Hannah McGill: Creative gender gap makes artists close ranks

Sandy Crombie and Andrew Dixon of Creative Scotland
Sandy Crombie and Andrew Dixon of Creative Scotland
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I DOUBT I’ll ever be on Creative Scotland’s Christmas card list again, if ­indeed that unstable organisation manages to limp on that long. But the irony is, I used to be one of their defenders.

As artistic director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, I was part of the consulting process as Scottish Screen and the Scottish Arts Council merged; and when Andrew Dixon entered his post as chief executive in 2010, he was gracious enough to make me his first meeting.

Creative Scotland

Creative Scotland

Like all in the Scottish film community, I was concerned about the disappearance of Scotland’s dedicated film agency, the lack of which would put us in a minority of one among film-producing nations. But Mr Dixon struck me as earnest, intelligent and attentive; and I saw potential in the merged body for increased cross-pollination between arts sectors that can tend ­towards silo mentalities.

As Creative Scotland sought its identity in the ensuing months, some members of those sectors were quick to criticise their every move, and I empathised as they got more embattled. Having seen some tough times with EIFF, I knew the weight of being responsible for public money (albeit a fraction of their £75 million), and the migraine of trying to please press, sponsors and awkward artists at once. Give them time, I said.

Well, they’ve had time. One of the things they’ve done with it is to plan a gala awards ceremony – the nominees were announced yesterday – at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery. Awards will go 
to achievers in numerous fields of the arts; “the event”, Creative Scotland’s website informs us, “will be ­unlike any other awards”.

Certainly it differs in one significant ­respect, which is that the panel of seven judges consists entirely of men. Asked to explain this decision, in the context of their avowed commitment to equality and diversity, Creative Scotland last week claimed it had approached numerous women (well, “a dozen”), none of whom could make it. Heads were scratched. Who did they ask?

If – as it emerged – judge Sanjeev Kohli had been unable to deliberate with the other judges in person and made his choices in absentia, how come not a ­single woman had even been found to phone in a vote?

It took until Friday for chief executive Andrew Dixon to issue an apology, admitting the agency was wrong to have an all-male panel and insisting it was not deliberate. However, the PR fallout is disastrous, and their lack of any real ­response – even a plea to hold fire – is a disgrace.

Some interested and indignant parties have been sending them lists of eligible females. This misses the point. We’re not some hard-to-see minority; we’re many and prominent. We shouldn’t have to help them out; hell, some of the lavishly remunerated top brass are women themselves.

All that was required was rigour and care. It happens that I don’t even think they’re mainly being sexist. I think they’re mainly being careless and arrogant. They hadn’t considered that the spirit and presentation of their £100-a-head shindig would matter to people scraping by in arts careers – nor that in the age of social media, their bluff would be called, and loudly.

In the absence of Creative Scotland ­getting it together to defend themselves, no-one on my fairly extensive radar has come up with a word in their defence. And guys, that’s when you know you might have made a bit of a mistake. Might be dignified to cop to it.

On a more positive note, it’s not easy for the arts community in a small nation with a limited pot of resources to come together for a shared cause. We might find that once a more rational system has been put in place we miss the unifying force of shared bafflement at Creative Scotland’s decisions the way that some socialists missed the clean, unambiguous loathing they could hold for Margaret Thatcher.

There is power in a union, and this has shown us that we can rally when called. Finally, I’m going to give the price of an awards ceremony ticket to Scottish ­Women’s Aid. It’s a lot less than any of the Creative Scotland execs earn in a day, but it might help someone who doesn’t get to go to a lot of black-tie events.

• Hannah McGill is the former artistic director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival