by Kevin Williamson
“One-dimensional thought is systematically promoted by the makers of politics and their purveyors of mass information. Their universe of discourse is populated by self-validating hypotheses which, incessantly and monopolistically repeated, become hyponotic definitions of dictations.”
HERBERT MARCUSE, ONE DIMENSIONAL MAN
Andrew Dixon has resigned and the board of Creative Scotland are now finished their 2-day crisis meeting in Perthshire. Scotland’s artistic community await their deliberations with, it has to be said, more of a weary disdain than expectation of any genuine artist-centred fundamental change. The type of cultural revolution envisaged in the Letter Of The 100 is unlikely to manifest itself, at least not just yet.
So where does Scotland’s creative community go from here? The mundane but always stimulating answer is we keep creating, we keep writing, we keep performing. The life chooses you rather than the other way around. Like every other creative artist I know I’ll try and forge my own path through the thicket of red tape, funding bureaucracy, economic stress and assorted obstacles that are continually placed in the way of self-expression and creativity. This is how artists live in Scotland.
Necessity means we have to play the part of plausible Arthur Daleys from time to time in order to find the resources or time to complete projects. In my own dealings with Creative Scotland – which to be fair to their Literature Department have been nothing but positive and helpful – it isn’t difficult to detect that no one actually wants this culturally debased charade of hoop-jumping to continue.
Socio-political questions lie at the very heart of the enterprise culture currently imposed upon Scotland’s creative artists. They demand answers. Such as this one: Do government ministers actually understand the role of art in our society? In a fine piece of analysis Kenneth Roy, writing in Scottish Review, places the blame firmly at the door of the government ministers who imposed this anti-creative market-driven agenda when they devised the operational manual for Creative Scotland.
This is the truly worrying part: despite the recent furore not one government minister has given any indication they understand the structures and financial ethos of Creative Scotland are the problem, not the individuals who work there.
My own experience, like many others, has been one where I’ve gradually come to terms with the reality that financial security, no matter how well regarded your art is, is for other people. Every year is just another goddamned struggle with banks and debt and all the interference and stress this inevitably brings. There are much better artists than me in the same boat. I was shocked but not surprised to learn that one of Scotland’s greatest writers, James Kelman, earned just £15,000 last year. This is the writer who inspired so many of us to put our own stories down on paper. He is the only Scot to ever win the Booker Prize and an intellectual collossus respected all over the world. Yet in 2011 he earned about the same as the kid who serves you in Pizza Hut.
In a speech last week accepting a Saltire Prize for Book of the Year James Kelman made his feelings known:
“Our culture is as rich as any culture and it’s shocking to me that our children and the likes of myself at the age of 66, have to struggle to fucking express it.”
Oblivious to what Kelman was trying to say, someone in the audience then had the cheek to heckle him to “moderate his language”. The class divide between creators and cultural guardians could not have been better illustrated.
When I started Rebel Inc in 1992 two of the writers I worked very closely with, who helped forge the intellectual, political and creative path Rebel Inc was to go down, were the poets Sandie Craigie and Paul Reekie. Sandie was Assistant Editor of Rebel Inc magazine and someone who taught me so much about the Scots language. Paul was Rebel Inc’s guiding spirit, immersed as he was in the counter-culture. I was fortunate to work with and publish both of them. They were both friends, but even so, in my opinion, both were unsung literary giants whose work often reached the heights of genius. They were utterly uncompromising too in their desire to write and create and both struggled
terribly to make ends meet. Both Sandie and Paul have taken their own lives in recent years. The reasons why are not straightforward and I wont claim to understand. But I know this for a fact: the relentless financial grind took a hellish toll on both of them.
This isn’t right. It borders on the criminal in my book. But we keep writing. We keep creating. We keep doing what we do. Such is life. But it doesn’t have to be this way. If the public enjoy and appreciate art and culture in its many forms then they should demand that their taxes aren’t wasted on ephemerality like Trident or bank bailouts but are used in the best possible ways to not only keep artists creating but facilitate participation in the arts at every level. This needs to be properly resourced yes but it also needs a clear admission that artists work best when they don’t have to act like on-message performing seals at funding bodies prepped in the grotesque language of applicationspeak.
One of the great champions of grassroots Scottish culture is the esteemed critic Joyce McMillan. Below is a re-blog of her must-read column in today’s Scotsman. In it she cites Germany as a country that actually understands why culture needs to be adequately resourced. There is another way.
ARTS SPENDING A CULTURAL NECESSITY
by Joyce McMillan
LAST week, as the chill winds of economic austerity swept across Europe, a slightly startling announcement emerged from Berlin. The German government, it seemed, while implementing spending cuts of around 3 per cent across the board, was making an exception in the case of its culture budget, which was to rise by the sum of around 8 per cent. “We don’t see spending on culture as a subsidy,” said Culture Minister Bernd Neumann, “but as a vital investment in the future of our society”.
His view only confirms what most well-run governments across the western world have long since recognised: that cultural spending represents one of the most fruitful investments they can make, and not only in practical areas like economic development, social action, and international image-building. For what matters far more than any of that is the immeasurable impact of a thriving cultural life on a nation’s capacity to reflect, reinvent itself, and look to the future.
Over the last two generations – from the novels of Alasdair Gray to the National Theatre of Scotland’s great global hit Black Watch – Scotland’s artists have offered a stunning demonstration of how a rich creative life can help reinvent a nation, in its own eyes and the eyes of the world; and they have done it all with the help of public funds which still amount to something much less than 1 per cent of the Scottish Government’s total budget.
And all of this, it seems to me, should be in the minds of the board of Creative Scotland, who are meeting in Pitlochry as I write, to consider the mounting crisis that has engulfed Scotland’s new arts funding agency, founded only in 2010. The board were by all accounts looking remarkably cheerful on Wednesday night, as they took their seats at Pitlochry Festival Theatre for the gala opening of White Christmas. Perhaps they feel that they are on the way to solving the organisation’s problems, following the resignation earlier this week of chief executive Andrew Dixon.
Yet although Dixon’s position had indeed become untenable, the board should not imagine that his departure marks the end of the matter. On the contrary, most of the senior artists involved in the rebellion against Creative Scotland have been clear from the outset that this is not only about personnel, but about a culture, language, ideology, and attitude that is simply inappropriate to government support for the arts in a free society, and unless that is addressed – in ways that may call into question not only the structure of the organisation, but the position of the board itself, led as it is by former Standard Life boss Sandy Crombie – then the row will continue, to increasingly destructive effect.
Nor should the board underestimate the depth of the change which is being sought. For what Scotland’s artists are seeking is a shift in attitude to public funding which has implications far beyond the arts. As George Osborne’s autumn statement this week made abundantly clear, the structures of British government are still locked into the reactionary assumptions about public spending which originated in the 1980s. The assumption that public spending is not a positive aspect of a well-balanced society, but a problem, a drain on the system which has to be niggled at, denigrated, obsessively monitored and if possible reduced to zero.
The problem at Creative Scotland, though, is that in the workings of that organisation – a strange hybrid of arts funding body and jargon-heavy cultural enterprise agency – the irresistible force of negative, business-driven attitudes to public subsidy met the immoveable object of a cultural sector who know very well that they are not pathetic mendicants at the gate of government, but world-class artists with a global reach and reputation.
It is difficult to imagine the mindset of an ordinary arts bureaucrat on a regular salary of £70,000 a year or more, who has the face to tell a leading Scottish novelist, or theatre director, or musician, that he or she can no longer count on any steady income at all, but must limp from project to project, begging for bureaucratic approval at every turn.
Yet that is what was effectively said to many senior Scottish artists, when Creative Scotland announced the funding changes that triggered the present row; and their misjudgment lit a fire of rebellion that is still blazing brightly.
To change the terms of operation of Creative Scotland in the way that is being sought, is therefore to put down a marker that in key areas of public life, we in Scotland will no longer be complying with the neoliberal project of treating public spending as a problem, as those in receipt of it as a bunch of spongers who can be bullied and bad-mouthed with impunity.
In the arts, the natural consequence of that thinking is to give money only to those artists whose work can be justified in non-artistic terms. It turns artists into the servants of government policy, in social work, or tourism, or regional development; and if that approach stifles creative freedom and achievement in the arts, it also has a deadening effect across the whole of the not-for-profit sector.
There is, though, another approach to public funding, one that sees it as a vital form of investment in people, and in their freedom to learn and reinvent. So far as the arts is concerned, the aim of a well-run funding body should be to identify those who have shown the capacity to create great work, and to give them the support that will set them free. It’s not an easy job, in that the debate about what constitutes high artistic achievement is never conclusive, but it is far simpler than it seems, when that core task of supporting creative brilliance becomes confused by too many other priorities.
And if Creative Scotland can be remodelled in that way, then perhaps it will one day be seen as a forerunner of a more general change in the culture of government, away from the expensive pattern of over-monitoring and minor bullying that has plagued our public sector for the past generation, and on into a world which focuses rigorously on identifying fine performance in the arts and everywhere, and in offering it the support that will help it to soar, onwards and upwards.