cultural leadership

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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.



Homecoming Scottish Cup Cheerleading Team 

“Everyone is part of the cheering section”: Andrew Dixon  

There has been a lot of cheering for the arts, culture and creative industries in Scotland this week.  First we had the Scottish Government’s Government Economic Strategy GES  which identifies creative industries as  one of the six growth sectors.  GES aims to create an environment in which the creative industries can deliver economic growth for Scotland, some through general changes which will only happen if Scotland has more fiscal and taxation powers and some which are specific investments already announced though Creative Scotland.  In the GES, Culture Minister  Fiona Hyslop champions the sector for its growth and influence.

Then yesterday, Andrew Dixon, the cheerful CEO of Creative Scotland  met the Education and Culture Committee and was full of good new stories about the creative sector in Scotland and the achievements of Creative Scotland in its first year:

  • the business model works
  • 87 per cent of its current clients are satisfied
  • the move to new offices at Waverley Gate has been transformational
  • savings of £2m and ongoing savings of £1.5m which so far has been reinvested in the arts, film and television
  • staff numbers down from a high of 155 combined Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen to 95 now
  • new funds have been levered from Paul Hamlyn, Baring and McKendrick

In response to a question prompted by  Culture Counts’ campaign for culture to be made an explicit outcome in the Scottish Government’s performance framework, Andrew Dixon stated that local authorities  are THE most important partner for Creative Scotland.

Indeed. Creative Scotland is a significant but small part of the creative pie and local authorities spend almost twice as much each year on culture.

While the Culture Minister and Creative Scotland are cheering loudly, COSLA, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities,  the representative voice of Scottish local government, is largely silent on the importance of the arts, culture and creative industries.  COSLA lost earlier battles with the Scottish Government: it advocated for cultural entitlements during the Cultural Commission; it asked for a seat on the board of Creative Scotland and was granted neither.   While COSLA is a full partner in the Scottish Creative Industries Partnership  SCIP,  it does not promote an overall vision for arts, culture and creative industries in local government.  The danger of  this lack of leadership regarding culture is that vital facilities and provision may not be sustained and supported as public monies shrink further, except in several leading  individual authorites where there is a clear vision, evidence and understanding of the benefits.    Local authorities’ support for culture is neither obligatory, not being a statutory requirement, nor is it required by the Scottish Government.  The current National Performance Framework  Scotland Performs contain National Outcomes and National Indicators.  None of these are about culture.  Participation in cultural activity is measured by its instrumental value to achieve other outcomes.

All of these outcomes point towards achievement of the Scottish Government’s single ‘Purpose’ . That  ‘Purpose’ is ‘to make Scotland a more successful country, with opportunities for all to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth.’ .  For the Scottish Government, achieving economic growth is the key to everything else and will, amongst other things

stimulate higher government revenues and a virtuous cycle of re-investment in Scotland’s public services. and..  bring a culture of confidence, creativity and personal empowerment to Scotland.

Cultural participation in Scotland is vital to our creativity, identity, social cohesion, confidence and wellbeing.  Its value can not always be measured in monetary terms and it has a value beyond acting as an instrument to deliver Purposes or outcomes. This surely chimes with COSLA’s beliefs, as it considers culture as part of its  Health and Wellbeing portfolio. Let’s hear it.

Stairs at side of Sydney Opera House by Mister Peterman on Flick'r 

There is no surprise that the latest report from Arts Development UK shows that local authority arts expenditure has decreased to two thirds of the levels reached in 2008. It is interesting that, in this second slicing of arts budgets, much of the cuts have been own blows to local authority arts services rather than to grants to independent and front-line arts organisations, like theatres and arts venues. Surgery is now being routinely applied to the soft underbelly of local arts services, including development projects and now to arts officers, whose activity is not obligatory for local authorities and whose presence is often unseen.

During the last two decades of growth in public investment in the arts with the funding of new infrastructure, ambitious events and audience development programmes, those we entrusted to spend our taxes enjoyed a relative largesse which allowed investment which often did not need to evidence an impact.   Research and evidence gathered by arts organisations and arts councils have largely been used as advocacy tools, with hard evidence often being buried if it doesn’t prove the required point.  This devalues the research process and diminishes its validity.  But a new cold dawn is rising as investors apply the scrutiny which is applied in science, medical treatment and engineering and technical fields.

The Paul Hamlyn commissioned report ‘Whose cake is it anyway’ sends out the first chill signal of this new order.  The report into the outreach and participation activity in museums and galleries finds that

this activity exists on the fringes of the sector’s activities, rather than at its core, and suggests that decades of investment in participation related activity, have not only failed to embed participatory practices in museums and galleries, but appear to have been instrumental in keeping this part of their work on the periphery

The report marks a distinct shift in tone from most of the usual research reports published which emphasise the positive. The BOP report on the impact of the Edinburgh Festivals, for example, is an excellent document which seeks to demonstrate benefits of investment much more widely than the economic measurements.  In talking up the positives, the report is used as an advocacy tool – and we are all for flag waving for funding festivals.  But, in sweeping under the carpet the fact that the relative economic impacts relative to invesment is reduced ( Every £1 public investment in 2004  generated  £61 new output. Using the same measures, every £1 of public investment generated £35 new output (table here), the report goes the way of most research reports commissioned by cultural agencies.  It needs to serve the purpose of the commissioners and not to seek the truth.

Respected researchers and consultants have been chipping away at this for some time, but they are largely ignored.

There was an interesting provocation from John Knell and Matthew Taylor challenging ‘the Arts’  to create a new currency with which to weigh the value of the arts in making citizens .  But although it was published for the most recent State of the Arts Conference run by ACE and the RSA which Taylor leads, it wasn’t even discussed .  There were few deaf ears thouugh in Galway last week  at  the Irish Theatre Forum conference.  The Irish National Campaign for the Arts have proven themselves streets ahead of England in expressing the value of the arts and its leaders are aware of the need to express and communicate the true value of the arts, which goes beyond instrumentalism.  But that value needs first to be established in a rigorous and scientific manner and not just in the rhetoric.

In Its not Rocket Science, (2010), Hasan Bakhshi, Radhika Desai and Alan Freeman challenged

two entrenched prejudices which block arts and cultural organisations from playing their full role in society and economy. First, arts and culture are largely excluded from R&D by definitions based on its Science and Technology (S&T) origins. Second, the arts and cultural sector relies on a conception of creativity that mystifies too much of its work, preventing it from accessing valuable public resources

The reality is that much of the arts and cultural community views gathering evidence of impact as a tiresome diversion. The feature on Arts and Health in the latest Arts Professional magazine  explains that the NHS requires proof of impact and includes several citations of the woeful lack of rigorous evidence gathered to date to demonstrate the benefits of engagement in the arts as a positive healing activity.  There are several calls to arms for the arts to get together to provide the evidence the NHS needs to justify investment in the arts rather than in some other health interventions.  Dr Jenny Secker, Professor of Mental Health highlights the need to move beyond the anecdotal.

Measuring instrumental impact on health is important but there is a more fundamental issue.  We need to get down to the basic life-enhancing benefits of art, describe that and then set up research to measure it.  Take empathy for example. Long-known as one of the core processes of being part of a theatre audience, empathy is a capability which leading neuroscientists fear  lost in a  video gaming  world.

Seeking to find empirical evidence of the positive impacts of engagement of the arts on active citizenship and wellbeing must become a clear objective for the arts and cultural community over the next few years.  To do this, there need to be a substantive independent and objective research programme which seeks the truth rather than seeks to make the case for more funding of current practice.  The research needs to include longitudinal elements and comparisons of the costs and benefits of engagement in different types of creative and arts activities against engagement with other activities.

Such an investment needs a research programme which is rigorously defined, conceived, planned, executed, analysed and communicated.  This means harnessing the skills of research scientists and academics and means being honest about the results.

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.

John Butler's Rabbits from CentralStation

There were some high quality ingredients at the RSA State of the Arts Conference 2011 last week. 400 delegates including creative luminaries and politicians for whom the southbank venue facilitated easy in and out access, an interesting provocation from John Knell and Matthew Taylor challenging ‘the Arts’  to create a new currency with which to weigh the value of the arts in making citizens more active and a flashconference which included short straight-from-the-heart comments about the state of the arts from the next generation.

Despite high quality ingredients and wide distribution, apathy was the prevailing mode with an undertone of  amnesia as Lyn Gardner reported, as last year’s SOTA was full of politicians promising a golden age for the arts.

The twitter back chat complained about the apathy of Ed Vaizey and the lack of engagement of artists and the repetition of sound bytes spiced up with spam from hackers on #SOTA11 reached 1.4m white noise tweets, reaching many, saying little.

Its hardly surprising.  The delegates were largely comprised of arts professionals from the arts council subsidised sector  – referred to as The Arts by the conference organisers as if it were a viable self sustaining species, able to answer questions such as “What should the Arts do to change?”  Many of the delegates were representing bespoke companies built to manage arts council financed projects which are unlikely to survive the impending cull.  Faced with a mantra from the podium that they should collaborate more, and that the stronger companies should support the weak, they responded best they could, defending their undeniable efficiency and collaborative ventures but looking for leadership.

Such leadership was not forthcoming at the conference from the many commentators and policy makers talking mellifluously about creativity and collaboration. The real leadership was demonstrated by those who were getting on with it, like those in the session on Rethinking Cultural Philanthropy, Julia Peyton Jones of the Serpentine, Erica Whyman of Northern Stage and Ed Whiting of the social enterprise crowd funding platform WeDidThis all demonstrating success in engaging individuals with skills, time, expertise and money in meaningful cultural philanthropy.

The State of the Arts should not be entirely about the Arts of the State. Policy makers and politicians may control state funding, but they don’t lead the arts in the UK.