Janet Archer bounces back after Creative Scotland carnage – Brian Ferguson

Janet Archer will spearhead Edinburgh University's liaison with the city's festivals. Picture: Neil Hanna
Janet Archer will spearhead Edinburgh University's liaison with the city's festivals. Picture: Neil Hanna
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Janet Archer has been able to move on despite Creative Scotland’s problems during her time as chief executive, writes Brian Ferguson.

There was no shortage of losers from the crisis which engulfed Scotland’s cultural scene in the first half of 2018. The fallout from Creative Scotland’s handling of £150 million worth of applications for funding support was so prolonged and widespread that the victims were many and varied.

A decision to completely strip 20 Scottish arts organisations of their support unsurprisingly threw them into chaos and plunged the quango into a crisis largely of its own making. Some of the affected organisations were successful in securing a reprieve, but only after embarking on hastily organised public campaigns, which dragged politicians like Nicola Sturgeon and Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop into the mire. Others, such as dance company Plan B and the environmental arts charity NVA, have since gone to the wall.

The crisis was fast-moving as board members resigned, some funding decisions were overturned and MSPs grilled Creative Scotland chief executive Janet Archer and Ben Thomson, the quango’s interim chair at the time of the funding decisions.

READ MORE: Former arts quango chief Janet Archer lands new festivals job

It was not until the summer and the publication of the damning findings of a Holyrood inquiry into the debacle that Ms Archer, who had earlier told MSPs she was “profoundly sorry” for what had gone on under her watch, finally bowed to the inevitable and resigned. Who would imagined back then that Ms Archer would emerge, this week, as one of the winners from the Creative Scotland carnage, as Edinburgh University’s first-ever director of festivals and events? What must some of the individuals who lost their jobs, or Creative Scotland’s own staff who were embroiled in last year’s crisis, make of her appointment to a newly created post with a £60,000 salary?

Given her new role involves forging better links with the city’s festivals, it is intriguing to think what her relationship will be like with the Fringe Society, which was cut adrift, to the consternation of its own chief executive Shona McCarthy, who could not have been more critical of the “insulting” way it was dealt with.

Creative Scotland has largely retreated from the spotlight since Ms Archer’s departure, while a prolonged internal review of the funding debacle and the organisation’s management structures was carried out. Much of its focus appears to have been on the establishment of the new Screen Scotland agency, which is charged with the delivery of a film studio at some point this year. Its new chair, Robert Wilson, has remained firmly in the shadows, while Ms Archer’s deputy, Iain Munro, has taken temporary charge of the organisation.

READ MORE: Creative Scotland must address ‘strategic failings’, says Holyrood committee

Nearly a year and a half later, Creative Scotland is still grappling with the fallout. Its organisational review is ongoing and the recruitment of a replacement for Ms Archer is still some months away. A widescale review of its funding regimes is still in the early stages, with the first in a series of consultation roadshows only beginning this week.

But, Creative Scotland has never properly explained what went wrong, who was responsible, what lessons it has learned and what measures it has taken to both improve its battered reputation and restore confidence in its funding decisions. Janet Archer’s resignation meant she was never properly held to account for the decisions taken when she was in charge. With little prospect of a replacement being appointed anytime soon, it will be some time before there is any sense of Creative Scotland being able to move on into a new era.