Arts blog: Anger is an energy

Orla O'Loughlin. Picture: Neil Hanna
Orla O'Loughlin. Picture: Neil Hanna
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“WHAT we’re trying to do is inject some energy into the ecology,” said Creative Scotland’s Venu Dhupa back in May this year, announcing a radical restructuring of funding that would see large numbers of arts organisations competing for pots of one-off project money.

Well, it worked, although probably not in the way Dhupa, the organisation’s senior director of creative development, had imagined. The rebellion against Creative Scotland – which peaked with 100 Scottish artists writing an open letter condemning its “ill-conceived decision-making; unclear language, lack of empathy and regard for Scottish culture” and culminated in this month’s resignation of chief executive Andrew Dixon – can largely be traced back to this single decision.

Instead of energising artists to become more entrepeneurial, the funding shake-up energised its critics to voice long-held doubts about what the organisation was doing. (First up was this newspaper’s Joyce McMillan, who immediately and memorably condemned the move as embodying “a kind of undead Thatcherism, a half-baked, hollowed-out, public-sector version of market theory that reduces the language of creativity to a series of flat-footed business school slogans, and imposes a crude ethic of sado-competition on areas of society where co-operation and mutual respect matter more.”

So it’s appropriate that Dhupa, credited as the architect of the changes, resigned last week. Like Dixon, her statement is entirely unapologetic (it is not remotely clear, reading it, why she is actually leaving). But at least it was more dignified than that of Dixon, who petulantly lashed out at the critics who didn’t “respect and support” him.

Where does this leave Creative Scotland? In limbo. Dixon will remain in his job until January, Dhupa will leave a month later. It remains to be seen whether the organisation’s chairman, Sir Sandy Crombie, can follow up on the recent promise of change in a way that will win back the trust of the people the organisation alienated this year. Here’s hoping.

Happy birthday to... Everyone

NOW we’ve got the Year of Creative Scotland out of the way, what’s in store for the arts next year?

We’ll be throwing over most of this magazine to answering that question next Thursday, with an in-depth preview of 2013 by our critics Joyce McMillan, Ken Walton, Fiona Shepherd, Alistair Harkness, Duncan Macmillan and Jim Gilchrist.

First impression is that it’ll be the year of landmark birthdays. Celtic Connections and T in the Park are both 20 years old in 2013, and will be pulling out all the stops to celebrate. Names already announced by T in the Park include Mumford & Sons, Rihanna, the Killers, Emeli Sandé, Azealia Banks and Mercury Prize winners Alt-J. The line-up so far has led to some rockist grumblings about it being too “pop”, presumably from the same people who moaned about Beyoncé playing two years ago (and who have either forgotten she blew everyone else off the stage that weekend, or just don’t care).

Celtic Connections, meanwhile, has over 250 events next year, including what should be a poignant tribute to the late Michael Marra, and appearances by the Mavericks, Martha Wainwright, Carlos Nunez and Kate Rusby – whose Royal Concert Hall gig on 24 January will also celebrate her own 20 years in music. Rusby’s new album is called 20, and includes guest appearances by Paul Weller, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Dick Gaughan, Radiohead’s Philip Selway and more.

In theatre, the Traverse’s new artistic director Orla O’Loughlin (pictured left, one of those “colonists” Alasdair Gray was writing about last week – or perhaps he’ll let her graduate to “settler” status if she sticks around long enough) is busy putting together a programme for the theatre’s 50th anniversary year. Little has been announced so far, with the exception of Traverse 50, an initiative to find and showcase 50 new playwrights. But such is the goodwill towards the venue, a powerhouse of Scottish theatre, that a woman of O’Loughlin’s obvious talent should have no problem coming up with a substantial anniversary season. Hopefully she’ll not be put off by some of the sillier things that have been said over the past week in the name of standing up for Scottish culture. (Yes, James Kelman, we mean you. So Vicky Featherstone, the woman who came up with the idea for Black Watch, was an “imperialist” who was not aware that Scotland was a country? Really?)

The Scotsman is celebrating an anniversary next year too. The Fringe Firsts, our new writing awards, are 50 years old, and we’ll be marking the occasion at the 2013 Edinburgh Festival. If you have stories you’d like to tell about winning a Fringe First, and what it meant to you, we’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch with me at

Andrew eaton-lewis