Just when it seems as if the simmering stooshie over the running of the national arts agency Creative Scotland has run out of steam, it bubbles back to the surface again.
Revelations in a book published to mark 20 years of the Scottish Parliament about alleged meddling from politicians and civil service in the running of the quango are the latest chapter in a saga that feels as if it has been going on for ever and still has no real end in sight. Well over two years have passed since arts organisations were asked to submit long-terms spending plans. The decision-making process was described as “helter skelter” by Ruth Wishart, the former board member who has broken her silence on the government’s involvement with Creative Scotland and the controversy which prompted her own resignation as well as the departure of chief executive Janet Archer.
Ms Wishart, a highly respected commentator and journalist, has penned a typically fair-minded and thoughtful piece for the book Scotland the Brave?, recalling her involvement with the quango, the behind-the-scenes agonies at Creative Scotland over how to meet the demand for its resources, and what sounds like downright unhelpful interference from the Government when it was needed least.
Ms Wishart’s opened her essay with the observation that “if you feel the urge to start a fight in an empty room, there are worse topics than funding the arts in Scotland”.
Continuing her fairground analogy, Creative Scotland has certainly led the arts sector off on a fair old rollercoaster. In just short of two years, it has been sparked panic across the cultural sector by warning that it would have to cut the number of organisations on long-term funding deals, seemed to have averted disaster with a better-then-expected funding deal from the Scottish Government, then sparked an almighty furore by cutting 20 different companies adrift, before being forced into a partial climbdown by an intervention from the Government in the face of the furore.
A parliamentary inquiry into Creative Scotland’s conduct could not have been more damning and was followed by the departure of Ms Archer a year ago. But the momentum of the rollercoaster slowed down considerably in the aftermath of her departure as the quango embarked on a lengthy review of its funding processes and management set-up.
Holyrood’s culture committee – which had hammered the nails into the dying days of Ms Archer’s tenure with Creative Scotland by ruling that its performance had fallen “well below” the standard expected of a public body – has instigated another inquiry into arts funding. The Scottish arts vortex also appears to have swallowed up a new cultural strategy, more than two years after a controversial invite-only launch in Glasgow.
Before Ms Wishart’s essay emerged, the most significant news from the vortex was a plum new job for Ms Archer – yet to be replaced at Creative Scotland – at Edinburgh University, in a newly-created post overseeing and expanding its work with the city’s festivals.
Meanwhile, Creative Scotland is still stuck at the crossroads, with no figurehead, no clear strategy for the future and no real guidance from either the Scottish Government or the Scottish Parliament on where it goes from here.
With the clock ticking ominously towards another big funding round next year, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that further trouble lies ahead.