A SENIOR official at England’s arts council will be the new figurehead of Scotland’s main culture body, ending six months of uncertainty over its future.
Janet Archer, a widely-respected figure in the dance sector across the UK, will replace Andrew Dixon as chief executive of Creative Scotland, the troubled quango.
He had faced a huge rebellion from artists across the sector over the running of the body, including a damning open letter published last October, and fiercely critical internal reviews, which were thought to have sealed his fate.
Creative Scotland’s board, led by former Standard Life chief executive Sir Sandy Crombie, has looked south for a second time, despite Mr Dixon’s regime facing criticism from artists over “a lack of empathy and regard for Scottish culture.”
She is a surprise choice for the Creative Scotland job, which attracted almost 100 applications, having not been numbered among the rumoured contenders, who included Robert Palmer, who led Glasgow’s reign as European City of Culture in 1990.
Turbulent 12 months
However Ms Archer’s appointment, less than 24 hours after Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop delivered a keynote speech setting out her vision for the sector in an independent Scotland, appears to have heralded a new era for the arts after a turbulent 12 months.
Creative Scotland insisted Ms Archer had “worked extensively” with projects in Scotland, including helping to stage the British Council’s biannual showcase at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
The quango said Ms Archer, whose job will command a six-figure salary, is not speaking to the media until after she starts her post officially on 1 July.
However, in a statement, she said: “I am thrilled at the chance to take on this important role for the arts, screen and creative industries in Scotland.
“The passion and intelligence emerging out of recent debate has reinforced the vital role Creative Scotland has to play as a partner and facilitator.
“I’m simply delighted to have the opportunity to contribute towards Scotland’s creative future and look forward to working with people everywhere to unlock talent, drive opportunity and grow artistic and cultural capital for this amazingly ambitious nation.”
Ms Archer, 53. has been dance director at Arts Council England for the last six years, having previously been head of the Newcastle-based Dance City agency. Ms Archer has recently been the chair of The Work Room, a body for the independent dance sector in Scotland, which is based at the Tramway arts centre in Glasgow.
Ms Archer, who will be in charge of a budget of around £83 million a year, was a key player in the drawing up of Arts Council England’s 10-year blueprint for the sector and also helped stage a major “state of the arts” conference for the body last year.
Ms Archer, a former freelance dancer, choreographer and director, was a founder and artistic director of the Nexus Dance Company, where she spent four years.
During a sixteen-year tenure at Dance City, she launched a new international dance festival for the north-east of England, and the body led efforts to ensure every member of the north-east community could become involved with dance.
The latter project saw classes, workshops, performances of work by leading international choreographers, and new courses run in partnership with Northumbria University.
Ms Archer was born in London but much of her childhood living in Brazil and Japan, before returning to study in the UK - at London Contemporary Dance School, Rambert Academy, also in London, and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, in Cardiff.
Ms Archer inherits the top job at Creative Scotland almost a year since leading arts groups were told they were being stripped of regular funding.
The quango was later forced to apologise for the way relationships with artists and organisations had deteriorated and pledged that more secure funding arrangements would be put in place.
Sir Sandy said: “We are all looking forward to working with Janet and the senior management team in building on the feedback and relationships with arts practitioners throughout Scotland.
“The board was impressed with her policymaking and partnership skills and knowledge across the whole field of the wider arts, screen and creative industries.
“She comes at a time of huge opportunities to highlight Scotland’s artistic excellence and achievements in the run up to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and beyond.”
Ms Hyslop added: “Janet has worked across the wider arts and creative industries with a recent focus on the quality of arts leadership and increasing access to culture for all.
“She has a clear understanding of the context of cultural provision in Scotland, in addition to extensive experience in the field of dance.
“She will be key to driving forward Creative Scotland’s work to increase the appreciation and celebration of Scotland’s cultural achievements and rich creative talent, both in this country and internationally.”
Profile: Out of The Work Room into Creative Scotland
Janet Archer, 53, has been dance director at Arts Council England for the last six years, having previously been head of the Newcastle-based Dance City agency.
For the last three years, Ms Archer has been the chair of The Work Room, a body for the independent dance sector in Scotland, which is based at the Tramway arts centre in Glasgow.
Ms Archer, who will be in charge of a budget of around £83 million a year, was a key player in the drawing up of Arts Council England’s ten-year blueprint for the sector and also helped stage a major “state of the arts” conference for the body last year.
Ms Archer – a former freelance dancer, choreographer and director – was a founder and artistic director of the Nexus Dance Company, where she spent four years.
During an eight-year tenure at Dance City, she launched a new international dance festival for the north-east of England, and the body led efforts to ensure the north-east community could become involved with dance.
The latter project instigated classes, workshops, performances of work by leading international choreographers, and new courses run in partnership with Northumbria University.
Ms Archer also spearheaded efforts to create a £7.6m purpose-built “dancehouse” venue for the organisation.
She was born in London but spent much of her childhood in Brazil and Japan, before returning to study in the UK – at London Contemporary Dance School, Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance, also in London, and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, in Cardiff.
The Work Room director Laura Eaton-Lewis said: “We think that there couldn’t have been a better appointment to the post of CEO at Creative Scotland than our incredible chair. I’m confident that she will bring the same vision, clarity of thought, and sensitivity to her new role, as she has given to The Work Room during the three years that she has led our board of directors.”
Alan Davey, chief executive of Arts Council England, said: “Janet has been a passionate and dedicated colleague. She played a lead role in developing England’s arts landscape at Dance City and at Arts Council England.”
Her in-tray: Festivals, cultural vision and artists
When Janet Archer finally arrives to replace Andrew Dixon in Creative Scotland’s plush Edinburgh offices at the end of Princes Street there will be little time for reflection.
Her first day is 1 July – less than three weeks before the city’s main summer festivals burst into life, when she is likely to be in big demand from the capital’s cultural movers and shakers. This festival also happens to be a showcase year for the British Council in Edinburgh.
Before then she will have to get up to speed on the Scottish Government’s emerging new vision for the cultural sector – which culture secretary Fiona Hyslop helpfully explained the evening before her appointment was made public – as well as the febrile political landscape in Scotland in the run-up to next year’s independence referendum.
A slight change in tack from government in the wake of the artists’ rebellion is perhaps one reason why Creative Scotland has abandoned plans to produce a new long-term corporate plan this summer.
Ms Archer will have the chance to shape the body’s overall vision. Rebuilding fractured relationships with artists and organisations is key. More immediately, Ms Archer will have to get to grips with the shake-up of the organisation.