The new head of Scotland’s arts funding body has thrown her support behind culture secretary Fiona Hyslop’s rejection of the arts being used as a “commodity” to help boost the economy.
• Janet Archer, new Creative Scotland chief, backs comments made by culture secretary Fiona Hyslop about rejecting the “commodity” approach to arts
• Comments are in contrast to those made by UK counterpart Maria Miller, who said organisations had to demonstrate their worth
Janet Archer said that it was “fantastic to be in a country where government is willing to put itself out” for the sector, in her first interview since being appointed chief executive of Creative Scotland.
In contrast, UK culture secretary Maria Miller said in April that organisations had to demonstrate their worth to the economy if they were to receive funding.
Ms Archer, 52, left her post as director of dance at Arts Council England, which saw its budget from Westminster slashed by 30 per cent three years ago, and a further five per cent last month.
Creative Scotland’s budget from Holyrood this year has reduced by just two per cent and her comments may be viewed by some as a veiled attack on the UK government’s huge cut in funding.
The former dancer and director sided with Ms Hyslop’s remarks on the huge difference between the way artists are now viewed north and south of the Border during a key note speech at Edinburgh University last month.
“I have enormous respect for what Fiona Hyslop has said and can empathise with all of it”, she told The Scotsman in an interview yesterday, when asked which view she favoured.
“It’s fantastic to be in a country where government is willing to put itself out and position the arts as being part of the country’s DNA and critical to the environment in the way that Fiona Hyslop has. That’s really exciting.
“That is the vision and now we’ve got to turn that into a plan and bring it to life.”
Ms Archer went on to say that “art doesn’t always have value to the point at which it’s created. If you look back in time there are any number of artists who are now regarded as greats, world greats, who in their time weren’t recognised at all.”
“Making money isn’t always the focus for people and we need to respect that”, she added.
Her comments also appeared at odds with those of Sir Sandy Crombie, the former Standard Life boss and Creative Scotland’s board chairman, who said in October: “They who provide the money have a right to ask what will result from that investment.” Selection process
Ms Archer was selected from nearly 100 applicants as a replacement for Andrew Dixon, who resigned in December following an artists’ revolt over the way the agency was run.
Creative Scotland was thrown into crisis after crime author Ian Rankin, playwright David Greig, Makar Liz Lochhead and around 100 leading arts figures issued an open letter detailing what they said were a series of substantial failures.
These included a major shift in funding affecting 49 leading arts organisations and the use of corporate jargon in funding applications. She said work was already underway to rebuild relationships with those it funds.
Ms Archer, who will move to Edinburgh with her husband to take up the £110,000 job, also admitted there had been failures on the part of the agency.
Funding applications are currently a “bit confusing” and the national arts body’s website has to be overhauled, she said.
“It’s not so easy to realise when you come on to our website what funding you ought to be going to, where your application goes, how a decision is made or how swiftly it will be made, and we need to smarten up on all of that.”
Ms Archer said that Creative Scotland had itself to become the focus of too much attention.
“We need to just tilt things and take the attention off Creative Scotland - it’s been there long enough - and let’s start talking about art, film, the creative industries and for example the great things happening in the video gaming sector”, she said.
Ms Archer, whose daughter is also choreographer, has worked in Scotland at various points in her career.
For the last three years, she has been the chair of The Work Room, a body for the independent dance sector, which is based at the Tramway arts centre in Glasgow. She also said she fondly remembers driving a minibus from Hertfordshire to Stirling for the national dance festival as a young council arts worker in the 1980s.
“I’m really interested in Scotland, its people, its culture and its heart and that’s what has drawn me to this place.”
Creative Scotland was formed three years ago out of a controversial merger of the Scottish Arts Council and film agency Scottish Screen. Holyrood allocated it £34.1m this year with the remainder of the £84m total budget stemming from distributing lottery funding.
Archer answers Gray: I’m no colonist, I’m in it for the long haul
New arts funding chief Janet Archer gave her view on the row sparked by Alasdair Gray, one of Scotland’s most respected authors, who launched attack on the appointment of English “colonists” to influential positions north of the Border.
In a critique of English immigration north of the Border published in December, the 77-year-old directed his focus at short-term “colonists” who come north to fill executive arts posts and advance their career.
The acclaimed painter, illustrator and author of Lanark denied he was anti-English, and said he was speaking from his experiences of the 1990 Glasgow City of Culture celebrations and the running of the former Third Eye Centre in Glasgow, were specific examples of where English administrators had been employed in place of Scots.
Northern Ireland-born filmmaker Mark Cousins, the former director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, said Mr Gray’s intervention left him feeling unwelcome, while leading playwright David Greig said he was mistaken.
Ms Archer said: “I don’t know how English I am. My mum is from India, I was born in London, I lived in East Kilbride for a time when I was a baby, I moved to Japan and then Brazil, then Wales, then back to England and now I’m here.”
She added: “Everybody is entitled to their views and I think one has to respect views and listen to them. My history is I’ve never done anything lightly and I’ve usually spent quite a considerable amount of time in roles, so I am in it for the long-haul.”