Brian Ferguson: Creative Scotland’s head worth cost

The tenure of Andrew Dixon (r) was marred by criticism and discontent. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The tenure of Andrew Dixon (r) was marred by criticism and discontent. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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I MAY be going soft, but I’m beginning to feel slightly sorry for whoever ends up at the helm of Scotland’s national arts agency. It’s now five months since Creative Scotland’s last figurehead, Andrew Dixon, fell on to his sword – and still we wait to hear who his successor will be.

With any luck that situation will finally be resolved this week and a new era can begin – almost a year since the first rumblings of discontent about Creative Scotland emerged, when dozens of organisations were told they were losing the security of long-term funding.

Expectation levels about a sea change in the relationship between Creative Scotland and the country’s arts organisations and artists have grown dramatically since the turn of the year.

A lot has happened since Mr Dixon and his closest ally, Venu Dhupa, finally accepted what had long appeared inevitable and resigned.

Apologies, admissions of failure, pledges of radical change and dismissals of the kind of language that seemed to lie at the heart of many of the problems have been coming thick and fast from Creative Scotland in recent months.

The “open sessions” roadshows still touring around the country appear to have been a cleansing experience for the body and many of its harshest critics. Contributions from the main speakers, most of which have been posted on-line, have been refreshingly frank, but also positively upbeat.

However there is still an unshakable sense of limbo until it becomes clear who has the task of turning the organisation around, rebuilding those many fractured relationships and spelling out clearly what – and who – Creative Scotland will be for in future.

A key issue is what authority the person appointed will have following the events of recent months as the figurehead of what is essentially a funding agency. A number of key decisions have already been taken by Creative Scotland’s board, which the new chief executive will have to adopt.

Another is the level of respect they will command from the cultural sector, elements of which are frankly uncomfortable with the idea of an overlord for the arts in Scotland.

The new chief executive’s credentials are expected to come under intense scrutiny, and their Scottishness – or not – will also doubtless be a matter of public debate.

Another touchy area – which has been debated on social media of late – is the salary attached to the post. There is a body of opinion that the head of Creative Scotland should not be earning six figures – particularly when many artists will struggle to earn a fraction of that.

As this argument was raging last week, I investigated the salaries of other senior arts figures in the country.

After initially insisting I had no business asking such a question, the Edinburgh International Festival eventually conceded the salary of its director is actually in the public domain, and is up to £150,000.

The respective figureheads of the National Galleries of Scotland and National Museums of Scotland both command six figure salaries, as does culture secretary Fiona Hyslop and the head of Scottish Opera.

Laurie Sansom, the newly-appointed artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland, is being paid £82,000 a year, less than the director of culture at the Scottish Government.

These jobs are all crucial to the cultural fabric of the nation, involve multi-million pound budgets and some of the nation’s key artistic assets – but arguably none of them involves the kind of public profile and pressure lying in wait for the new Creative Scotland boss.

I don’t recall howls of anguish over Andrew Dixon’s salary until after the first stirrings of rebellion last year – probably because his predecessors at the Scottish Arts Council were similarly rewarded.

Now, there is no doubt Creative Scotland is a different beast from the national collections bodies, heritage agencies and performing arts companies, but is its work of less importance? And after all that has happened, should its top job now be drastically downgraded and, by extension, Creative Scotland somehow seen as an inferior arts body?

I’d argue that it is a “good thing” that culture is seen as such a priority in Scotland. Or should we be seeing the slashing of pay packets for everyone at the top of the culture sector? I suspect that would trigger a different kind of rebellion.