Mull’s Comar chiefs quit after bitter row over redundancies

Visitors attend An Tobar arts centre on Mull. Picture: Sarah Darling/Facebook
Visitors attend An Tobar arts centre on Mull. Picture: Sarah Darling/Facebook
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TWO officials at the centre of a bitter row over the running of an island arts body are to leave their posts.

Caroline Winn, chief executive of Mull’s Comar trust, has quit after three and a half years in the post, while “creative director” Sion Parkinson is also stepping down.

Hundreds of people have objected to a management shake-up at Comar, which was formed out of the merger of Mull Theatre and the An Tobar arts centre, when it emerged that two long-standing cultural figures faced losing their jobs.

Now the pair, Alasdair McCrone, the long-standing artistic director of Mull Theatre, and Gordon McLean, who ran An Tobar, are to keep their jobs, in the respective roles of chief executive and creative director.

Officials at trade union Equity had called on the entire board of Comar to quit in July, describing the proposed redundancies - which were blamed on the need to making financial savings - as “a stupid decision” and condemning the “callous behaviour” of the directors.

The union had claimed the job cuts were being planned despite record levels funding for the arts on the island and blamed the “failure” to produce a proper business plan.

The proposed redundancies were temporarily halted in August after a “shadow board” was voted in by islanders at a stormy public meeting.

The new changes were announced by a transition board which was put in place following talks with arts agency Creative Scotland, Comar’s main public funder. A permanent new board is hoped to be established next week.

In a statement, transition board chair Roger Lewis said: “The board is enormously grateful to Caroline and Sion for their hard work in articulating and driving the creative vision of the organisation. We wish them every success in future.

“The new board will be responsible for guiding the organisation in future, including the delivery of a sustainable model across artistic content and operations.”

Comar, which stages around 100 events a year, was awarded a three-year funding deal worth £1.2 million from Creative Scotland last October.

A spokeswoman for Creative Scotland said: “This announcement follows an unsettling time for everybody involved in Comar and we will be meeting with representatives from Comar and partners to understand the Board’s plans for moving forward.

“Creative Scotland continues to be supportive of Comar’s ambitious vision, programme of high quality work and the business plan that underpinned its application for regular funding, on behalf of people in Mull, Argyll and Bute and beyond.”

Lorne Boswell, Equity’s Scottish secretary, said: “Equity welcomes this development at Comar and hopes that the organisation’s energies can now be devoted to what they are funded for.”

Joyce McMillan, The Scotsman’s theatre critic, said: This is a brilliant example of what can happen when a community really cares about the arts organisations in their area, and begins to take ownership of the debate about how they should develop.

“Earlier this year, the board of Comar made some bad decisions about the future of the organisation, which lacked support both on Mull, and in the theatre and arts community more generally.

“Now, thanks to a wave of protest and positive community action, those decisions have been reversed. I’m certain Alasdair McCrone and his staff will now do everything in their power to make sure that the creative life of Mull moves full steam ahead.”