Culture is a not an industry. Creative Scotland n’est pas une pipe.

The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it's just a representation, is it not?

“The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not?” RENE MAGRITTE

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.

This is no more than we’ve come to expect in this country.  Our writers – who bring so much kudos to Scotland on a world stage, who bring ideas and fire to public debate, and who bring pleasure and inspiration to millions of readers – are treated like financial skivvies at best, as unwelcome malcontents at worst.
Sandie Craigie

Sandie Craigie

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

Paul Reekie

Paul Reekie

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.

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Categories: Arts & Culture, Music, Poetry, Scottish Culture, Theatre

Tags: , , ,

14 replies

  1. Great piece and thanks for posting Joyce’s fine article. Whoever they choose to replace Dixon will absolutely reflect their response to all the recent criticism. This is the moment Creative Scotland decides which direction it wants to take.

  2. Good piece(s).
    Although isn’t it possible that part of the problem is also that Scotland’s creatives and Scotland’s governemnts haven’t managed to succesfully ‘convince’ the Scottish public of the inherent worth of arts and ‘culture’.
    That leaves any government having to justify the public funding of the arts though supposed secondary benefits, and always through the neoliberal lens correctly identified in the articles.
    It seems that laying it all at government and ministers is firefighting (however appropriate that might be in this instance).

    Note that I’m not disagreeing with either piece, just saying that my (admittedly naive) view sees this sort of thing as a symptom of a deeper disconnect between ordinary people and arts and culture.

    I’ve no background or involvement in how we ‘do’ art and culture here, but as an ordinary pleb I can’t help but think a Scottish population that participated more broadly and deeply with our own arts and culture would fix this sort of problem at the root; getting to that state is presumably a well kent ‘holy grail’.

  3. Kevin that is very clear thinking, that you should focus on the structure and the need for ideological change and flexible structures that respond to the true diversity of work being made it means setting aside funds that do not relate directly to CS’s need to justify itself to government. Just now there is too much mission, too much having to appear strategic beyond the power of the work itself. Angus NVA

  4. Once again, nothing about the role and support of Scotland’s film sector. Scottish Screen was by no means perfect, but it seems that its imposed merger with the Scottish Arts Council to form Creative Scotland was the worst possible outcome, with a real loss of expertise. Thank goodness there’s still the Glasgow Film Office; it gets the headlines for attracting big US movies to film in the city, but it’s wider support of film in Scotland should be recognised. Perhaps it should be given a wider remit to cover the whole of Scotland on behalf of CS?

  5. Creative Scotland are politically and programmatically incapable of thinking other than middle class consumers of cultural product. They have no conception that the culture of a country and the arts which express it come out of the ground. What they will do is make a noise of sorts, publish some kind of document and then appoint another English middle class civil servant who will do the bidding of the government, just as the National Theatre of Scotland have done. The arts change people lives by making them conscious. The history of Scotland is full of brilliant creative individuals that the ruling elite have tried to get rid of. Creative Scotland through the government keeps a lid on cultural life and regulates the arts as a result.

    • “Creative Scotland through the government keeps a lid on cultural life and regulates the arts as a result.”

      Surely you mean the Scottish Government, through Creative Scotland, is regulating the arts?

  6. Thanks for an interesting article Kevin – I remember Sandy Craigies kindnesses in coming to spend time with us a long ago. She was someone that gave a shit about the less well off.

    As for Joyce, she should stick to writing great articles for exhibitions on economic inequality by galleries that don’t pay their interns.

    Grassroots supporter my fucking arse.

  7. Reading this made me want to greet. There’s so much shite written about ‘artists’ that some of them end-up believing it, and don’t realise that they’re still artists whether or not they have the approval of CS, publishing houses, the gallery-system or any other vested interest. I’ve been fortunate enough to take a good few quid from CS and the SAC as-was over the years. I know I did enough work to justify their support, but getting it into the ‘market’ is another matter. It don’t take no genius to work out that if x-artist is supported, the funding body would like to see y-amount of success, ergo: market-friendly work becomes favoured. No-one should gripe about this – it’s an honest reflection of what bodies like CS are all about. The alternative? There is none. But artists have to keep doing what they do, with or without dosh and/or recognition./’success’. The ignoramus who felt emboldened to shout at Kelman is the real enemy here – not CS, or any other quangos, politicos or cultural commentators/commisars. Unfortunately, that constipated, self-satisfied voice holds sway right across the spectrum of our society wherein important decisions are made – ultimately, this is a class issue. The class that is afraid of artists is where the most reliable ‘No’ votes will come from.
    Kevin, I’m so sorry that you lost good friends. I’ve lost some too, but not to suicide – many are still living, but not alive, not the way I knew them, when they were working, doing their music, their painting, poetry, whatever. They were ground-down by ‘realistic’ friends and relatives who wanted to see them ‘happy’ and ‘settled’ – they bit the bullet, got jobs, tried and tried to keep doing their own stuff on-the-side, but they failed. The cost, in terms of their own lives, and whatever our culture has lost by their capitulation, is as incalculable as it is heartbreaking.

  8. Well said Ian – remove Sir Auchterlonie of Trouserleg and you still have the class problem – an embarrassing blur of rotating dinner parties, farmers markets and the issues of the poor – as long as they are very, very, very far away indeed and can be reached only by gap year.

    http://opportunities.creativescotland.com/view.aspx?id=dc8d4d91-
    c1e7-4027-85db-7c4b500ba446

    There’s a great opportunity right there to work for Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop – which was given a crapload of funding.

    Those who actually need money to live on need not apply.

  9. re Paul f Cockburn – yes, I did mean the government through CS. Sometimes the blood flows to the head quickly when you write about the arts in Scotland.

  10. Thanks for all the feedback. There seems to be some genuine recognition of some of the problems going by the statement made by Creative Scotland today. Most of what was said will be welcomed, even if cautiously to begin with. But as Led Zep didn’t quite say, the structures & ethos remain the same.

    KW

  11. Expressing my views in a strictly personal capacity; I would have agreed with the sentiment of the article if it had been headed ‘Not all culture is all an industry’. The reality is that there is a part of arts and culture that is ‘an industry’.

    Recently I heard several of the sector’s high and not-so-high profile personalities and vox-pop-style interviewees on BBC Scotland’s Newsnight Scotland. What I heard left me uneasy. The personalities and interviewees seemed to collectively offer an over-broad perspective on the sector. On this perspective, it seemed implied that just about the only real issue was seen to be the need for maximum public grants and subsidies, minimally conditioned – sometimes to be given out on the basis of ‘just trust us’ (that was actually stated). There were debatable assertions made on how liberal is arts funding in all other ‘civilised’ European countries in Europe (that’ll include England right?). An ignorance of what role social enterprise could have was, also, unconvincingly, asserted.

    A few days later, and others in ‘the sector’ were placing more of an emphasis on how artists were ‘not arguing about the amount of funding, it was about the way Creative Scotland was dealing with people’. On one late evening current affairs TV programme I saw a single person from the ‘arts sector’ fairly sternly haranguing Andrew Dixon in a personalised and derogatory way, without offering any evidence or reasoning for this, or setting it in any kind a meaningful context.

    Doubtless, as remarked by one of the speakers on Newsnight Scotland, there is much art that has something essential to say and that is also uncompromising and perhaps unwelcome, and will therefore require anything up to 100% unconditional public funding to make it possible. It is however, a fundamental misjudgment to cast this as a basis for a catch-all argument for funding of the entire sector.

    To state the obvious, not all the sector’s output is in need of substantial, still less 100%, public funding. Such funding is maybe not what many from the sector are arguing – but that is often the strong impression given. Moreover, there are many operators who position themselves as in the arts & culture sector’ – and who thereby secure public grant funding. This all gives ammunition to those who routinely decry and deny public funding for ‘the sector’.

    Almost any other section within the Third Sector in Scotland will make similar demands on public funding and financing because that section is, it will argue, serving essential public good or sustaining the needs of a civilised society. Notwithstanding this, other such sections have had to, more or less willingly, move on in the matters of mixed public and private funding, and to also partly utilise other models such as social enterprise. Within the arts and culture sector there are those who have already significantly moved in this direction.

    Even if a perception of the need for the sector to better recognise (admit?) the sub-divisions within it is not accepted,, there is still what mrbfaethedee says above, “… isn’t it possible that part of the problem is also that Scotland’s creatives and Scotland’s governments haven’t managed to successfully ‘convince’ the Scottish public of the inherent worth of arts and ‘culture’.”

    ‘The sector’ has now ‘seen off’ a culture Minister and a chief Executive in a pretty unseemly and contentious manner – maybe now time for the sector to come up with what it itself will now do to move on?

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