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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.

men eating pies

Kenneth Roy’s article Unelected Scotland in the Scottish Review challenges the OPCAS Commissioner Karen Carlton on the  Commission’s ambitions for more diversity in the public appointment system.  He comments on the profile and backgrounds of the current board members and trustees of three of Scotland’s arts bodies, the National Galleries of Scotland, National Museums of Scotland and the Joint Board of Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen  and finds them woefully undiverse.

If you would like to contribute to Scottish life through a public appointment in the arts, I offer the following elementary advice: be white; be male; be middle-class; be fairly old; be in finance; and be from Edinburgh.

As the ‘third woman’ on the National Galleries Board, living in a  low powered part of Fife and scarcely connected to the financial sector in Edinburgh to which Roy refers, I would like to dispel  a few myths about being a trustee of a national cultural body and offer some suggestions about how to achieve that diversity.

Myth 1: its a piece of cake

The roles can be quite demanding both in time and in the work. The trustees and board members with whom I work give considerably and proactively. And that is not just the Chairmen past and present (yes they are all men) who Culture Minister Mike Russell cites in his response and who are publicly recognised.   The other, less recognised trustees, all contribute according to their skills and expertise.  On the NGS board, we are particularly dependent on trustees with financial experience and private networks without whom we would neither have achieved the Playfair Project nor planned the Portrait of the Nation Project.

Myth 2: there is recompense

No but there is reward! During the first three years of the National Theatre of Scotland, where I was a founder director and first chair of  the Finance Committee, I was giving up to 2 days a month, and 1 day a month to NGS on various projects.  I say ‘giving’ because these posts are not remunerated as a matter of course, although the current and previous Chairs of the Scottish Arts Council have been largely because they were not men of independent means and were losing earnings through the job.

The reward is in making the unseen, unsung contribution to Scotland’s cultural success.

Myth 3: its the tap on the shoulder

All the public appointments are publicly advertised.

So why are these boards not diverse? Partly its a generation thing.  Most of the chairs not only of NGS, NMS and SAC, but also other cultural bodies, the national performing companies and most venues, are men, and retired from previous careers. There are comparatively few women over 65 who have had the opportunity to gain commensurate experience and profile.  There is a way to go before we reach the tipping point, when women of the next generation take the lead.

I offer the following advice to anyone thinking of applying when the next vacancies occur: Consider the 4 ‘W’s:

Wisdom:  boards need specific skills and expertise to balance those they already have; but they need more than skills, they need the wisdom that comes with experience

Wit: these posts can be highly competitive and good applications matter

Willingness: board members have to be able and willing to undertake a considerable amount of work, attending events, reading papers, attending meetings AND usually undertaking specific project AND acting proactively as an ambassador without any conflict of interest; and satisfaction that the reward of contribution is enough

Wherewithall: board members have to be able to make time which is unpaid and to travel.  Although most board members are retired or are of independent means there are some of us who have made the time by juggling other work  and family commitments.

The Wherewithall requirements for art and cultural boards are greater than that for some other public appointments in the NHS for example.  This is either a simple reflection of a view that either the arts are less important, or that people involved in the arts should not expect financial reward. But the lack of remuneration creates a two tier system and prevents creative practitioners – many of whom are sole traders – from applying.

We need to create a climate where people with diverse backgrounds, skills and experience, including artists, come on to boards when they have what it takes.  To support that, and build confidence, it would help to find a way of giving interested people some experience of what the role demands so that they have reasonable expectations.

OPCAS states

The boards of our public bodies do not reflect the diversity of the population of Scotland.  In addition, during the past three years the average number of applicants for each post has fallen by 30%. If public appointees continue to be drawn from the usual quarters the pool will go on decreasing and be ever less reflective of the population. Conversely, if appointment opportunities are made accessible to all, we can be confident that our future boards will have the very best talent that Scotland has to offer.

The Commission is implementing its Diversity Plan, aimed to attract more diverse appointments.  But the particular challenges of Wherewithall  and the lack of renumeration for public appointments in the cultural sector create additional barriers to attracting the right people.

photo of Scottish Parliament courtesy of   e-architect.co.uk

The verdict on the success of 10 years of devolution in Scotland this week is that it has been a succss with a Times poll published today demonstrating that 70% of voters believing it has been good for Scotland.  And that is how it feels.

The verdict on impact of devolution on culture is not so easily measured. The last 10 years have seen two administrations and 8 (or is it 9) Culture Ministers, some confusion around cultural policy and a preoccupation with structures.   But despite that, devolution in Scotland has been an enormous boost for our confidence in our culture in Scotland and this confidence is growing.  And there have been some stars.

The most significant date in devolution for those of us in the arts was St Andrews Day 2003 when the then First Minister, Jack McConnell gathered us to hear his St Andrew Days Speech when he declared the vital importance of culture and the arts to Scotland.  We in the arts in Scotland were flabbergasted to hear our senior politician committed and passionate about the importance of culture, having spent years advocating to seemingly deaf ears.  And the centrality of the arts, creativity and culture to Scotland is now a truth, forming a core part of political manifestos before the last election and is promoted by the First Minister.  Our creative talent, and our engagement in arts and culture are vital elements of our global and local success,  for the expression of our cultural identity and the competitiveness of Scotland’s creative economy.  And there is no doubt that this political recognition has engendered a growing confidence in the arts, culture and creative industries, not just from those of us in the sector but throughout Scotland.

There has been a lot of consideration on policy and structures and the role of intermediary cultural agencies especially Creative Scotland and other bodies within Scotland- local authorities, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise. 

We have also began the interrogation around policies in areas of culture and the creative industries where Scotland does not have devolved powers and where Westminster influences dominate, including in broadcasting with the Scottish Broadcasting Commission  and in international cultural policies with the British Council.   All of this interrogation is a necessary early years process of defining how Scotland can best deliver culturally and creatively although  the inward focus and delay in establishing structures has led to some weakened connections between Scottish and UK agencies as well as frustration in the sector.

The issues of tax varying and tax raising powers is also an element which impacts upon cultural and creative policy, with solutions still to be found to support calls and commitments to fund artists and support the games industry in Scotland.

So, while this is all unfolding, its worth highlighting some of the stars. The stars have been big artistic ideas from the creative community in Scotland, whose time has been right and where these ideas have been backed and supported by the Scottish Government, without need for developing top down policies.  These include the support for the Artists Rooms and National Galleries of Scotland  .  The brightest star is the National Theatre of Scotland.  The demand for this, and the model for the non building based theatre, came from the Scottish theatre community.  The time was right and the idea was backed by the Scottish Government.

Mike Russell, the Minister for Culture is demonstrating clarity, confidence, understanding and a drive for action.  If he can establish the policies and deliver the structures, we can look forward to the next years of devolution really celebrating and supporting culture and creativity in and for Scotland with yet more of our stars in the ascendant.

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