Monday, 28 June 2010

Creative Scotland - Dialogue Event on 25 May 2010 at The Briggait in Glasgow

1. A conversation between two or more people.
2. a. Conversation between characters in a drama or narrative.
b. The lines or passages in a script that are intended to be spoken.
Usage Note: In recent years the verb sense of dialogue meaning "to engage in an informal exchange of views" has been revived, particularly with reference to communication between parties in institutional or political contexts.

There was no such modern revival, no room for questions only seemingly cherry-picked responses to their pre-ordained questions - one respondent to each of the three questions CS had devised in advance; most worrying was that, by hand-picking respondents, they left absolutely no room for dissent and the people they chose to speak gave such preposterously neoliberal/on-message answers that they seem to have been body snatched... From the most basic practical stand point of minimising debt, what producer would advocate "greater use of soft loans, investments or other recoupment mechanisms" over grants?

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Not-So-Creative Scotland - 26 May 2010

On the north bank of the river Clyde, there nestles a nineteenth century fish market, commandeered several years ago as artists’ studios and a well-equipped sculpture workshop. In July, after a period of metamorphosis, it will be reopened as ‘workspaces for visual artists and cultural organisations’ and ‘shop-front units for let to creative industries’ by developers who claim that the building was ‘predominantly empty’ when they found it. Yesterday morning, beneath its glass roof, the city’s cultural powerbrokers perched on gold-rimmed seats around draped tables, as if for an awards dinner, to listen to speeches by the cultural elite.
First up was the new Minister of Culture (an ill-fated post that has seen seven incumbents since a degree of governmental control was devolved to Scotland in 1999). Fiona Hyslop seems like a nice woman – plump and mumsie, almost confessional at times and lacking in the suspicious poise we have come to associate with career politicians. Within moments of her ascent to the podium, it was clear that her speech writers were out of touch with current discourse. As an opening gambit, evoking Voltaire’s notion of Scotland as the place where rules of taste were formulated showed no awareness that the aristocratic connotations of aesthetics have been identified as a lever with which the privileged exert their dominance.(1) After a brief nod to another flawed concept – that of individual genius – she went on to invoke the instrumental value of culture – its benefits to health, education and the economy. In a modern, progressive, ambitious country like Scotland, she reminded us, creativity (innovation) would be the key to success. Whatever evidence exists to the contrary, it would seem that culture has become the Obi-wan Kenobi of capitalism – our only hope.
The purpose of this gathering was to conclude discussion around Creative Scotland, a hybrid creature born of two funding organisations – the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen. Creative Scotland has not had an easy entry into the world – the Bill that was first introduced into the Scottish Parliament to ensure its creation was rejected on financial grounds, which saw the legislation being smuggled into a much broader Public Services Reform Bill. This latter Bill cites Creative Scotland as a body corporate, autonomous from the Crown, which will consist of between eight and fourteen (non-parliamentary) members appointed by the Scottish Ministers. It may ‘do anything which appears to be necessary or expedient’ to carrying out its functions; it may ‘engage in any business or undertaking’; it may ‘form, promote or acquire (whether alone or with others) companies; it may form partnerships, accept money and other property, borrow money, acquire and dispose of land. In other words, it may behave like a corporation, which is no surprise as Creative Scotland 2009 Ltd. was registered at Companies House in December 2008.
Although Creative Scotland was officially launched in August 2009, Fiona Hyslop was only yesterday able to announce that the Bill inscribing its creation had been passed and that royal assent had been received, but nowhere in the legislation is a clue given as to the core functions of Creative Scotland. For this, we had to turn to Andrew Dixon, the newly-appointed Chief Executive, who claims thirty years’ ‘experience working in the arts media and creative industries’, latterly at the NewcastleGateshead Initiative. Sporting a Tommy Sheridan tan and a pearlescent pink, lilac and blue-striped shirt, the stuff of a football casual’s wildest dreams, Dixon graced the platform with a quick quantitative evaluation of the culture he had absorbed since his arrival in the country some weeks ago. He then spoke of the need to invent a new language that moves away from ‘funding’ and ‘subsidy’ and towards ‘investment’ in talent, ideas, people and places. The problem with this approach, as we have all recently discovered to our cost, is that people expect a return on their investment. This return, it seems, would make itself felt in measurable targets (social as well as cultural) and in contributing to ‘quality of life’. A clue to the beneficiaries of such an investment is to be found in the priority areas for the first year of Creative Scotland’s operation – the traditional arts, the creative industries and cultural tourism.
This gathering marked the last of four quarterly ‘dialogue events’ around the country, charm offensives previously chaired by the banker and acting chair of Creative Scotland, Ewan Brown. These events aimed to appease the critics of the creative industries model underlying the new body, some of whom feared that artists would be forgotten by Creative Scotland. At pains to reassure his audience that this would not be the case, Dixon brandished a David Brent-style prop – a postcard of an artwork inspired by a car park at B&Q – the perfect synergy of art and commerce.
Any dissent that may have been in evidence during earlier sessions had all but dissipated by the time the Creative Scotland roadshow reached Glasgow. The assembled audience was asked for its input into three strategic questions around new models of support, engaging the people of Scotland to champion its culture and conveying these successes internationally. After some time to ponder each of these areas in turn, limited dialogue did, indeed, take place between Hyslop and Dixon and hand-picked members of the audience. Reliant on Creative Scotland for their livelihood, this inspired bunch went further than most civil servants would dare in harking back to Victorian models of philanthropy, in encouraging private sector intervention into the arts and in prostituting Scotland’s culture as a calling card to pave the way for the international expansion of its business interests.
In this regard, the timing of George Osborne’s announcement about swingeing pubic sector cuts could not have been better. No-one asks any more why budget reductions are necessary or why we need new, more entrepreneurial models of cultural provision; at the same time, questions about the budget deficit – where and how it was incurred and why our public services have to suffer as a result – are strictly off limits. Just like Creative Scotland, this has become part of our accepted reality; but, while the last locally-caught merchandise left the market some decades ago, something still smells fishy.


1. ‘Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier. Social subjects, classified by their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make, between the beautiful and the ugly, the distinguished and the vulgar, in which their position in the objective classifications is expressed or betrayed’. Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Routledge, London, 1984, p.6.

Originally published in Metamute

Money Talks - published 18 August 2009

This evening, in Edinburgh, the new landmark organisation for promoting culture in Scotland will be revealed, but the chances are that you won't have been invited to the launch, especially if you are a creative practitioner. Creative Scotland, as this new organisation will be known, is a hybrid creature – a replacement of Scottish Screen (the main film funding body) and the Scottish Arts Council (hitherto responsible for funding all other artforms falling outside the scope of the national bodies). Pragmatically, this might seem like a good way of saving on the overheads and administrative costs of running two separate cultural funding bodies – indeed this is how it was sold – but much more than fiscal prudence underlies this decision.
Early in the history of devolved government, it became clear that culture was one of the policy areas over which Westminster did not retain reserved powers. In his 2003 St Andrew's Day speech, Scotland's then First Minister, Jack McConnell, announced his intention to make 'the development of our creative drive, our imagination, the next major enterprise for our society'. Shortly afterwards, culture minister Frank McAveety launched the Cultural Commission as part of 'a generational opportunity – to look seriously and maturely at our culture and decide the framework for its support in the future'.
There are precedents for this kind of cultural rethinking after a rupture with the old regime – in Cuba after the 1959 revolution, for example, culture was made a priority, with new museums, galleries and casas de cultura being built across the island and the arts being made integral to education at all levels, which necessitated the training of 20,000 new instructors.
In Scotland, a team of hand-picked commissioners undertook a year-long stakeholder consultation, at a cost to the public purse of £487,000, to make a series of recommendations aimed at reforming, rather than revolutionising, cultural provision. The Scottish Government decided to take forward the merger model they called Creative Scotland, which is hardly surprising given that, in January 2003 – more than a year before the costly Cultural Commission was embarked upon – a group set up to implement the 1999 national cultural strategy was being asked to consider the creation of a new agency, Creative Scotland, which would combine responsibilities then residing with a number of different agencies.
As legislation was drawn up around the new organisation, two worrying facts became clear – the first is that Creative Scotland effectively erodes the arms-length principle inscribed into arts councils north and south of the border since the end of World War II. It is this proviso, protected by Royal Charter, which seeks to ensure that artists have relative autonomy in the face of political sea changes and while this may have been dwindling in practice as the amount of unencumbered funding diminishes, the idea of supporting freedom of expression remains an important principle to uphold.
This leads us to the second major flaw in the model for Creative Scotland; when looking at the direction in which Scottish ministers intend to instrumentalise artists, one phrase rings out like a mantra: creative industries. This largely discredited approach, which explains the appointment of businessmen and bankers onto the board of Creative Scotland, is based on the tenuous idea that creative thinking will stimulate the failing post-industrial economies of the Western world. And, while a certain amount of creativity is inherent in the work of James Dyson or the birth of Lara Croft, this kind of entrepreneurialism is a world apart from conceptions of culture as a process of continual, critical re-evaluation, which should be integral to any free and fair society.
Belatedly realising that certain artforms would be discriminated against by their rhetoric around innovation, Scottish politicians have set up the traditional arts working group to perpetuate handicrafts and linguistic forms particular to Scotland. But it is between these two artificial poles of innovation and tradition that culture lies, and the formation of Creative Scotland shows a massive failure of Scottish politicians and cultural bureaucrats to grasp this.
In post-revolutionary Cuba, the first minister of culture was incredibly articulate about the humanity underlying creative processes which could form a counterpart to beneficial Enlightenment-driven developments in science to act against cultural regressiveness and dogma. However, just as the heralded benefits of Creative Scotland have been economic ones, the only objections being raised in mainstream Scotland have been financial. The initial dedicated Creative Scotland Bill fell in parliament on a budgeting irregularity, leaving the legislation to be smuggled into the Public Services Reform Bill, while the cost of converting two organisations into one has been the major concern of those tenured culture brokers expressing their views publicly. Having been batted between a series of culture ministers and from Labour to the nationalists, responsibility for giving life to Creative Scotland has fallen to Mike Russell as minister for culture, external affairs and the constitution, who launched a series of highly selective meetings aimed at assuaging the concerns of those who matter – the great and the good of Scottish cultural life.
But, beneath the spin, hundreds of artists in Scotland have put their names to an open letter to Russell, highlighting the clear distinction made by UNESCO between culture and commerce. It is these artists, largely unrepresented in the mainstream media, whose views have been routinely ignored by parliamentarians. It is these artists on whom the burden of Creative Scotland will fall and on whom the nation's hopes of economic recovery rest. It is these artists who have not received a card inviting them to the grand unveiling, the words 'Creative Scotland' magically revealed on its surface when it comes into contact with daylight.
As the hybrid creature that is Creative Scotland is unleashed onto an unsuspecting public, it is time to ask ourselves what would happen to Robert Burns or Charles Rennie Mackintosh if they attempted to develop their art in contemporary Scotland; what fate would await James Joyce or Samuel Beckett, Frida Kahlo or Pablo Picasso, if they were to arrive on these shores, seeking support for their talents. Unable to situate themselves on the tradition-innovation continuum as it is currently defined, they would face three equally unpalatable choices: penury, obscurity or exile.

Originally published in the Scottish Review