Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Temple of Apollo at Jupiter Artland

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.

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.

Everytime a major change to funding streams is made by an arms length public body charged with allocating the funding we taxpayers provide for the arts , there is an inevitable outcry not only from those who appear to be the losers but also from arts sympathasisers , and a silence from the winners.  Creative Scotland clearly stated in its corporate plan last year that the Scottish Arts Council’s fluffy ‘ flexible funding’ stream would come to an end.  Arts companies did not protest at that time,  both optimistic that it would be alright on the night,that their own company would be a winner in the shakeup, and fearful of putting their own heads above the parapet in case it lessened  chances of being awarded funding.

But now that Creative Scotland has announced its decisions on future awards to those who were in the flexible funding camp, the losers , there has been an outcry from those companies for whom the results threaten their ongoing security.  Flexible funding was never a secure source of funding but the term euphemistically implied that funding might stretch longer and more generously whereas in several cases like the Byre Theatre, it was all too clear that the only flexibility was that the funding could be withdrawn.

Creative Scotland, in common with most world arts councils, and other public agencies, has reduced funds at its disposal as a result of our current economic austerity, although the cuts have been  less great than in some other areas of the Scottsh public sector and  than the English Arts Council. Its strategy is to ensure that what it regards as the core cultural infstructure is secured and that everything else is funded according to its strategic prioirities.  This creates a sharp division in the arts sector. The core comprises foundation funded organisations typically supportd by long term funding and  more likely to be awarded captial funding. They may also apply to deliver strands of activity ‘commissioned’  by Creative Scotland  by Creative Scotand after it announces the results of its sectoral reviews later this year.

Although the strands have not been announced, it would seem probable that there will be a fund for touring theatre to fill the yawning gaps. And it would be likely that some of those companies who were previously flexibly funded like  Grid Iron, Stellar Quines and Plan B might apply to deliver on of these strands. Some of them might be funded for a project which could last five years.

But the problem for these companies is the lack of stability. Firstly, these project awards will need to be non-recurrnet as they are funded through lottery monies which must be used for activities which meet the test of being ‘additional’.    Secondly, its clear that for many companies , the real insecurity comes from not being able to commit to having a stable infrastucture, to pay salaries. The reality is that artists need some sort of secure base from which to take artistic risk and the most prevalent model for this in Scotland currently is the now largely unsustainable traditional small arts company with its own board and salaried staff highly dependent on CS funding.  The fact that there are other models around, like collaborative working, amalgamations, shared admin and production support services like Artsadmin in London or the production hubs in Ireland does nothing to diminish the insecurity in Scotland now.

One of the main differences between Creative Scotland and its precedent the Scottish Arts Council is in its use of language.  The SAC talked about ‘funding’ and CS about ‘investment’,implying that their funds will deliver a return and benefit. Now, with the replacement of the SAC’s ‘flexible’  with CS’s ‘ annual’ and ‘investment based on proposals’ its crystal clear that those organisations who cannot survive without uninterrupted  CS funding can not assume a secure future.  There are all sorts of ways of approaching this, through changing current business models but all of them involve an acceptance of the new realities.

No doubt the fears of some companies will be assuaged as CS announces new opportunities. But will it all be back to the  nornal of the SAC days thereafter? Artists and companies should   reflect on the new realities and apply some of their undoubted creativity to establish support structures which will leave them less vulnerable to winning lottery funding.

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.

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.