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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.

 This week some of us had a chance to discuss the impact of the recession on the arts and culture at the CPPS seminar and do so through several new lenses. 

Firstly, the short term ‘phew’ factor, the specific budget implication for DCMS and the Arts Council of England which, with a £4m cut is less than many feared.  

Secondly, the revelations not only about the size of the UK’ structural budget deficit but the IFS observation that

whoever takes office in the general election after next will still have to find another £45 billion a year in today’s money by the end of their parliament to eliminate this deficit, from tax increases and cuts in non-investment spending

The combined impact of this on local government as well as national and devolved administrations has yet to be computed – but it will certainly mean less public subsidy for the arts and culture for some time.

Thirdly, we have the analysis from Arts and Business that  global recession has already caused considerable damage to the arts.

Fourthly, ACE has done some preliminary research about the likely impacts of recession and we can learn more from the impact already in Ireland where customer behaviour has changed significantly.

Although we cant predict exactly if this is a tempest or a hurricane, the combined impact of these forces is not going to blow over. 

ACE’s new Sustain fund has £40m to support arts organisations survive the recession  and

to help them maintain their artistic, financial and organisational viability during the recession and to implement essential changes to ensure their long term sustainability.

The key to this is the proviso that essential changes must be implemented.

The challenge that we have here is to be innovative enough in the changes we design.  Arts organisations are amongst the most conservative of businesses around.  And almost every arts council scheme to support change over the last 15 years- advancement, stabilisation etc have ended up including a lot of  elastoplast jobs. Arts organisations are largely driven to preserve their business models and seek additional resources to to feed the model.  And are brilliant at dressing this up in all sorts of ways to attract money.

We need to take radical steps now, not just to batten down the hatches and try and sit this out.  At the seminar there was much discussion about the need to innovate radically and for us all to sweat our communal assets.  This means deconstructing some of the machinery we have built, reducing the size of our cultural intermediaries, collaborating on the delivery of services.  We need to come out of our silos and 20th century structures to collaborate on solutions in groups.  This could include national cultural agencies contracting out some services and time-limited programmes to other parts of our infrastructure, including local authorities and creative hubs and SMEs; arts organisations choosing to merge and create smaller machinery to service more creative experiences.

And stop procrastinating.

Dundee’s international reputation as a centre for the arts and creative industries racked up a notch this week with the launch of the proposal for the V & A outpost.   .   Can Dundee be the new Paris? asked the Times

The creative power of Dundee will be enhanced if the V & A iconic waterfront building goes ahead.  But the addition of a museum will not turn Dundee into an infrastructure-dominated cultural city.  Dundee’s creativity stems from the talent based there and in particular from those  in games and  interactive media, arts and design.

It is logical then that Dundee MSP Joe Fitzpatrick has written to Culture Minister Mike Russell to make the case for the new body Creative Scotland to be based in Dundee

When I was the Transition Director for Creative Scotland, we based the project in Dundee thanks to the generosity of the University of Abertay in White Space

The reasons we chose Dundee and White Space were:

1. that the breadth and range of creative energy and activity in Dundee reflected the world in which Creative Scotland would be operating; in particular games and interactive media as part of the spectrum of the arts and creative industries with which Creative Scotland would be engaged; and being areas where the antecedent organisations, Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen were not historically involved

2. that the energy in Dundee and White Space, together with the facilities of White Space, provided a stimulating environment for thinking out of the box. We ran think tanks and seminars there in spaces which were  associated  with neither Scottish Arts Council nor Scottish Screen  

3. that Dundee is a single train journey from Edinburgh and Glasgow.

So a great place for the early stages of the Transition Project, before the Creative Scotland Bill fell in  June and when we had to go ground to concentrate on modelling costs and  await the  Scottish Government’s announcement as to the new route it would use to establish Creative Scotland.

So Joe Fitzpatrick’s logic is clear.

And if Creative Scotland can be a small, fleet organisation releasing more into front line services, technologically enabled – then Dundee becomes even more attractive.

However, at this time the Scottish Government will look to avoid extra costs and so it is unlikely that a move to a location other than Glasgow and/or Edinburgh will be found affordable. 

1. Creative Scotland’s establishment will be governed by the Scottish Government’s policies and procedures relating to  public sector reform.  It has set up a unit which sounds like something from Gogol or Kafka, the  Simplifcation Unit.  This unit ensures that all quangoes torched in the bonfire adhere to common principles and procedures . And of course there is a clear sense that setting up Creative Scotland should cost as little as possible. The policy of the last administration was to move quangoes out of the central belt but this has proved expensive and is not the policy of this administration

2. Both Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen are embedded in their base cities – SAC in Edinburgh and SS in Glasgow  and have a natural desire to stay in these cities where there is the largest screen and broadcasting, festivals, theatres and galleries infrastructure