Chairman of Creative Scotland Sandy Crombie urged to consider position

Sir Sandy Crombie: crisis happened on his watch
Sir Sandy Crombie: crisis happened on his watch
Share this article
Have your say

THE chairman of under-fire arts quango Creative Scotland is facing growing calls to consider his position in the wake of chief executive Andrew Dixon’s surprise resignation.

Leading critics of the troubled funding body believe the widespread change being demanded in the wake of months of turmoil is unlikely to happen while Sir Sandy Crombie is still at the helm.

Other said his response to the resignation of Mr Dixon and a two-day board meeting will be “crucial” to determining the fate of the organisation, which was thrown into crisis just two years after its formation by an artistic revolt.

A shake-up of senior management of the organisation is one of the main changes expected to emerge following a crunch board meeting, with an overhaul of funding programmes, redrawing of key roles and greater artistic representation on the body also expected to be addressed.

However some critics are in favour of more radical change at the top of Creative Scotland, despite Mr Dixon’s resignation, and say Sir Sandy is also tainted because this year’s crisis has unfolded on “his watch.” There are also widespread calls for culture secretary Fiona Hyslop to take control of the crisis for the first time.

However Creative Scotland said Sir Sandy would be staying at the helm and would be leading efforts to turn the organisation around, starting with an announcement of changes at the end of the week.

Mr Dixon’s departure, at the end of January, emerged on Monday only weeks after he insisted he was staying, despite a barrage of criticism from many of Scotland’s leading artists and a damning letter which had garnered more than 400 signatures.

It attacked the organisation for “ill-conceived decision-making, unclear language and a lack of empathy and regard for Scottish culture.”

Sir Sandy was appointed in June 2010, just weeks before Mr Dixon officially started with Creative Scotland, although the new chief executive had been confirmed in February by a “transition” board set up to oversee the controversial merger of the Scottish Arts Council with Creative Scotland.

The position of other senior management at Creative Scotland may also come under scrutiny if they have been heavily criticised in two internal reports into the running of the organisation, although the agency insists they may not be made public this week.

Hugh Andrew, managing director of the Birlinn publishing house in Edinburgh, said: “Andrew Dixon was not solely responsible for the many problems with Creative Scotland and if I anybody thinks that his resignation solves anything they are wrong. He should not be some kind of sacrificial lamb.

“It is very difficult to see how the board and senior management team of Creative Scotland can go on with any credibilit. They spent an awful lot of time trying to defend the status quo and are now in a very difficult position. This has all happened on Sir Sandy Crombie’s watch. There needs to be more people with a cultural background on the board before it can move forward.”

Tam Dean Burn, one of Scotland’s leading stage and screen actors, said: “Sir Sandy has certainly not done himself any favours with what he has said about this crisis so far over the last few months. It has certainly not helped matters.

“I just don’t understand why there are so many bankers on the board of an arts organisation. That makes no sense whatsoever when you see what happened with the financial crash. We need to see the whole organisation change, we can’t go on shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic.”

Joyce McMillan, The Scotsman’s theatre critic, said: “Given Sir Sandy’s high-profile support for a management approach at Creative Scotland which has clearly failed to win the confidence of a majority of artists in Scotland, I think there must be long-term questions about his position, and about whether he is the man to restore that confidence, as chair of the organisation.

“Given the clear need - following Andrew Dixon’s resignation - to re-examine Creative Scotland’s priorities, and the way it interprets its remit, I think Fiona Hyslop will have to play a relatively hands-on role over the next few months, in making sure that organisation matures into the kind of responsive and well-informed funding agency that offers the best support to Scotland’s cultural life, and in reshaping the job description of the chief executive accordingly.

“Even within the existing legislation, it should be possible to create a new mission statement and job description which capture the idea - for example - that Creative Scotland should not normally act as a “commissioning” body, and it seems to me that the Culture Secretary, whose job it is to make sure the legislation is implemented effectively, will have to be involved in that process of revising the organisation’s brief, at least to some extent.”

Judith Doherty, artistic director of Grid Iron theatre company, said: “I really want to see what comes out of this board meeting.

“The response from the board, particularly in the context of Andrew Dixon’s resignation, is absolutely crucial. They have had enough time to sort this out by now, but I do think they have expressed a willingness to change as well.

“What Andrew did was very honourable, but the organisation still needs to be led and it’s vital that the right appointment of the next chief executive is made. I sit on enough boards to know the pressure that can involve.”

Playwright David Greig, one of the main speakers at a summit of artists in Glasgow in October, said: “The big problem over the last few months was that Creative Scotland just did not appear to be listening to what artists and organisations were saying and as a result people just had to shout louder.

“I do think they are finally listening now, including Sir Sandy Crombie, who I think also understands the scale of the problems now.

“I’d hope people would be prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt until they see what proposals are brought forward by the board.”

Creative Scotland said on Monday that Mr Dixon’s departure would make way for a new chief executive to “lead the organisation through an important period of change.”

Sir Sandy is said to be leading efforts to recruit a new chief executive, while the senior management team has been asked to report directly to him in the short term, rather than Mr Dixon.