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Andrew Eaton-Lewis: Why does having Scots in this country’s top arts jobs matter?

  • by ANDREW EATON-LEWIS
 

AS PART of its Mayfesto programme, Glasgow’s Tron Theatre is staging a debate next week called Who Runs Scottish Culture (And What Is It Anyway?).

It was prompted by ­Alasdair Gray’s essay Settlers And Colonists, which, you may remember, generated a lot of heated, ill-tempered argument at the end of last year.

I often find myself wishing this question would just go away, because it mostly feels pointless. Yes, many of Scotland’s most senior arts jobs are held by people who didn’t grow up here. Last week added two more. The next director of the Edinburgh International Festival will be Fergus Linehan, an Irishman who’s spent the past few years working in Australia. And Scottish Opera has just named its new music director, Emmanuel Joel-Hornak, who is from France. Within days, Creative Scotland is likely to name its new chief executive. If it’s not a born-and-bred Scot (which is certainly a possibility, given that 100 people applied), those who feel this is a problem will have yet another bee buzzing around in their bonnet.

If it is a problem, though, what is Scotland supposed to do about it? Since all the arts bosses that could be cited as examples – Laurie Sansom, Andrew Dixon, Jonathan Mills, Ashley Page, Orla O’Loughlin, Chris Fujiwara, etc, etc – were recruited by separate organisations, there is no conspiracy at work, nor any centralised way of preventing it from happening. If the issue is a lack of cultural confidence, could a long-term solution lie in education or apprenticeships? Perhaps, but who’s to say the confident young Scots created by such schemes wouldn’t just take their talents outside Scotland, as many already do?

Why does having Scots in these jobs matter anyway? Gray’s argument is that those who have grown up with Scottish culture are more likely to value and champion it, so a Scot running, say, the Edinburgh International Festival, would mean more Scottish work being staged. Well, it might, but in an age when culture from across the world is so easily accessible, it’s just as likely that someone who grows up steeped in a country’s indigenous art will look elsewhere for inspiration once they’re in positions of power.

Take Fergus Linehan, for example. He’s an Irishman raised on Irish theatre. As director of the Dublin Theatre Festival he staged work by Seamus Heaney, Brian Friel and Roddy Doyle. At 43, though, he is head of music at Sydney Opera House, where he runs Vivid Live, a festival of contemporary music and digital art. This year it includes performances by Kraftwerk and Bobby Womack. Does that seem particularly Irish to you? «

Twitter: @Aeatonlewis

 

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