Brian Ferguson: Creative Scotland between a rock and a hard place

Creative Scotland's chief executive Janet Archer. Picture: Neil Hanna

Creative Scotland's chief executive Janet Archer. Picture: Neil Hanna

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IT IS almost exactly two years since Creative Scotland’s darkest hour. Just days before the organisation was meant to be staging a national celebration of Scottish culture, it was left in total disarray after the resignation of its chief executive Andrew Dixon.

Mr Dixon’s departure hung like a cloud over the arts quango’s awards ceremony at Kelvingrove Art Gallery – an event that was never repeated, such were the grim memories it conjured up.

The run-up to the event had been marred by a bitter row over the running of the organisation under the tenure of Mr Dixon and his board, led by Sir Sandy Crombie. Some nominees even bypassed the event altogether.

A notorious open letter signed by 100 leading artists bemoaned a “deepening malaise within the organisation” and demanded action over “ill-conceived decision-making; unclear language and lack of regard for Scottish culture”.

But it was notable that the letter was addressed not to Mr Dixon but to Sir Sandy, who had been appointed as chairman only in the summer of 2010.

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The former Standard Life chief inflamed the situation with an insistence that the body had a duty to ensure projects it funded provided value for money, stating: “They who provide the money have a right to ask what will result from that investment.”

I’m not sure how many of Creative Scotland’s then critics would have expected Sir Sandy to still be the figurehead of the organisation two years down the line, but he is – though not for much longer.

It took more than six months for Mr Dixon to be replaced by Janet Archer and Creative Scotland has certainly been in no rush to usher in a new era since Sir Sandy confirmed his departure in April.

But a replacement is due to be announced by the end of the year, by Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop, as the key appointment is one made by the Scottish Government.

There is certainly intrigue over who will be appointed. On the one hand, there have been loud voices calling for an end to the “corporate ethos” of Creative Scotland. Should the appointment come from the financial or banking sectors, there are likely to be wails of protest.

If, however, the new chair is a figure closely aligned with the SNP or the independence cause, questions will arise over links between Ms Hyslop’s government and Creative Scotland, which is supposed to remain firmly at arm’s length.

After the recent SNP rescue deal for the Scottish Youth Theatre, overturning the rejection of long-term funding from Creative Scotland, and the parading of Scots Makar Liz Lochhead – one of the quango’s harshest critics in 2012 – as a new SNP member, I wonder which option Janet Archer would prefer?

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