A NEW vision for the arts in Scotland should reject the idea of the “creative industries” and language more associated with the banking sector, a major cultural summit has heard.
The first of a series of roadshows intended to help transform troubled quango Creative Scotland heard demands that it become more challenging of government and had to be radically restructured.
Dozens of artists and industry figures who turned out at Dundee Contemporary Arts centre heard an admission that it had “alienated” significant proportions of the very sector it was supposed to be supporting.
The director of the venue, Clive Gillman, delivered a withering verdict on the organisation, saying there was a major question mark on whether it was simply an agency for delivering “flawed” policies.
He was among several critics to question a key Creative Scotland mantra about the need to secure a “return on investment” for the funding of projects and organisations.
The quango’s director of communications, Kenneth Fowler, told the 50-strong audience that it had been made “crystal clear” by the arts sector that Creative Scotland had to change and said it wanted to reposition itself as a “supporter and enabler, not a dictator.”
Much of the focus the “open sessions” event fell on Creative Scotland’s chairman, ex-Standard Life chief executive Sir Sandy Crombie, on declared on his appointment three yeas ago that was looking forward to “producing a return on that investment for the benefit of our country.”
Sir Sandy, who has more than a year left on his chairmanship of Creative Scotland, has refused to quit early, despite being implicated by many industry figures over the crisis which engulfed the agency last year and led to the topping of chief executive Andrew Dixon in December.
He was the recipient of a damning letter signed by 100 leading artists last October, which accused the body of “ill-conceived decision-making, unclear language, lack of empathy and regard for Scottish culture.”
Sir Sandy responded by issuing his own open letter, which declared: “They who provide the money have a right to ask what will result from that investment.”
A widespread programme for change has already been mapped out by Creative Scotland, including the drawing up of a new “vision” in the spring. However three and a half months on from the resignation of Mr Dixon, it has yet to start the recruitment process for his replacement, although an advert is expected to finally appear next week.
Mr Gillman, who described the Creative Scotland crisis as a slow-moving car-crash, said many of the ongoing issues involving the agency could be traced back to the original declaration from Sir Sandy.
He said: “On some levels I can accept it and buy into it. But how do we understand what that return on investment is? How do we measure that? I’m pretty comfortable with the idea we will never do that. But the problem is that is sitting at the head of Creative Scotland.
Mr Gillman, one of the keynote speakers at the event, said a key “contentious” issue was whether Creative Scotland was able to challenge government policies in future.
He added: “Some of those policies, for me, are very deeply flawed and need to be challenged. I would rather have a national institution that’s working to challenge those policies rather than simply assuming they are correct.
“We have all adopted this language that we all work in the arts and creative industries. But there is no such thing as the creative industries - it is an entirely artificial concept. I’m profoundly worried that we seem to have adopted and accepted this notion, that is at the core of what we do. There is the mythical status of the entrepreneur. It is a completely meaningless concept.
“Sandy Crombie talks about a return on investment. But it’s like making a cake - once you put the eggs in you can’t get them back out. You can put financial value into cultural value and make cultural value happen, but it’s very difficult to get the financial value back out. It is peripheral activity but it is not fundamental to what cultural value is about.
“We are all working to the government’s principle strategy of sustainable economic growth. In one form it is perfectly acceptable - but I am not interested in chasing economic growth at the expense of everything else.”
Highlands-based music promoter Jenni Macfie, another speaker, said: “Creative Scotland was set up with a corporate plan and a banking structure when it was dealing with the arts and creative industries. That was never going to work. It hasn’t worked in banking so it was never going to work in the arts. The entire structure of Creative Scotland is not really fit for purpose.”
Meanwhile Mr Fowler conceded that Creative Scotland’s operations, important parts of its strategy and its “way of going about things” had all been mishandled.
He said: “We were told we were opaque, dictating, arrogant and thoughtless. We were told we had lost touch with the people we were supposed to be supporting.
“Perhaps worst of all, people told us that we weren’t listening and that we were denying the problem. All this made it crystal clear that things needed to change.
“We are at a critical point for Creative Scotland and for the arts and creative industries in Scotland. A different kind of dialogue needs to be established with the people we are here to support, one that is truly collaborative, honest and based on mutual trust.”
The next Creative Scotland “open session” is due to be held in Edinburgh on Tuesday. Film footage and material generated from each event is to be posted online.