FUNDING SCOTTISH ARTS CREATIVELY

This week I resigned from Creative Scotland with immediate effect. ( Professor Maggie Kinloch did too.)  This followed the board meeting on the 18th of January when the decisions regarding regularly funded organisations for the next three years were tabled.

Some context:  I joined the inaugural board of the new funding body seven and a half years ago, and was due to complete my second and final term this summer.  When I joined,  the CEO and his deputy had already been put in place by an interim board bridging the gap between the merger of the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen and the setting up of the new organisation. As everyone in the Scottish cultural scene now knows, the deputy presided over some perverse decisions which led to widespread revolt by practioners in every sector.

After her departure, and that of her boss, the board spent many weeks listening to the staff's concerns and those of external critics. You might reasonably charge us with a prima facie case of  late shutting of stable doors.  By way of explanation rather than excuse, I can only offer the thought that it seemed important at the time not to try to second guess a new team getting to grips with a complex new set up.  We pledged to do better, published a statement of intent, and the then chair, Sandy Crombie, incorporated several prominent practitioners into the selection panel for the new CEO including Janice Galloway, Vicky Featherstone, David Greig and Fiona Dalgety.

I mention all this early history merely to emphasise that I'm not normally one to scarper at the first whiff of grapeshot; That was a painful and challenging time, but I believe we grew and learned from it. All of which makes it the more dispiriting that Creative Scotland again finds itself a family at war with many of those it seeks to serve.  A temporary condition, I fervently hope.

Let us start with the self evident observation that no funding body is in danger of winning popularity contests.  Where there are winners there will always be losers, and where there are losers there will be disappointment and distress.  Let us concede too that if bodies such as Creative Scotland were merely to fund the same cohort time after time, there would be little opportunity for innovation from new bodies, and a danger of complacency from serial beneficiaries.  I recognise that, and defend the underlying logic.

Board members are not there to micro manage, but to offer strategic guidance to the executive, to interrogate decisions and their impact before approving them, to clarify any aspects which seem to be problematical or lacking obvious rationale, and to ensure maximum transparency can be offered as to why the executive has reached the decisions it has.  It follows that the board can only exercise proper scrutiny and judgement if it is given sufficient background information, and, crucially, sufficient time in which to digest and consider it prior to meetings.

One of the unforeseen tragedies which interfered with this process was the untimely death of the Creative Scotland chair, Richard Findlay, last July.  Richard was both respected and held in great affection by his board members who appreciated his broad experience of the arts, his unfailing humour, and his management style.  Typically he would allow debate and discussion to flow before drawing threads together and seeking consensus.  He understood the necessity of fostering good relationships with the staff team and of liaising with  government, but he also valued independence of mind.  

Whilst unexpectedly having to seek a new chair - our third - the government appointed an interim chair whose term of office is due to end this month.  Every chair of every NDPB brings  a different style and temperament to the party. The difficulty for the board, however, was that this period co-incided with a number of crucial decisions being made.  Such was the pace of some of  these initiatives that, not infrequently, the board were asked to sign off against deadlines on some matters without adequate time to come to considered, properly refective judgements. 

Equally, the executive's recent deliberations on the Regularly Funded Organisations were pressurised for a number of reasons. As the government's draft budget was not due till mid December, they were unsure until then as to the settlement.  In common with other stakeholders, they were advised to come up with a number of scenarios should their grant in aid be cut. Allied to the continuting and damaging  drop in lottery funding, there was considerable anxiety within both the team and the board.  Some commentators convinced themselves that this anxiety was manufactured; it was very, very real.

In the event the Cabinet Secretary for culture was able to convince the Finance Secretary of the economic as well as the cultural value of our arts and creative industries; that they truly did give our country a big bang for a government buck in a variety of ways, and Creative Scotland was given a settlement better than any of us had hoped for.  Not only a more generous sum to take note of the lottery deficit, but one which would last at that level for three years, offering a real measure of security in an austere world. I guess, like many people, the board felt confident that the decisions would reflect all that.

it's not possible to go into the discussions  at the relevant board meeting, not least since, whilst you serve on a board, you are bound by the equivalent of collective cabinet responsibility.  That is a perfectly sound principle.  It also, however, causes you to reflect as to whether you can continue to back what you believe to be a flawed decision. In the light of the furore over the RFO's, the board is due to meet again tomorrow to examine again the executive's conclusions on regular funding. Both its remaining members, and the executive, are acutely aware of how important it is to be responsive to genuine concerns and I believe they will be. 

When all this blew up, I was bemused to read one critic suggest that the board was stuffed with consultants. In fact there is a very wide range of experience of the arts around the table, including people who are practising artists as well as those  from the arts education sector.  They come to their Creative Scotland role as unpaid volunteers with sufficient passion for Scotland's culture to offer their time and talents. Nobody on the board joined to become a saboteur.  Similarly the  organisation itself boasts people with enormous commitment to the arts community.  They  have endured a very turbulent few months.

Hopefully a solution to the current difficulties can be sought and shaped tomorrow.  And a new permanent chair is due to be announced very shortly.  I wish him or her, my friends and colleagues on the board and on the staff, every good wish for a future where, hopefully, fractured relationships can be reframed, refreshed, and rebuilt. For, in truth, the Scottish cultural scene has never been more vibrant.