WHAT, exactly, is “strategic commissioning”? I appreciate this is not a question that keeps many people awake at night, but it’s an important one. The question is at the heart of the current row between this country’s artists and Creative Scotland, the organisation that funds much of the art they make.
It’s a row that, much to the embarrassment of Creative Scotland, is still being played out in the media. Despite a public apology and a delay to the overhaul in funding policy that sparked the row – and an intervention from culture secretary Fiona Hyslop – last week the story reached the London press. This time it was Turner Prize-nominated artist Luke Fowler unflatteringly comparing Creative Scotland to a bulldozer. Either he hadn’t read the apology or was unmoved by it.
If you’ve missed all this, please disregard those who will tell you it’s just artists moaning about funding being taken away. It isn’t. It’s an important debate about how the arts are funded. One of the main reasons it is dragging on is the lack of a satisfactory answer to the question that began this column.
So, what is strategic commissioning? It’s Creative Scotland’s principal buzz phrase at the moment, and yet after following this debate for over a month, and reading a long interview with its chief executive Andrew Dixon, I’m still stumped.
Dixon has tried hard to make it sound reassuringly innocuous – it’s about promoting the arts better to tourists, enabling new collaborations across artforms, strengthening the “cultural ecology”. Unfortunately, the way this frequently comes across is that Creative Scotland wants to tell artists what kind of art they should make. Worse, the changes it has proposed – funding artists project by project rather than providing money and time to explore new ideas free of interference – would enable it to do exactly that.
Many artists I know have long worried that their work is being used as propaganda by a government pushing for independence. Alex Salmond, certainly, is not shy of using language which implies (subtly) that this country’s artists make work for the greater glory of Scotland, rather than out of a need to ask questions about the way we live.
Creative Scotland has a similar tendency. It talks, constantly, about the need to showcase Scotland’s artistic talent more effectively – more strategically. But to what end? It is, unfortunately, very unclear (a situation not helped by the impenetrable jargon it often talks in). In the meantime, artists feel used, confused and alienated. It’s going to take a lot of work to fix that. I hope Andrew Dixon and his staff are up to the task.
» Last week Andrew... spent far too much time reading mad conspiracy theories about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ divorce. Suri does look like Chris Klein, doesn’t she? Hang on, she looks like Nicole Kidman too. Aaargh.
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