WHAT now for Creative Scotland?
Our arts funding body has endured what it describes as a “period of painful but essential re-examination”, which ended last week with the resignation of chief executive Andrew Dixon and a statement of intent from the board that read like a series of apologies for virtually everything it has done this year.
In terms of money, “stable, multi-year arrangements” are promised – a reversal of the unpopular decision, announced in May, to put large numbers of well-renowned arts organisations on short-term project funding.
The new idea of “strategic commissioning”, which many artists feared would mean Creative Scotland dictating what kind of work they should make, has been ditched. Artists will be “at the heart of everything we do”, the statement says – a dramatic turnaround from an inflammatory statement earlier in the year that Creative Scotland is “here to serve the Scottish people” (insinuation: artists, by contrast, are just here to serve themselves).
Creative Scotland has, clearly, listened closely to the many criticisms made of it this year. And, having responded to each one, it now wants its critics to leave it alone. “It is time that Creative Scotland stopped being the story,” the statement concludes.
So really I should stop there. Except that something bothers me about this statement. As one Scottish theatre-maker commented this week: “Resignations should be about clearing the way for someone better equipped to do the job, not about making a sacrifice to appease angry artists.” This statement reads like an appeasement – a box-ticking clearout of unpopular ideas rather than the plotting of a fresh course.
To be fair, this may be all Creative Scotland is in a position to offer just now. It is now leaderless and will remain so until next year. And we won’t need to wait for long for further developments – there will be updates this Friday, the statement says.
In the meantime, questions pile up. Strategic commissioning was, in part, a plan for stretching a reduced budget with Lottery money. It wasn’t a very good plan, but abandoning it doesn’t alter the fact that the money has still been reduced. Then there is the question of what Creative Scotland, at its heart, is for. Is it still to be a sort of PR agency for Scottish culture? That idea – the source of Creative Scotland’s much-mocked obsession with marketing and tourist board jargon, popular with politicians, but alien to many artists – is still hanging in the air. In short, there’s potential for radical change, and potential for not much change at all.