Much of the recent furore over Creative Scotland is about how it communicates with and engages with artists. Several meetings are to take place, some open events organised by individuals and more with the various umbrella organisations which represent particular sectors. The problem with umbrella agencies like Playwrights Studio and Federation of Scottish Theatres is that they are funded directly and indirectly by Creative Scotland. While they can advocate, and do so, their ability to do so is dependent on funding from Creative Scotland. They are all part of the subsidised arts society where control begins with the Scottish Government which appoints the board members of Creative Scotland. Creative Scotland then funds subsidised arts organisations most of which are run as charities. Some of these subsidised organisations also pay memberships to umbrella organisations who are also funded by Creative Scotland. Their independence is therefore limited.
Many leading and eminent artists are not bound up in the hegemony of the subsidised arts. With fingers on the pulse of the wider cultural community in Scotland, it is their leadership which has achieved a clear response from Creative Scotland. Artists must be able to play a lead role in culture not only through dialogue with Creative Scotland and its board but outwith Creative Scotland providing a vital counterweight to the state subsidised system.
The idea of an artists academy for Scotland has been around for some time and the time is right for it to be established. This should not be an agency or an instrument of state. Its members should be eminent artists, the primary function of the academy to recognise artists as civic leaders, and the role to contribute to cultural and wider policy and provide leadership, a bit like, but not the same as, the Irish Aosdana. It should not be involved in the administration of funding, this is the role of Creative Scotland. Above all, it must be independent. If the artists academy had existed in 2002, when the idea of Creative Scotland was first mentioned in the Quinquennial Review of Scottish Sreeen in 2002, or by Mike Watson in 2003 before the match was lit under the bonfire of the quangoes, it could have contributed ideas and opinions about ideology and policy. It could have contributed to the Cultural Commission, whose one artist Craig Armstrong resigned when he discovered he was the only artist in a committee of administrators, and to the many changes of policy over the next five years.
As Makar, the redoubtable Liz Lochhead occupies the sole official position for a leading Scottish artist. Establishing a national artists academy with a role in national cultural leadership could bring artists in from the cold and allow more balanced and considered setting of cultural policy. In addition, increased fiscal autonomy could be used to provide a time limited allowance for artists and creative workers to develop their work, either in tax incentives or a creative enterprise allowance. This would loosen the singular dependence on Creative Scotland and create a more balanced system for artistic and cultural leadership in Scotland.
This would provide a counterweight to Creative Scotland, whose board is charged with achieving CS objectives as approved by the Scottish Government and with ensuring that public money is used efficiently, effectively and delivers government outcomes.
Board members of Creative Scotland are appointed by Ministers and not remunerated, in contrast with Scottish Enterprise or NHS. Not only does this signal that culture is less important than enterprise but it precludes applications from those artists who must prioritise work which generates income. There is an artist on the board, musician Gary West, and others who practice art in their spare time but in selecting a chair closely associated with Scotland’s financial services, Fiona Hyslop has prioritised financial stewardship. Alternative structures involving artists would signal government recognition of their importance and reduce the singular focus on what is just one part of the cultural landscape.