Of course, possibly even worse than Creative Scotland can be the umbrella organisations that they regularly hand huge sums of money to, though it would be very unfair to lump them all together for criticism. However, there is also no reason to believe artists themselves would do any better or act any more fairly.
The core problem will always be that there is not enough money and any judgement on what is and isn’t good “art” is subjective. An added complication is that, since the lottery money became so important, the focus of grants has moved from the artist to what that artist can do for others, in particular the local community, and whether they fit into a particular group that has been deemed to need support. A brilliant but unsociable singer-songwriter would not be approved of these days!
As if it couldn’t get any more complicated, there is then a huge issue with artists receiving help from their friends who may or may not also be artists, which is something to be applauded but not when those friends influence the handing out of grants.
Maybe the biggest issue of all is one that is very much on people’s minds at the moment and that is the fact that there will always be those who seek to gain power and influence for ulterior motives. For some, it may be that they are sexual predators but there are many others who will get themselves into a position of power for financial gain or just so they can wield power over others. Possibly even more common is to seek a position that will assist other interests.
To some extent getting involved in decision-making bodies that can help others you are associated with is not necessarily something to be frowned upon. But certainly, from what little dealings I have had and more so from others who have had far more experience, Creative Scotland has too much to do with who you know. Even worse is a culture of artists being penalised for speaking out.
There is a huge irony in that for the best part of a decade Olaf Furniss, the founder of Born To Be Wide, organised valuable music seminars with very little help from Creative Scotland. The more he filled out forms unsuccessfully, the more he understandably became frustrated. The more he complained, the more he felt he was being deliberately ignored.
I say “very little help” because he came in the shop one day a bit happier to say he had discovered a Creative Scotland fund that was able to hand out money in the low hundreds of pounds, which at least helped him with guests’ expenses.
Not that it ever really mattered to me much back then, but Olaf was the go-to guy if you wanted to know why some band had a far higher profile than deserved or had received money to make an album that didn’t appear to be deserved. It would always be somebody’s friend or even relative that had had an influence.
Recording studios were actually one of the most common complainants, saying that the studios that received a lot of money to record bands never seemed to change and others weren’t given a chance.
Interestingly enough, I mentioned this to a Creative Scotland advisor just after we had discussed record shops closing. This was the time that One Up in Aberdeen closed and Creative Scotland had said it wasn’t their job to keep shops in business. It would actually then turn out later that in a report Creative Scotland sent me from that time that one recommendation had been to support retail and distribution.
Anyway this wasn’t just about which studio got the business but about whether given the advances in home-recording equipment these youngsters should be getting sent to studios at all. Without a hint of irony, I was told that at least the funding was helping these studios stay solvent.
With a change at the top in music at Creative Scotland, Olaf and fellow director Michael Lambert did start to receive funding and, given all Olaf has done over the years, nobody deserves it more but it shouldn’t have needed a change of personnel for that to happen. In a complete turnaround, Michael’s name is now one that crops up when folk suggest people that can help with Creative Scotland.
Several years ago, somebody else in music management would openly brag one of his best friends worked at Creative Scotland and he could help with things like grants and getting to SXSW. I mentioned this years later to Creative Scotland, when it was no longer an issue, as an example of what upset people and they called it nothing but conspiracy theories which was, given the weight of evidence, a stupid thing to say.
Obviously my experience is mostly dealing with the music side of things, but I hear similar stories from all branches of the arts and there just is no easy answer but it does have to be said that much of what is wrong people know about but choose for a variety of reasons not to say anything.
It will be very interesting to see what artists themselves suggest is the best way forward but certainly it would be preferable if everybody started from a level playing field.