Rupert Thomson: We can rebuild confidence after Creative crisis
CREATIVE Scotland is proving very unpopular at the moment. Arts professionals and commentators are furious, others deeply anxious.
The organisation’s announcement of its Review of Flexibly-Funded Organisations re-classes its support for about 40 of Scotland’s top arts organisations from a rolling two-year programme of funding that can cover an organisation’s overhead costs to providing support only on a “project-by-project basis”.
This means a myriad of funding applications instead of one every two years, each application involving fresh form-filling and potentially a bureaucratic nightmare. This change severely unsettles many well-known, long-trusted and award-winning companies across our arts. How can companies now plan ahead to provide even modest job security for hundreds if not thousands?
Arts funding is highly cost-effective in job creation, and a catalyst for cultural confidence, two essentials in these grim times for our economy. Nor can it be said to be bloated. Only 0.03 per cent of the EU budget is for the arts.
Here in Scotland, there appear to be two problems. The first, communication. Those affected have entirely and needlessly lost confidence in their futures, even after years of building up relatively stable careers and excellent track records in winning audiences and gaining critical plaudits. The second is the implications of the funding model. Artists and producers see a variety of problems, not least keeping the full-time staff essential to creating new work.
Creative Scotland’s director Andrew Dixon wrote last week that this move “is nothing to do with cuts”, further hinting that in coming years there could be a net increase in funding for the arts. This makes no acknowledgement of the difference between fixed and variable support, between what is assured to cover basic monthly costs and what is a gamble – tied to how well or not Creative Scotland’s committees and post-holders value new projects and new ideas. Equally, to book a leading artist will often require a lead-time of over a year: this fiscal timescale has nothing to do with that of the government, and is rendered all the more difficult under the conditions proposed.
As programme director at Summerhall, a new arts centre based in the buildings of the former Royal Dick Vet College, Edinburgh, I am not directly affected. Summerhall does not depend on direct public support for core funding. But, in due course, we could lose out if publicly funded arts companies find themselves unable to stage exhibitions and performances with us (several producers among organisations planning to come to us tell me this is their fear).
My own company, Capital Arts, is on the one hand a small organisation that may gain from the new stance as there will now be more uncommitted funding available. On the other hand, as Capital Arts already receives support from Creative Scotland, there is a fear of “biting the hand that feeds” by making any public criticism.
Moreover, as an enthusiastic punter, I fear there may simply be less creative output in Scotland, not caused by more or less public money so much as by how that support is provided.
The resolution of this crisis will require honesty and a commitment to collaboration from both sides. To begin, Creative Scotland should admit to its failure to consult and communicate its decisions without propelling many fine organisations into a tailspin.
Creative Scotland can be an advocate for great arts, be more than merely a broker among many funding streams (often the past perception of the Scottish Arts Council). But while standards and fashions change, Creative Scotland should be an anchor against exceptional tides.
At the same time, those in the arts should acknowledge two things. First, that these structures do require an occasional shake-up to keep things fair. And second, to give some benefit of the doubt: we all make mistakes, and this review does not have to be an indicator of ideological cross-purposes, so much as a problem requiring a shared understanding.
It is an established truism that art, as life, is as much about process as outcome. The arts are not just about delivering the highest quality to the public but about inspiration and education. The arts lead by extraordinary example, in the finished product and in the making: they are Creative Scotland’s customers (and certainly not its tools).
Out of this unwanted crisis, I hope for a new conversation and that a new funding model will emerge – based on a more realistic and comprehensive view of what Scotland’s arts need.
• Rupert Thomson is programme director for the Edinburgh arts venue Summerhall
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