Monday, 5 July 2010

The problem with exceptionalism

A strong proclamation of fact in this email from SAU, but it stumbles at the point of "…any organisation claiming to support artists…" : it has been clear that Creative Scotland would jettison "designated officers or departments for discrete art forms" in favour of an advocacy model, so it's hard to see how Creative Scotland could be burdened by any such claim. (Also when the definitive term 'artist' had, previously, been snubbed; and when 'support' [sic] is as likely to be loans, investments or other recoupment mechanisms). This is the problem with exceptionalism, as it argues along lines of modality and not principle. Whereas, the SAU's 'After Creative Scotland : A statement on the future of Scottish culture', that their email below introduces, contradicts the fact that the "opportunity to shape" SAU covets never existed; if anything the opposite being true, as SAU's 'opening day' statement lays bare. The question for SAU, and artists, remains: 'manage' or 'organise'?

On 30 Jun 2010, at 00:42, Scottish Artists Union wrote:

A statement from the Scottish Artists Union Executive Committee on the opening day of Creative Scotland, 01/07/10

Through two governments, three bills, four ministers for culture and three transition bodies the Scottish Artists Union has grown increasingly concerned over the evolution of Creative Scotland (CS). With a remit exceeding that of the Scottish Arts Council & Scottish Screen we fear the new agency will have to scale back its direct support for artists. The emerging emphasis on creative industry over individual practitioners is indicative of a shift toward inappropriate market-driven models. The proposed lack of specialism in the new agency with no designated officers or departments for discrete art forms is a further source of disquiet.

Many others in our sector shared these objections from a very early stage. They reached a crescendo over the course of 2008 and in the subsequent year various efforts were made to reach out to artists. The Perspectives forum, an intended national online conversation built around statements from four “provocateurs”, became little more than an exercise in intellectual point-scoring among an embarrassingly small sample of sector figures, an exercise from which CS management figures were wholly absent. Like so much work by successive Scottish administrations in this field it merely paid lip service to the concept of consultation, a box ticked for Creative Scotland 2009 Ltd’s final report.

There were also the various dialogue events around the country (taking place at roughly quarterly intervals over the last twelve months) that seemed more constructive, at least to begin with. Opportunities were taken by many to raise issues and bring forward proposals but little heed appears to have been taken. During the last event at Glasgow’s new cultural hub at The Briggait very little “dialogue” was in evidence. Attendees could not ask their own questions of the Culture Minister and her colleagues. Instead a selected few were given leave to read aloud their table’s consensus on one of a short list of leading statements.

This event was the formal debut of Chief Executive Designate Andrew Dixon, a man who seemingly has taken every opportunity, in print interviews as well as on television and in public addresses, to foreshadow Creative Scotland’s shift away from existing funding mechanisms to market models and even, in a thoroughly retrograde step, philanthropy. In Mr Dixon’s very first interview on the job with The Herald on 21st of March he confirmed the primary concern of the SAU, that the new agency would not sustain current levels of support to artists.

Mr Dixon also exhibited a worrying capacity for tone-deaf statements when in May he came down in favour of Sir Ian Wood’s plan for Aberdeen’s Union Terrace Gardens. The original proposal, centred on Peacock Arts, had already secured a substantial portion of funding (in part from the Scottish Arts Council) and popular support; its rejection could do untold damage to visual art in the North East. It’s incredible that CS’s Chief Executive should so heartily endorse such an outcome. It’s equally incredible in the current climate of required public sector cuts to offset the banking bail out that a career financier should be appointed Chair of CS’s board. Yet that is what happened in June. Sir Sandy Crombie already sits on a number of cultural bodies but it is his business acumen that has been emphasised as he takes his place at CS, apparently oblivious to the message this sends to a sector already concerned it will amount to an enterprise development agency in everything but name.

In conclusion, the Culture Minister’s office, the joint Scottish Arts Council/Scottish Screen Board and Creative Scotland 2009 Ltd have not allayed the fears of the visual arts sector. Our fears have been flagged consistently throughout the new organisation’s inception and despite the CS spin about a further year of transition there remains a marked lack of confidence in our sector and many others. The Scottish Artists Union accepts that CS may remain mutable over this time and so issue a manifesto and a challenge. Ours is a straightforward “to do” list for any organisation claiming to support artists and most especially a government-funded cultural agency like CS. If the new Chief Executive and his staff as well as the Chairman and Board fail to address any one of these points, then CS will have failed the artists of Scotland.