As reported in this newspaper yesterday, Creative Scotland has just announced it is planning to spend £45,000 of public money on an “opinion survey to better understand our customers”.
There are so many worrying things about this that it’s difficult to know where to start. Let’s take them one by one.
1. “Customers”? This is an organisation that has just gone through a year of painful self-examination in the wake of widespread and damning criticism from artists – hundreds of whom signed an open letter expressing serious concern about the organisation’s “corporate ethos”. The writer and musician Pat Kane, who has just spent several months chairing a series of Open Sessions for artists to air their concerns, wrote in his summing up on Monday that “the greatest and most common anxiety was that a ‘financialised’ and ‘corporatised’ language … had become too dominant in the operations of Creative Scotland”.
And yet despite all this – and despite a speech last week from culture minister Fiona Hyslop that made a point of saying “this Government does not look at our cultural life and heritage as if they are merely products that can be bought and sold” - Creative Scotland is still talking as if was a bank rather than a public funding body. This has not, it’s fair to say, gone down very well.
2. £45,000? Really? To “monitor changes in perceptions of Creative Scotland and satisfaction with our services?” Immediately after Creative Scotland has spent significant amounts of time and money on a substantial, nationwide consultation exercise? The purpose of this new survey, we’re told, is to “better understand the views of the public and stakeholder organisations on the arts and creativity”. In other words, this one is to find out what the general public think, rather than what people who work in the arts think. I think. “Stakeholder organisations” sort of suggests they’re going to be talking to artists again.
Anyway, the unfortunate implication of all this is that people who work in the arts, or people interested enough in the arts to attend one of the recent Open Sessions all across the country, or contribute to any of the debate about Creative Scotland so far (in numerous public meetings, Facebook groups etc etc) don’t count as members of the general public. This is not a good message to be sending.
3. Another purpose of the Creative Scotland survey, we’re told, is to “improve our intelligence on the media impact of our communications”. Sorry, isn’t that the day-to-day job of Creative Scotland’s PR team?
I’d love to believe that Fiona Hyslop’s speech last week, and the appointment of Janet Archer, pictured left, as Creative Scotland’s new chief executive, signalled a fresh start for this troubled organisation. Perhaps it will. Hyslop’s speech was properly brave, inspiring stuff – and such a contrast with the dreary philistinism of her Westminster counterpart, Maria Miller, that it is being talked about as excitedly in London as it is up here. Janet Archer, meanwhile, seems to be a popular choice – she is well respected in Scotland and elsewhere, and it’s refreshing to see a woman in a job previously occupied by, how can we put this, a man with a bit too much swagger for his own good.
Disasters like this, though, suggest Archer is going to spend her first weeks in the job doing damage limitation. Not a good start.