Brian Ferguson: Baffling element to arts funding

Creative Scotland has been patient in trying to get things right after Andrew Dixon's departure. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Creative Scotland has been patient in trying to get things right after Andrew Dixon's departure. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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IT IS hard to believe more than two years have passed since Scotland’s cultural sector was thrown into total disarray.

The infamous artists’ rebellion – laid out in a damning open letter – proved to be the nail in the coffin of Creative Scotland’s chief executive Andrew Dixon after months of criticism.

It has taken some 25 months for the quango to recover from an excruciating crisis which unfolded within just two years of the Scottish Government launching its new funding body.

The launch of Creative Scotland in the summer of 2010 came after a long, protracted process and an agonising debate over how the arts sector should be run in Scotland.

No-one can accuse Creative Scotland’s board or Mr Dixon’s successor, Janet Archer, of rushing into any decisions to repair the damage caused by the rift.

The organisation has taken its time to try to get things right over the past two years, a process that culminated in last week’s announcement on exactly who will benefit from its long-term backing.

The number of organisations receiving three-year grants has been more than doubled, no small achievement considering that Creative Scotland’s own overall budget has largely remained the same in recent years. And very few organisations have had a funding cut, despite Creative Scotland receiving £212 million worth of applications for a £90m three-year funding pot, which its board recently increased by £10m.

There has been some clever managing of expectations by the quango. Frankly, no-one in the culture sector had any idea what settlement they were going to end up with.

Some organisations have received significant increases, 20 applicants have been put on long-term support for the first time, and Creative Scotland has clearly learned from previous arts funding debacles by limiting complete cuts to a relative handful of organisations.

But the significant cuts for two of Scotland’s best-known theatres – the Royal Lyceum and Traverse in Edinburgh – are baffling to say the least.

Creative Scotland is right to point out the significant funding that these two theatres will still receive – £5.6 million between them in the next three years – but cuts of 17.5 and 11 per cent are still significant.

Both of these companies are understandably dismayed and angered at their treatment. Ahead of its 50th anniversary next year, the Lyceum has gone as far to say it has been punished for its success.

The bitter irony of the treatment of the Traverse and Lyceum is that around half of the 100 artists to put their names to that open letter two years ago have links to these venues. Maybe it is not the end of the saga after all.

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