comes up with some really sensible suggestions based on the extensive experience that the members have  and some of these could equally be applied  to other sectors under the aegis of  Creative Scotland, for example:

  • moving away from a purely grant-giving  financing model, including soft loans;  and  an investment model whereby a small royalty on profits from a successful publication be put back into the public subsidy pot, in the way that Scottish Screen invests in films
  • simplified systems for awarding, assessing and managing financial support
  • a far greater role for artists in selection, appraisal and promotional work than in the current system

It makes the case for minimum intervention from Creative Scotland in the influencing of  artistic ideas, railing against what it calls the ‘PR-driven models such as the Creative Scotland awards” . Rather, it recommends that Creative Scotland should direct its support to largely established writers.

Having made a robust case on policy and practical suggestionson policy on  funding, based on the group’s expertise, the report then strays into areas  of structures, both with regard to Creative Scotland and also literature organisations.

 It proposes a formal relationship between its own proposed Literature Academy, Literature Forum and Creative Scotland which blurs accountability. There has to be some clear water between Creative Scotland and the artists and agencies it supports.  Creative Scotland is an intermediary, balancing the needs of artists, audiences and government policy. So it can’t be tangled up in a structure whereby its staff report jointly to literature organisations which it funds, as well as reporting to the board of Creative Scotland.

The group further recommends the streamlining of the plethora of Scottish publicly funded support agencies in publishing and literature, in a fresh display  of arguments rehearsed over many years and in several publicly funded reports and consultancy projects.  All the players are aware that streamlining is required, but none will take the lead in change whilst all are funded to stay the same.  Creative Scotland should show leadership in sorting out these structures where the Scottish Arts Council couldn’t, or wouldn’t.  To do this, it needs to keep its head above the water and not tangled up in murky structures.

The Literature Working Group, as with its sister  Traditional Arts Working Group, have both delivered some good ideas  in their areas of expertise but both have become unstuck when looking at structures.  The problem is that the wide terms of reference for both groups has  tempted experts in the arts to stray into areas where they are not, largely in matters of governance and structures.

The good news that Creative Scotland has appointed its first CEO in Andrew Dixon marks the moment when that agency can get motoring.  Andrew Dixon has wide experience across the arts, film, cultural regeneration and policy.  And some of that experience is going to be particularly useful for Creative Scotland.  Dixon was CEO of  Northern Arts, in the days of largesse from the lottery and EU and other public purses, and when regional arts boards had a fair degree of autonomy from the Arts Council of England.  Furthest away from the mother ship in London, Northern Arts was possibly the most independent of the regional arts board.  Under Dixon’s leadership, and Peters Hewit and Stark before him, Northern Arts proactively advocated and brokered a raft of regenerative cultural projects including Angel of the North, the Baltic and the Sage. He also initiated the merger of three funded film agencies to create the Northern Film and Media Agency.

Why thats good for Creative Scotland is because the agency’s roles will be as champion, broker, supporter and investor, where Dixon has delivered.

There have been some murmurings from small-minded people that he is not Scottish.  No, but he is also not a one man band.  He will be working with a team of people who are embedded in Scotland’s culture and with a board and chair whom we hope will be widely and deeply connected and expert in Scotland’s arts and creative industries and their global connections.

In the bad old days, when we in Scotland were less confident about ourselves as a creative nation, there was criticism from mealy mouthed miseries every time a new cultural leader was appointed, because they were, more often than not, not Scottish.  The carping has quietened as the fruits of   higher risk appointments have been harvested.

But there is a residual chauvinism that borders on racism which has no place in a creative Scotland. One of the last undignified gasps was breathed last week at a National Library of Scotland event about the birth of the National Theatre of Scotland where a platform was provided for an old guard to bang on about the need to present old Scottish plays and to repeat them as an act of heritable homage.  Five years ago, this position had many more supporters than it does now. Now, with a generational shift and a more confident nation, we have moved on and need to shut the door firmly on the last remnants of cultural racism.

You can take a horse to water....from Therapist's Flickr photo stream

Today’s reports on the results of the survey on the future governance arrangements for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society show that the the majority of the 2000 or so respondents want fundamental change.  And that change is not rocket science.  Its more simply a recognition that the Fringe would benefit from complying with standard good practice in its governance and in particular in making sure that the right skills are on the board.

The fact that the Fringe Society had to wait for a crisis before undertaking a review of governance is symptomatic of a kind of inertia in the subsidised arts sector, which tends to wait for management and governance arrangements to be broken before they are fixed.   The trouble is, that while there is lots of good advice available to the boards of charities, the boards of voluntary organisations and arts boards, many chose not to take the advice.   Good practice guides overwhelmingly recommend:

  • limited terms of service for all board members, usually 2 terms of 3 years or maximum 4 years
  • a diversity of board members based on skills

Good guidance is provided by the Scottish Arts Council in its publication, Care Diligence and Skill

If the constitution does not provide for retirement of board members after a maximum period of six years, consideration should be given to altering this or to introducing a standing order which has this effect.If members of organisations fail to apply these tests when electing or re-electing new board members, they have only themselves to blame if the organisation begins to falter,fail or be less vital.

You can take a horse to water but you cant make it drink.

Public bodies are governed by clear regulations including a restriction on the length of service; private companies are accountable to their shareholders which keeps the paid executive board members on their toes and charities generally are accountable to all their members.  But arts boards are bespoke organisations which can chose to maintain ancient constitutions and forms which keep them as closed shops or ruled by a self-perpetuating oligarchy.  Many started in different times, as membership  clubs or artists cooperatives or, like the Fringe, as membership societies, when these structures made sense.  But whilst many arts organisations have reformed their constitutions, some have hung to the comfort of the old and so some board members and Chairs, who may be excellent, assume it best to stay in the job rather than allow refreshment and renewal.

A more fundamental issue arising from the Fringe consultation is the question of who really constitutes the community of ownership of the Fringe . The Festival Fringe Society has currently a cap of  100 members under its current constitution, drawn up in 1969.  One proposal is to allow membership to be open to everyone.  The key will be to ensure that the Fringe really is accountable to its community, a challenge that besets all arts organisations where subsidy is involved.   That will mean more than a change to the length of service of board members, and could even mean a more radical reform of the corporate structure.  A Community Interest Company might be more fit for purpose, offering a more transparent and accountable structure which also supports entrepreneurship.