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‘Damaged at the heart’: artists pull no punches over Creative Scotland

Liz Lochhead is one of 100 Scots artists to sign the letter. Picture: Neil Hanna

Liz Lochhead is one of 100 Scots artists to sign the letter. Picture: Neil Hanna

  • by BRIAN FERGUSON
 

A HUNDRED of Scotland’s leading artists have launched an out-spoken attack against the government agency in charge of the cultural sector.

In full: The letter to Creative Scotland

Creative Scotland, which has an annual budget of more than £83 million, is facing open rebellion after being accused of “ill-conceived decision-making and a lack of empathy and regard for Scottish culture”.

A stinging letter of protest to its chairman, Sir Sandy Crombie, will increase the pressure on chief executive Andrew Dixon to quit following months of criticism over his stewardship. Neither was available for comment last night.

However, composers James Macmillan and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, playwright and artist John Byrne, film-maker Andrea Gibb, actor Tam Dean Burn, singer-songwriter Karine Polwart and Scotland’s national poet, Liz Lochhead, are among those artists demanding “a fresh start” for the body. They have put their names to the letter claiming trust between Scotland’s artists and those who fund it was “low and receding daily”.

The artists behind the letter issued an accompanying statement saying they believe Creative Scotland was now “damaged at the heart” – but stopped short of calls for sackings or resignations.

Their dramatic move will also pile pressure on culture secretary Fiona Hyslop for failing to get a grip of a crisis which has dragged on for months. Last night, she insisted she still supported the super-quango for the arts, which was set up just months after she took over the culture brief.

Despite Creative Scotland’s “arms-length” status, she was forced to intervene last month to urge the agency to be more open and responsive to the concerns of artists.

The letter said Creative Scotland had “a confused and intrusive management style married to a corporate ethos that seems designed to set artist against artist and company against company in the search for resources”.

It makes seven demands, including ending “business speak and obfuscating jargon” in official communications, redesigning overcomplicated application forms and ensuring complaints are dealt with quickly.

Writers Ian Rankin, AL Kennedy, James Kelman and Janice Galloway are among the others to put their names to the letter, along with Turner Prize winner Karla Black, and Luke Fowler, who is a finalist in this year’s competition.

The letter has also been backed by a number of artists who have previously spoken out against Creative Scotland, including playwright David Greig and poet Don Paterson.

Creative Scotland was forced into a climbdown in June following a revolt after 49 groups and organisations were told they would lose regular funding.

The body later agreed to keep grants running for longer to give groups and organisations more time to discuss future grant schemes, and also allow the agency to publish detailed strategies for the dance, theatre, music and visual arts sectors.

However, it has faced mounting criticism over the way funding decisions are made, the level of bureaucracy artists and organisations face and a move by Creative Scotland to set up its own awards scheme in the face of such criticism.

David Greig, writer of hit plays Midsummer, Dunsinane and Monster in the Hall, said a mixture of “concern, disquiet and disbelief” from artists lay behind the letter.

He told The Scotsman: “We are looking for a clear acknowledgement of the problems within Creative Scotland and evidence of a clear change of direction. We have not seen that so far. There is simply no trust at the moment.”

Creative Scotland last night said it was “working hard” to restore trust and improve working practices with the arts and culture sector.

A spokesman said: “We recognise that we need to build positive, collaborative working relationships with organisations and artists.

“We are totally committed to working collaboratively with the arts and culture sector, we are listening very closely to what that sector is telling us and we are taking positive action as a result across a number of operational and strategic areas.”

 

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