Culture Secretary brands fresh revelations on public cash for sex film 'deeply disturbing'

Creative Scotland previously handed more than £100,000 of public money to Rein

Scotland’s Culture Secretary has branded documents, which reveal Creative Scotland knew a theatre project that was awarded tens of thousands of pounds of public money involved “genital contact”, as “deeply concerning”.

Angus Robertson has requested an urgent meeting with the public arts body to discuss how confidence in the organisation can be “restored”. He has also cast doubt into why the project received funding at all.

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The revelation, contained in documents released to The Scotsman under Freedom of Information laws, appears to contradict what the quango previously told MSPs.

Leonie Rae Gasson. Picture: Julie HowdenLeonie Rae Gasson. Picture: Julie Howden
Leonie Rae Gasson. Picture: Julie Howden

Last month, chief executive Iain Munro said the show’s intention to include non-simulated sex acts only "emerged" in March this year. He said this represented a significant change to the approved project, making it “inappropriate for public funding”.

Leonie Rae Gasson’s proposed multi-screen film installation Rein was given a total of more than £100,000 of lottery money from Creative Scotland. It was awarded £84,555 in January and also received £23,219 in 2022. The arts body later clawed back £76,196 following a public outcry, citing a “breach of contract”.

However, documents indicate Creative Scotland was aware of the show’s content.

Mr Robertson said: “I am deeply concerned about the detail that has emerged regarding the Rein project application.

“Based on this information that we’ve just seen today, I have a number of questions about how this project was awarded funding in the first place.

“I have requested an urgent meeting with the chief Executive and chair of Creative Scotland to understand how the current position has transpired and discuss how confidence in the organisation can be restored.”

A monitoring form submitted to the quango in March 2023 by the artist told of recruiting an intimacy co-ordinator “in the context of erotic work depicting non-simulated sex acts”.

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It said a research and development period had allowed the project to “undertake research around the legal parameters for performance works involving sex acts”.

A later application relating to the January funding award referenced “a sex scene with genital contact with three of the cast”.

In Ms Gasson’s 2022 application for research and development funding, she also set out the nature of the project. “In this R&D we will not be filming or performing any explicit sex acts,” she wrote, but added that it was anticipated the final performance would do so.

As part of this, the “legal and ethical frameworks to do so” would be researched, she said.

An email from a Creative Scotland official on September 8, 2022, anticipated the project would prove controversial. It said it “deals with content and subject matter that could be perceived as challenging, or quickly judged to be risky if picked up by the press”.

The document added: “There are no plans for public presentation during this phase as it purely focuses on research and development so it’s unlikely any press would get wind, and of course, we were fully in support of the application from an assessor and panel perspective...”

Mr Munro previously said Rein was originally supported “in the knowledge it would be a challenging, creatively ambitious piece of experimental performance art, with a clear storytelling narrative, strong sexual themes and simulated sexual performance, and would speak to a particular audience rather than the mainstream”.

He added: “However, as became clear in March 2024 when the project team developed new content for their website and publicised that as part of a call-out for participants, one new and significant difference emerged which took the project into unacceptable territory. That was the intention to include real sex, as opposed to performance depicting simulated sex, in the work.

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“This represented a significant change to the approved project, moving it from ‘performance’ into actuality, and into a space that was, in Creative Scotland’s view, inappropriate for public funding.”

A Creative Scotland spokeswoman said: “We were always aware the project would be explicit and creatively challenging. But it was not clear until the project issued the call out for participants on its website, that the project was moving from 'performance' to 'unsimulated sex'. It was at this point that Creative Scotland felt that there had been a breach of contract, and this breach of contract was not disputed by the applicant.

“Creative work, across many art forms, can feature explicit depictions of sex. But there is a difference between that depiction and 'actual' sex, which is not appropriate for public funding.”

The body argued there was also a difference between the R&D application – during which projects “often explore elements that then do not feature in subsequent applications or actual execution” – and the second, substantive application. It said the second, made before the January funding award, contained no reference to “non-simulated sex acts”.

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