Tuesday, 4 December 2012

CREATIVE SCOTLAND - DISTINCTION DISRUPTED

Recently, a letter signed by 100 of Scotland's cultural 'great-and-guid' complained about Creative Scotland to its Chair, Sir Sandy Crombie (Senior Independent Director of the Royal Bank of Scotland) for its "lack of empathy and regard for Scottish culture".[i] Yet the stance taken is 'this isn't political'. The disruption being contested by this 'interest coalition' is, instead, an issue of management competency and of CEOs being from outwith an intimate construction of 'community of belonging' – not something more purposeful. For them, here in public at least, such disruption is certainly not indicative of the neoliberal policies of the devolved Scottish state "in the service of global economic competitiveness".[ii]

In what should have better been a discussion concerning the more equitable distribution of public resources, much creative labour is inevitably absented instead.[iii] Worryingly, what's advocated by the signatories as underpinning state administration of Culture is a move from a system of faux-meritocracy ('talent') to a lodging of authenticity ('Scottishness')...

In 1994 the Scottish Arts Council launched 'Towards a National Cultural Strategy'. Fast forward through waves of consultants' graft, chaperoning by bankers[iv] outwith regulatory oversight[v], much 'sectoral' hand-wringing, and we arrive today at Creative Scotland (CS).

As part of a much promoted Scottish government 'bonfire of the Quangos', CS is the merger and re-organisation of Scottish Screen and Scottish Arts Council following a Europe-wide 'creative industries' policy script. Historically contingent, this mobile script does not manifest itself the same everywhere, but we can recognise it as not being unique to Scotland either. It concerns the strengthening tendency of an overly celebratory transformation from cultural to creative enterprise – whereby the processes of arts and culture are harnessed as a competitive factor of national economic growth. What emerges is the fuller integration of the aesthetic disciplines into the nation's economic production of value.

Other countries' experiences of these processes might then be relevant to understanding the structural reorganisation now occurring in Scotland – not least countries undergoing contested and reformulated nationalist assertions of identity in a contemporary European context. Experiences such as:

• the role that assertions of national identity have in informing the economising of culture and the policies that shape it;

• the impacts on cultural equality and on communicative freedom, in the context of the cultural-economic policy approaches of 'competitive nationalism' (whereby aspects of life and identity, including education, arts, sports and culture, are harnessed as factors of national economic advantage).

Signposting the shift to a 'service delivery' model of provision and 'single purpose' realignment of culture to enhance the economy, CS was legislated for via the Public Services Reform bill (2010). Through this, the state structure necessary to protect certain interests, and which was responsive to and generative of those interests, is being recast. But no single policy script acts alone. CS sits across and is responsive to different policy influences, like those the Arts Councils had to address, e.g. 'Social Inclusion'.

Underpinning reorganisation is the assumption that Scotland's institutions are not competitive enough; that they are, in part, the reason for economic 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. In popularist narrative this gets shortened to 'creativity' and 'entrepreneurialism'; the magic bullet to stagnation. These are necessarily attributed positive attitudes, values and behaviours.

In order to 'stimulate innovation' in the economy, CS seeks to induce competition so as to 'positively' disrupt what are perceived as too-closed 'constellations of opportunity'. This disruptive competition will enable wider market access to resources, which are thought to be held too tightly by too static a set of interest groups (e.g., the list of signatories above). What's needed is a different set of gatekeepers, shapers and influencers in order to dislodge the existing ones and free everything up. This is the overt managerial authority CS will take on: overseeing 'tendering processes', 'franchises' and 'strategic commissioning' of services. In the name of market freedom, inevitably we experience increasing state centralisation as regards 'Culture'.[vi] This marshalling of state production of symbolic value uniquely chimes with the forthcoming independence referendum – helping to make-concrete the assumptions of a nation-state 'oneness of will' in the context of nationalist production of space:

"Through the structuring it imposes on practices, the State institutes and inculcates common symbolic forms of thought, social frames of perception, understanding or memory, State forms of classification or, more precisely, practical schemes of perception, appreciation and action."[vii]

Not all institutions need be shaken up in this way. The large National cultural institutions had already been removed from Scottish Arts Council charge in 2006 by the (then) Scottish Executive and placed under its 'direct responsibility'. More importantly, in 2010, activity bundled together through cross-party support under the moniker of Traditional Arts was exempted from such overt market competition under the protection of  a cultural Scottishness – though very much governed within a diaspora/ancestry/heritage-tourism nexus.

CS is both the manifestation of policy and the mechanism through which policy is projected. It performs to and also shapes policy within the bill's legislative framework. This framework’s definitions "task Creative Scotland with making real and bringing to fruition the value and benefits of the arts and culture in Scotland [including] in terms of unlocking creative and entrepreneurial potential ... for example, by encouraging commercial banks to better understand the economic potential of the arts and culture."[viii]

CS is doing what it's set up to do – as has been seen in policy developments in Finland[ix] for example. There is an international travelling set of policy concerns, which we might learn from. This means looking beyond our own opportunism and constructions of victimhood with regard to wider struggles for social and economic justice.

But whatever the actual international experiences of this competitive 'solution' to economic stagnation, paradoxically CS does identify a very real set of conflicts in inequality of cultural provision and communication. This sits in contrast to those who have self-pronounced their guardianship of 'Scottish culture', and foregrounded a positive consensualism attributable to a unified set of common interests.

This is about the social and economic relations of cultural production, where special interest groups of unequal power do compete over scarce resources of society . This is done, consciously or not, to gain advantages over others, including advantages of distinction. Such groups are not fully static but are more dynamic and overlapping constellations formed around accruing cultural capital and labour opportunity; “products of rationalized social construction [that] lack [fully] social solidarity”.[x]

Those who residually dominate now face disruption of their intra- and extra-relations, and seek the continuity of their previous, comparatively stable, forms of patronage. Yet there's a self-flattering misunderstanding in 'the arts' that CS remains solely or even primarily an arts funder; assigning value judgments in contradiction to the economising role CS is tasked to do by Scottish government.[xi]

Partly it's a question of the processes by which whose creative labour gets valorised, whose is defended and expanded, and whose is devalorised in struggles for distinction. The state is no neutral arbiter disinterestedly representing everyone's interests. In the past the business of the state was more fully that of those cultural brokers and producers who are still in a relative position of authority to aggregate and voice disaffection. In doing so, 'arms-length' state agencies facilitated a particular dominance in the means of cultural production and communication. It is these class-structuring effects of state power which are being recomposed under the vision of the competitive nation.

It might, then, be insightful to expose the artists' (sic - an unfaithful reduction of those agitating beyond view) letter to a critique of similarly liberal 'anti-market' ideology with regard to the exploitation of Higher Education:

"[Hayward] argued that that ideology appears by virtue of its enlightened sneering to oppose 'markets' and to resist their undesirable 'social outcomes'; but that in fact the ideology does not oppose markets but instead contents itself with a polite request that the university be cordoned off from their operations. This doesn't work. The ideology does not deserve to be repudiated because it is 'reformist' but because it has a class basis. That is to say, it assumes that the 'values' which it wishes to protect ought to be protected only within the university and therefore (if implicitly) only on behalf of those who have access to it."[xii]

A convenient myth advanced for something called Scottish culture is of a left-field set of shared values. With this we're increasingly seeing the notion of class 'ethnicised' – √Čtienne Balibar's identification of the ignoring of class within ethnicity as if 'ethnic groups' are not fractured by class like everyone else.[xiii] However, cultural leadership agendas[xiv] have taken a distinct turn in Scotland. Contra the notion put forward of damage being done to a pre-existing Cultural Scottishness, this leadership agenda has been formative in embedding an economic 'elite' in public institutions involved in state production of symbolic value (facilitating entrepreneurial behavioural reform through 'infrastructural power'). This is nation-state formation at work – the reassuring of specific class interest through tying them in with the production of a 'competitive' Scottish nationhood.

It may then be revealing to consider recent disquiet as a conflict over relations of authority granted by the state to exercise sovereignty over property rights – to exclude, regulate, or attach significance to aesthetic practice. It's a struggle over values and claims to status (prestige) and scarce resources. It's about establishing a relationship of domination and subordination. This is the basis of conflict. The object of such conflict is the status quo and the consequences of change under the conditions of competitive nationalism.

To take the position in this transformation that CS is something externally inflicted is to deny agency; to deny the self-interest, opportunism and politicking in the processes upon which CS is contingent. A weak, emotive narrative of injured or embattled 'Scottishness' doesn't cut it. Complaints of incompetent or insensitive management is to miss or bury the point.[xv]

We are, rather, caught in the midst of various forms of neoliberal enclosure and restructuring. These are seen by competing individuals, networks and agencies to offer openings for a range of agendas, seeking to gain purchase on institutional structures. It is precisely these meshing of egoistic interests that effaces any significant debate about the underlying antagonisms in Scotland's cultural policy: "how judgements of taste are related to the social position of actors and associated with struggles for distinction."[xvi]


Leigh French, 26.10.12


Notes

[i] See, http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/charlottehigginsblog/2012/oct/09/open-letter-creative-scotland
[ii] 'Competitive nationalism: state. class, and the forms of capital in devolved Scotland', Alex Law, Gerry Mooney, Environment & Planning C: Government & Policy 2012, vol.30
[iii] Lending itself to 'heroic originators' - Bourdieu's criticisms of a "charismatic ideology of ‘creation’", which "directs the gaze towards the apparent producer and prevents us from asking who has created this 'creator' and the magic power of transubstantiation with which the 'creator' is endowed".
[iv] 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). Sir Sandy Crombie (Standard Life, RBS) is Chair of Creative Scotland.
[v] http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/herald-letters/letters-saturday-20-february-2010-1.1007921
[vi] Another facet is CS's own cronyism in the absences of its asserted marketisation and personnel not disentangled from former collegial networks, including the retention of interests manifested in previous art form specialisms.
[vii] Pierre Bourdieu, Pascalian Meditations (Polity Press: Cambridge, 2000), quoted in 'Competitive nationalism: state, class, and the forms of capital in devolved Scotland', Alex Law, Gerry Mooney, Environment & Planning C: Government & Policy 2012, vol.30
[viii] http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S3_Bills/Creative%20Scotland%20Bill/b7s3-introd.pdf
[ix] Marita Muukkonen, 'Between a Rock and a Hard Place : The Possibilities for Contemporary Art Institutions to Function as Critical Political Spaces', paper, Public Preparation, Translocal Express, Tallinn, Estonia, 2007
[x] Critical Art Ensemble, 'Observations on Collective Cultural Action', Variant 15 Summer 2002, http://www.variant.org.uk/15texts/cae.html
[xi] http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S3_Bills/Creative%20Scotland%20Bill/b7s3-introd.pdf
[xii] Danny Hayward, ‘Adventures in the Sausage Factory’: http://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/adventures-sausage-factory-cursory-overview-uk-university-struggles-november-2010-–-july-2011
[xiii] √Čtienne Balibar, Immanuel Wallerstein, Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities (Verso: London, 1992)
[xiv] Where greater emphasis has been placed on the centrality of ‘leadership’, and where ‘leaders’ increasingly move to manage the arts from the finance, insurance, real estate, and legal sectors. See also, Kirsten Forkert, 'Artist as Executive, Executive as Artist', Variant 35 Summer 2009, http://www.variant.org.uk/35texts/CultLeader.html
[xv] Naomi Klein: 'Wall St. Crisis Should Be for Neoliberalism What Fall of Berlin Wall Was for Communism', http://www.democracynow.org/2008/10/6/naomi_klein
[xvi] Andrew Sayer, 'Valuing Culture and Economy', in Culture and Economy After the Cultural Turn
eds Larry Ray, Andrew Sayer (Sage: London, 1999), http://www.cddc.vt.edu/digitalfordism/fordism_materials/sayer.htm

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