Sunday, 14 October 2012

Tilting at windmills

In full: The letter to Creative Scotland

Read the open letter from Sir Sandy Crombie


Documentation of my immediate (brief) response to the letter and subsequent exchanges at:

Sir RBS called upon to save the great and guid of 'Scottish culture' from wrecking external influence, the irony.
So let's look at the parameters set by Scottish government for Creative Scotland to work within, or was the expectation that this was just intended for lesser people:
"11. The functions in paragraph (c), however, go further and task Creative Scotland with making real and bringing to fruition the value and benefits of the arts and culture in Scotland. The value and benefits referred to in the Bill include not only personal enjoyment of aesthetic quality and the enjoyment involved in cultural participation, but also benefits in terms of unlocking creative and entrepreneurial potential and enhancing well-being and community pride. Creative Scotland might do this, for example, by encouraging commercial banks to better understand the economic potential of the arts and culture.12. Subsection (1)(d) gives Creative Scotland functions in relation to the application of creative skills. This paragraph allows Creative Scotland to support persons engaging in creative enterprise. This could be applicable generally but there is also a grouping of industries referred to often as the creative industries where it may be particularly relevant. These industries include: advertising; architecture; crafts; design; designer fashion; film; interactive leisure software; music; performing arts; publishing; TV and radio; and visual arts.
13. It will be for Creative Scotland to judge how to support activities in these areas where they involve the application of creative skills to the development of products and processes."

So some initial reactions to this appeal to the CS board:
"designed to set artist against artist and company against company in the search for resources" - and in that respect CS differs from SAC how, or just not their experience of it? Are we actually starting to see the naming of the loss of privilege here?
How is a letter that's so evidently seeking to regain perceived privileges-lost not also doing what it accuses - a demarcation of winners and losers by dint of the 'not us', in the parameters of "Scottish culture" it sets and excludes with? Worryingly, are we moving from faux-meritocracy ('talent') to a lodging of authenticity ('Scottishness')?
Re a "lack of empathy and regard for Scottish culture" - a seeking to re-establish the previous order-of-things so as to make it disappear from view again...?
It's curious what puddles of cultural capital pool - an assertion of visibility in and of itself, we self-pronounce as "Scottish culture" is also its function: 'SNP - you are legitimated by something called Scottish Culture, of which we self-announce as the guardians. If you don't restore our privileges, we will declare our non-confidence in your shepherding of Cultural Scottishness, which would embarrass you, and damage the real agenda of this government vis-a-vis independence.'
"The arts are one of Scotland's proudest assets and most successful exports. We believe existing resources are best managed in an atmosphere of trust between those who make art and those who fund it."
- "assets", "resources", "managed", "exports"; could they make up their minds: the integration of the aesthetic disciplines in the nation's economic production of value... or not? And 'The Games Industry' emerges to complete the creative economy script.
On the seven points, briefly:

1. genuinely acknowledge the scale of the problem;

A problem for whom? For ALL those now less secure? -- back to Naomi Klein's 'those who think neoliberalism has failed... it hasn't'.

2. affirm the value of stable two to three year funding for small arts organisations;

They're not 'small' organisations, they're an already reduced number of former-FXOs -- those outwith this magic circle have just been invisible-ed, setting "artist against artist and company against company in the search for resources".

3. end the use of business-speak and obfuscating jargon in official communication;

"assets", "resources", "managed", "exports" -- once again this substitute fixation on 'language' but not what it is of -- sends us back to a strategy of explaining it away as 'competencies' not 'conflict', 'personalities' not 'politics', for to name it would lead beyond CS to Scottish government, who are after all being asked to save 'us' for this now external other that's harrowing 'Scottish culture'.

4. revisit CS policies with an eye to social and cultural as well as commercial values;

They're not CS policies, CS is blanketed by many and differing Scottish government policies, so I guess "genuinely acknowledge the scale of the problem" will only go so far in its maintaining of the bad apple narrative.

5. collaborate with artists to re-design over-complicated funding forms and processes; 

Why? Where else in the public sector would you be allowed to collude on such an intimate level with a select handful of likely-recipients on the tendering process? Nowhere is diversity, equality, democracy, difference, conflict mentioned in this self-interested pitch. Once again, 'communication' is foregrounded and a positive consensualism invoked; it's to be understood as just a managerial task whereby such 'shallow forms of democratic engagement averts the problems of conflict'. As if the public scope of the CS bill and what it does as regards power in public communications is reducible to tinkering with forms!

6. ensure that funding decisions are taken by people with artform expertise;

As we can understand from Finland, this is perhaps what CS, or at least its rhetoric, is actually there to tackle, to 'smash the art form silos'; the closed networks and hierarchies of access and communication supposedly hindering the growth of markets -- that CS brings with it it's own cronyism in the absences of its asserted marketisation is another discussion.

7. establish an effective system of dealing with complaints as swiftly as possible.

Ok then let's name the 20%+ staffing reduction as a CUT in public spending on the arts in Scotland. The Public Services Reform bill that calved CS also did away with numbers and specialisms of Ombudsmen (perhaps not unrelated to the water privatisations), merging areas, hindering regulatory oversight, but that's also an issue of Scottish government...


Re: Could you do a "lite" version for muppets such as myself?

I'll try.

In 1994 the Scottish Arts Council launched 'Towards a National Cultural Strategy'. Fast forward through lots of large consultancy fees to today…

Creative Scotland is the reorganisation of Scottish Screen and the Scottish Arts Council, but much more besides, following the model of a europe-wide creative industries policy. It's not the same everywhere but we can recognise it as not being unique either. So other countries' experiences might be important in understanding what's going on now in Scotland. CS is also affected by other policy areas of government -- just as the Arts Councils had to previously address themselves to 'Social Inclusion' policies.  

Underpinning this current reorganisation is the assumption that Scotland's institutions are not competitive enough, and that they are the reason for stagnation.

What's needed therefore is some 'flexibility' and ‘innovation’ in the system -- the freedom for the state to experiment with different ideas of institutional organisation in practice. This generally gets shortened to 'entrepreneurialism'; the magic bullet to stagnation. 'Entrepreneurialism' is necessarily attributed positive attitudes, values and behaviours, and so it follows that all else must be bad!

Though not all institutions are to be shaken up. The large National cultural bodies had already been removed from under the wing of the Scottish Arts Council. And cultural activity named as 'Traditional Arts' have been bundled together and exempted from the market competition everyone else must now enter into.

The idea of competition is to 'positively' disrupt what are perceived as too static 'networks of privilege' -- what people here in the comments have referred to as 'the establishment'. 

This disruptive competition is supposed to allow for wider 'market' access to those resources thought previously held too tightly by this establishment. 

What's needed then is a different set of gatekeepers to dislodge the existing ones and free everything up, and so Creative Scotland will oversee 'tendering processes', 'franchises' and 'central commissioning' of services.  In the name of market freedom inevitably we see and experience increasing state centralisation. This marshalling, though, uniquely chimes with the forthcoming independence referendum.

The significant change is the shift to a 'service delivery' model -- Creative Scotland was made in the Services Reform bill. That's about a realignment of culture as regards enhancing the economy. 'Creatives' are considered a flexible labour pool with complementary talents, that is highly mobile and can respond quickly to business opportunities. If we're to believe the bullshit.

Much of what we're witnessing here is coy counter-argument from those who present themselves as the custodians of 'Scottish culture' -- the establishment, if you like. It revolves around those organisations and their associated structures or networks trying to regain the access and the privileges accorded them before the Creative Scotland bill disrupted it. So fundamentally it's about power.

But consistently we hear that this 'isn't political' and few arts organisations wish to approach the bill as having framed in legislation the shifting economic approach I've outlined above -- even when the head of CS board is Senior Independent Director of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc. (At least in England voices were raised against Bazalgette, responsible for Big Brother, chairing ACE.)

Instead, decision making is seen as a question of professional expertise and not of political position taking - polite argument revolves around competencies, not conflict, and there's a self-flattering misunderstanding across 'the arts' generally that Creative Scotland is solely or even primarily there as an arts funder, even when CS insists it's 'investment' when it does.


Thanks Peter.

I'm going to disagree though -- but not with your criticisms of that pre-crash development script of 'entrepreneurialism'.

I don't think for the most part there is a clash of values.

It's dislodged privilege that's now being reacted to -- with some great exceptions!

I don't think it's all inattentiveness either, with the above proviso.

If it was approached as a clash of values on the scale you suggest, and I welcome your framing of it as such, then how does replacing CS management make any difference to a legislative definition of "the value and benefits of the arts and culture in Scotland" as "encouraging commercial banks to better understand the economic potential"?

In some ways I think it's habit. 

It's a very understandable continuity of the gaming of the system concerning the bits that are seen as directly affecting 'them' -- it's politicking. The strong motivation for keeping it 'personal' and not naming it as 'political' as you have done is, I suggest, to avoid any resulting awkwardness when it comes to filling the ousted CEO's shoes.

So I see very little overall desire to address the politics of it in the round -- which is how we got the "arts for arts' sake" fudge in the bill. That this 'fix' sits within and is affected by the stronger economising direction of the bill is what's now being felt. 

There was opportunity to do something about it at a fundamental level at the time of the bill, but instead we're here as the fudge didn't work too well.

To take the position that CS is something externally inflicted is to deny agency. It's to deny the self-interest and the politicking in the processes that got us to this juncture. A worn narrative of injured or embattled Scottishness just doesn't cut it. But if we're pointing fingers, I'd be keen to hear more about the betrayal in the Scottish government's bundling up of Traditional Arts for exemption from competition…

As I outlined in the comment above, these changes are not new and not unique, and I'd like to add it's not sudden either.

A discussion about equality in cultural provision would be very welcome!



I think we're in agreement over the broad concerns.

I agree we shouldn't mistake symptoms for the problem -- such as the distraction of tinkering around the edges with "artists' forms". I'd like to take it more seriously than that, which is also not to dismiss those experiences, some of which I share.

I also agree concerns need to be addressed across policy fields; that the re-creation of a few pockets of relative comfort won't suffice -- I acknowledge that previously describing this as 'privilege' is something of an exaggeration and that there's a lot of unevenness of experience within this.

The general assumption is that the disruption that's being contested is somehow a failure and not something more purposeful. The Naomi Klein "Ideas have consequences" reference in my comment above is that:

"So, as we say that this ideology is failing, I beg to differ. I actually believe it has been enormously successful, enormously successful, just not on the terms that we learn about…"

As I try to outline above, there's a fairly common international cultural policy script and CS is a 'self generated solution' reflecting this script. One that represents decades of consultants' graft on the bill, an agitation which never ceases.

That CS CEOs are perceived as being brought in from 'outside' really reaffirms the problem as this script presents it -- static, closed-off networks etc -- to which disruptive competition is supposed to be the answer.

I no more agree with this dated market fallacy as any kind of 'solution' than you do.

It does though identify a set of conflicts in cultural provision, something contrary to the letter's framing of politics as a merely managerial task involving the identification of consensus.

So I don't agree that there is a left-field set of shared values or that this is what the letter reflects.

As to self-determination, 'culture' is a fully devolved area but yes, it sits within and across and is responsive to rafts of policy fields. 

Here's something I co-wrote over the summer that addresses assumptions of a 'oneness of will' and the exclusions necessary to maintain that construct of 'Scottish culture' as we see in the letter:


Thanks Harry

"If both old networks of privilege and the marketised faux-solution to them are broken ideologies, how else do we envision national-scale arts funding taking place? In a way that supports plurality, dissent, &c., and a way that allows artists to make a living from their art? Can we do that within anything like contemporary Scottish politics?"

I think they're all important questions that are not asked enough. 

The 'cultural democracy' argument linked above might inform a coming to understand the implications. I reserve my differences from some of what's proposed, as a participant in its production, but hope people find what it raises constructive.

I also think once we start to consider public space in terms of power, mediated communication and democracy, then there's so much informed consideration to draw upon -- e.g. Clive Barnett, 'Culture and democracy: media, space and representation' (Edinburgh University Press, 2003).

That is, in spite of the continuing "academic absenteeism" of our constrained HE system.

What might equality in cultural provision look like, or at least something travelling towards it? 

We might add, and who's going to ask that?

And as you say, can anything other exist within contemporary Scottish politics?

I'd certainly like to hear those questions seriously addressed.


Thanks Tam, I think

CS is itself the manifestation of policy and the mechanism through which policy is projected. Yes, CS has more agency than that, and how to account for that agency in the ways it interprets, focuses and implements policy? CS is shaped by and also shapes policy. But shadow boxing the CS executive does not address the underlying actions and motives of government(s) and civil service that CS performs to, or the legal framework in which it has to do so which the bill relandscaped.

Creative Scotland is doing what Creative Scotland is set up to do -- as has already been seen to happen in e.g. Finland, via an international travelling set of policy concerns, and which, if we could take the time out of our own particular self-interests and constructions of victimhood, we could learn from. 

This is neither new nor unique. Such issues of neoliberal restructuring have been addressed by our northerly neighbours, yet it seems we even struggle to name it here. Why?

By addressing structure and agency it's hoped we might address the substance of change and not fixate on froth. But choices were made at the time of the bill, just as they're being made now, to ignore such an approach.

I'm not concerned with trying to seek out a bit of a better comfort zone for myself within the current settlement, as this gaming of the system is in effect how we got to this juncture.

If folk had acted against their seeming immediate self-interest when there was the chance to make a more fundamental difference, in better forming the bill towards more democratic and less economistic ends [instead of carving out exception for themselves], then it's less likely we'd be here right now. 

This raises the question of how one talks back to power effectively and when one does so -- anonymity still being a very real concern to many. As well as how to openly represent our own self-interest and vantage points to each other in coming to do so. We're only victims if we deny the personal opportunism that led us here as we try to continually game the system to our own advantage.

I'm on a number of e-lists where my co-participants who are signatories to the letter decided not to share more widely their knowledge of their 'opportunity' to sign. The ranks were closed to those outside of their own particular constellations of opportunity whilst mustering effort to ensure 'their folk' were reflected. It's a familal paternalism that's in denial of the exclusions it enforces; one that makes invisible its chosen forms of governance. It's this weary "‘becoming clandestine’ of skills … jealously and meanly guarding microscopic secret knowledge" that weighs down on me when CS claims an intention to crack-open 'art form silos'.

There's no comfort zone on offer for what many of us do neither in the old settlement any more than there is in the new. But as the Finish experience demonstrates, there isn't a secure zone either for those seeking security in traditional forms of patronage -- the game's fundamentally changed (at the level of the bill) and it's not in my or others' interest to try to get it back as it was, not least when what it seems is being mooted is an even lesser resurrection of selective elements than that; to tinker at the level or re-securing closed social systems which abet in my own and others' exclusions.

Generally, I sense an indifference to how things really are, and why. We are, then, caught in the midst of various forms of neoliberal enclosure and restructuring, which is seen by competing individuals, networks and agencies to offer openings for a range of agendas seeking to gain purchase on institutional structures/ bureaucracies. In our experience, it is precisely these meshing of egoistic interests that effaces any significant debate of the underlying antagonisms in Scotland's cultural policy -- how it significantly differs from, say, Sweden's earlier, more social democratic policy before neoliberal restructuring. How do we call it out for all of us to see, and how do we overcome it when solidarity has always been a political process?

If we can't collectively acknowledge such basic tensions between us in our inability to depict the present, then I strongly suspect any rallying would encounter subduction of difference for primarily promotional ends for the benefit of a few over the many.

Our approach has been less the promotion of a Scottish Pavilion, less celebrity endorsement of brand success (emulating CS's own predilection for reflected glory) where decision making is seen as a question of expertise and not of political position, but instead something more grounded in appreciating political difference in establishing capable policy that can "critically account for the way 'power is exercised upon and through practices of mediated public communication'".

Much of what's written here I'd already posted to those e-lists before they went on to prove my concerns as well founded and compound my and others exclusions.


Besides Sandy Crombie (Standard Life, RBS) is it a coincidence that Ewan Brown, former-banker complicit in demutualisation and deregulation of financial services, was placed in charge of overseeing Creative Scotland Ltd and its metamorphosis?

What of the changing ethos and financial emphasis of the cultural sector that’s come with the concentration on the FIRL sectors (finance, insurance, real estate, and legal) from which ‘leaders’ increasingly move to manage the arts. Notably, at a time when greater emphasis has been placed on the centrality of ‘leadership’ (via Clore Foundation etc.) something the letter perpetuates.

Ewan Brown (Lloyds TSB) was chairman of the company set up to establish Creative Scotland when it had no regulatory oversight, along with Chris Masters (Wood Group) and current board member Peter Cabrelli (HBOS).
“As Commissioner for Public Appointments in Scotland, I do not currently regulate appointments to the board of Creative Scotland. The Public Services Reform (Scotland) Bill is making its way through parliament. It has, I understand, reached stage 2. If the Bill succeeds in its current format, appointments to the board will fall under my regulatory remit. … Given that the Bill has not yet passed, I can state categorically that I will have no regulatory oversight of this appointments process.”Karen Carlton, Commissioner for Public Appointments in Scotland, MWB Business Exchange, 9-10 St Andrew Square, Edinburgh.
The dominance of this habitus from which appointments are conjured is experienced from the National Galleries to the Edinburgh International Book Festival. With such appointments come a particular set of acquired schemata, sensibilities, dispositions and tastes that collectively, if we’re being polite, we might term a shared ideology.

To what extent is the increasing dominance of the FIRL sector and the influence of their working practices of concern? On what basis should we raise questions and challenge the legitimacy of the decisions being made at present, to have very clear analyses of what the nature of the problems are and what possible exits there are?

This from Susan Rice (former-chairman and chief executive of Lloyds TSB Scotland, managing director of the Lloyds Banking Group in Scotland) who chairs the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Forum “to ensure the city’s pre-eminence on an increasingly competitive global circuit for such events”:
“…These days, she warns, nobody should assume they will get a grant just because they had a grant before. ‘Any arts body should have a board guiding it to think about contingencies. The severity of cuts might mean the demise of some organisations and that would be very sad. There again, others might be in a better position to trim their programmes and still keep going, even expand creatively’.”“I’m not one of the bad ones, so why should I deny that I’m a banker?”Susan Rice is an enthusiastic patron of the arts.FACE TO FACE: Susan Rice interviewed by Anne Simpson, 15 Aug 2010

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