CREATE Scotland

creative_scotlandBy Hannah McGill

Does the departure of the head honcho of an outfit such as Creative Scotland herald a possibility of change, or is it more a case of “the king is dead, long live the complacent and unrepresentative bureaucracy”? As soon as Andrew Dixon stepped down from his position as Chief Executive last week, there were grumbles from long-term campaigners for change that one personnel shift was at best an empty gesture, at worse a deliberate diversion tactic. Well, call me a cockeyed optimist, but I tend to disagree. For one thing, Mr Dixon was in charge, had his name on the letterheads and was getting paid the big bucks (£125K, people, before bonuses, of which he got another nice one just for leaving!). When an endeavor for which you bear personal responsibility makes a succession of mighty bungles, fails to explain them to the constituency they affect, and responds to criticism with either petulance or whistling indifference, you should be taking the fall, even if your name wasn’t on every bad decision. That’s what being in charge means. For another thing, I’d posit that the personality and public persona of a chief executive does have sizable influence over workplace culture. I wasn’t absolutely sure about Mr Dixon’s course of action until I read his leaving statement – this bit of it, to be precise:

“I have been disappointed, given my track record, not to gain the respect and support of some of the more established voices in Scottish culture…”

Let’s unpick that. Without the “given my track record”, it might actually indicate regret or shame at having so conspicuously failed to gain the trust of cultural makers and opinion-makers. With the “given my track record”, it’s a repellent diva pout, and condescending to boot: how dare he assume that his critics, many of whom have just been asking him to speak openly about his decisions and answer a few questions, haven’t done their homework into his precious “track record”? Then there’s that bit about “the most established voices.” What does that mean, sir? That winning the PR-friendly support of the already famous was your prime directive all along? Or are you trying to instil the idea that you were brought down by some sinister cabal of spoiled poshos who pass the time in between Edinburgh Fringes plotting coups over chai lattes in the fashionable cafés of the Central Belt? All of the above, one suspects; what is certain is that with that one peevish, paranoid line Dixon drained his resignation of any nobility it might have had, and gave the impression of leaving in an ignoble strop over people not liking him enough.

Indulging for a moment the notion that it’s even appropriate (and not some kind of tall-poppy-festooned, anti-intellectual, success-averse reverse snobbery) to categorise people thus, Mr Dixon’s critics weren’t just “the more established voices in Scottish culture”. Certainly several established individuals were among Creative Scotland’s critics, and some of them used their prominence to draw press and public attention to the building concerns; but most of the 400-plus signatories to the open letter delivered to the organisation’s chair Sandy Crombie in October were up-and-coming artists, representatives of small companies and members of the public. How ironic and how apt that Mr Dixon only noticed his famous critics. It was, after all, under his leadership that Creative Scotland declared its intention to “find and cultivate celebrities” who could be “trained” to promote Scotland abroad.

It is to be fervently hoped that such craven, fame-fixated, short-termist guff stays far from the mind and mouth of whoever replaces Mr Dixon. A culture doesn’t alter overnight, and no-one would assume that Mr Dixon bore sole responsibility for either the mistakes or the fixing of them – but it’s striking that the statement that emerged from the Board meeting following his departure had a humility and openness that had been singularly lacking in the organisation’s external communication up to that point. For some of Creative Scotland’s critics, no amount of mea culpa and certainly no further bouts of pained “consultation” can cure a sick system; bureaucrats muscling in on the arts is inherently suspect and damaging. For others, in time of recession, the dispersal of public money to mere entertainers is a bourgeois anathema (we must assume that these secular Calvinists also raise their children without books or crayons).

Me, I’m not holding out for a perfect system, or for that long-overdue revolution that will oust the powerful and hand the reins to the people. A culture of unweaned artists dependent on government handouts is not a healthy thing (not that anyone who works in the arts in Scotland could possibly think we had ever had one of those). Government-funded engagement with, promotion of and support of the arts, based on judicious, trusting communication with artists and experts and structured to foster grassroots talent over time is a healthy thing. The Board statement, with its emphasis on listening, rethinking and clarifying, strikes me as a positive first step – because so much of this debate has been about the tone of Creative Scotland’s communication. What floored me during the controversy over the failure to include any women on the jury of this week’s Creative Scotland Awards was the abject state of the organisation’s communications policy. Creative Scotland seemed to have absorbed a Blairite, spin-doctored approach that said, in a panicked voice: IF IN DOUBT, OBFUSCATE, LIE, OR JUST DON’T ANSWER! Let us hope that attitude is the second casualty of this debacle, and that more openness points the way to a more effective structure for the future.



Categories: Arts & Culture, Commentary

9 replies

  1. Well shaid Msh Gill. Well shaid indeed. The tone of the departshure letter wash ashtonishingly shelf-pitying. I wash glad to read the after-shtatement on how the Org will readdressh itsh failingsh (& shtrengthsh, let’sh not forget thoshe very neshesshary shtrong pointsh & goalsh). Hoorah to you for continuing to comment sho fluently (& alsho for ushing the word poshit)

  2. Amazing piece. Well said. Hannah McGill for Chief Executive.

  3. This seems relevant – http://creativescotland.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/scratch-communication-competencies.html
    Saturday, 20 October 2012
    scratch communication competencies
    (updated – Sat 20 Oct, 20.09)

    A response to:

    A Right Stooshie and the Question of ExcellenceBy jenmcgregor

    http://jenmcgregor.com/2012/10/11/a-right-stooshie-and-the-question-of-excellence/

    Artists’ Open Space (26 October 2012)

    http://artistsopenspace.eventbrite.co.uk/

    There’s a continuing danger in allowing structural reorganisation to be framed as merely ‘miscommunication’ — as “communication difficulties” where “Creative Scotland’s senior team wanted to improve its dialogue with the sector and to be viewed as open and responsive” (Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, in Note of Meeting Held on 7/8/12, with the Cultural Alliance ) — and thereby also any ‘solution’ to it as merely ‘improving’ management competencies, as can be seen by the letter of appeal to the CS board and its subsequent response.

    It has instead been more constructively (and uniquely) referred to by @ABissett as “what was taking place was not simply a complaint being registered, but an industrial dispute unfolding”.

    On it being about conflict, not misunderstanding, as Copenhagen Free University prophetically put it back in 2001:

    “With a tradition of truce and consensus politics in Danish society the aesthetic disciplines have been predominately playing along the lines of the state in the reproduction of cultural values. The state […] is convinced of the ‘single’ common good that can come from the integration of the aesthetic disciplines in the nation’s general production of value. Both in terms of cultural and monetarian capital, that is. Synchronously the state is encouraging all, including the cultural producers, […] to behave with social responsibility and, in general, expects people to express themselves and promote individualised subjectivity. This strategic double bind is the technology of power — a technology for creating and controlling the voices present in society. Conflicts are explained as misunderstandings and mediated through the panacea of ‘dialogue’.” – The Committee of 15th July, 2001/Henriette Heise & Jakob Jakobsen

    More specific still in problematising a de-politicised, salutary notion of ‘dialogue':

    “The post-political … describes a space of political operation structured by choices relating to micro-political procedures, administrative apparatuses and technocratic management. Operating wholly within the shrunken coordinates of neoliberalism, political agency is constrained to nothing more than a shadow play where decisions can only tinker with the edges of a system whose core ideological structure remains inviolable”. – Adrian Lahoud, Post-traumatic Urbanism, Architecture in the Aftermath

    And so as to identify the traps if we are not careful:

    “…Rose’s post-structuralist analysis offers the connection between discourse and the ability to create governable subjects. Here, discourse is more than language but rather it denotes a way of acting and behaving. […] this opens up the possibility of exploring how discourse becomes the means of shaping behaviour and that specifically it becomes feasible to create “categories of public that are produced for the purposes of participation”. […] the future is expressed as a consensual understanding; it does so through emphasizing the value of local participation as steering policy. […] As a plethora of studies have shown […] participation, particularly where it is initiated through state-led practices, operates at different levels from the tokenistic to scenarios in which there is a real redistribution of power […] Realisation of empowered participatory governance […] is the exception; clearly, pre-existing centres of institutional power, urban governments, will be reluctant to devolve decision-making powers substantively. Further, to do so would be to undermine the legitimacy representative modes of democratic practice are able to claim. If politics is the negotiation of conflict, the post-political formation is defined around its antithesis, that politics is a managerial task involving the identification of consensus. Limiting participation to relatively ‘shallow’ forms of democratic engagement averts the problems of conflict.” – Ronan Paddison, ‘Protest in the Park – Preliminary Thoughts on the Silencing of Democratic Protest in the Neoliberal Age’

    As I previously posted in December 2011 on the service delivery model of provision:

    With Creative Scotland’s continuing opacity, unfolding contradictions (no cuts/ cuts) and informational asymmetry (including drip-feeding rumour of uplifting a few FXOs to Foundation status, since dismissed), to date as practitioners we have mostly tended towards focusing on Creative Scotland’s largely unfamiliar (to us) ‘language’ of Service Delivery while perhaps not yet naming it as such – in part because exploration has taken us to this point of recognising it.In the absence of a cogent explanation from Creative Scotland of the fundamental changes it is effecting and why, our focus on Creative Scotland’s unfamiliar language and its alienating effects has been understandable as one of the few (in)tangibles we have.One concern emerging, though, is in appealing to Creative Scotland for it to moderate this language as being the same thing as a change to the new model of provision itself and the Scottish government objectives that underlie it. Again, in part, this may be because we have regularly experienced changes to the lexicon of funding with incremental changes to provision models – e.g. ‘Social inclusion’ – but nothing as abrupt and all encompassing as what we now experience. (And for this reason comparisons with provision in England may be erroneous.)It may now be time to get to the crux of where that language comes from, what system it is of and what is meant by it, which appears to lead us to analyse what was/is meant by “single purpose government” in Scotland and its assumptions surrounding economic growth at any cost.What is becoming evident is that what we are being subject to is less of a ‘national cultural strategy’ and more of a ‘national service agreements’ ‘service delivery model': [more]
    Posted by Variant at 08:33

  4. This seems relevant in terms of response? – http://creativescotland.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/scratch-communication-competencies.html
    Saturday, 20 October 2012
    scratch communication competencies
    (updated – Sat 20 Oct, 20.09)

    A response to:

    A Right Stooshie and the Question of ExcellenceBy jenmcgregor

    http://jenmcgregor.com/2012/10/11/a-right-stooshie-and-the-question-of-excellence/

    Artists’ Open Space (26 October 2012)

    http://artistsopenspace.eventbrite.co.uk/

    There’s a continuing danger in allowing structural reorganisation to be framed as merely ‘miscommunication’ — as “communication difficulties” where “Creative Scotland’s senior team wanted to improve its dialogue with the sector and to be viewed as open and responsive” (Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, in Note of Meeting Held on 7/8/12, with the Cultural Alliance ) — and thereby also any ‘solution’ to it as merely ‘improving’ management competencies, as can be seen by the letter of appeal to the CS board and its subsequent response.

    It has instead been more constructively (and uniquely) referred to by @ABissett as “what was taking place was not simply a complaint being registered, but an industrial dispute unfolding”.

    On it being about conflict, not misunderstanding, as Copenhagen Free University prophetically put it back in 2001:

    “With a tradition of truce and consensus politics in Danish society the aesthetic disciplines have been predominately playing along the lines of the state in the reproduction of cultural values. The state […] is convinced of the ‘single’ common good that can come from the integration of the aesthetic disciplines in the nation’s general production of value. Both in terms of cultural and monetarian capital, that is. Synchronously the state is encouraging all, including the cultural producers, […] to behave with social responsibility and, in general, expects people to express themselves and promote individualised subjectivity. This strategic double bind is the technology of power — a technology for creating and controlling the voices present in society. Conflicts are explained as misunderstandings and mediated through the panacea of ‘dialogue’.” – The Committee of 15th July, 2001/Henriette Heise & Jakob Jakobsen

    More specific still in problematising a de-politicised, salutary notion of ‘dialogue':

    “The post-political … describes a space of political operation structured by choices relating to micro-political procedures, administrative apparatuses and technocratic management. Operating wholly within the shrunken coordinates of neoliberalism, political agency is constrained to nothing more than a shadow play where decisions can only tinker with the edges of a system whose core ideological structure remains inviolable”. – Adrian Lahoud, Post-traumatic Urbanism, Architecture in the Aftermath

    And so as to identify the traps if we are not careful:

    “…Rose’s post-structuralist analysis offers the connection between discourse and the ability to create governable subjects. Here, discourse is more than language but rather it denotes a way of acting and behaving. […] this opens up the possibility of exploring how discourse becomes the means of shaping behaviour and that specifically it becomes feasible to create “categories of public that are produced for the purposes of participation”. […] the future is expressed as a consensual understanding; it does so through emphasizing the value of local participation as steering policy. […] As a plethora of studies have shown […] participation, particularly where it is initiated through state-led practices, operates at different levels from the tokenistic to scenarios in which there is a real redistribution of power […] Realisation of empowered participatory governance […] is the exception; clearly, pre-existing centres of institutional power, urban governments, will be reluctant to devolve decision-making powers substantively. Further, to do so would be to undermine the legitimacy representative modes of democratic practice are able to claim. If politics is the negotiation of conflict, the post-political formation is defined around its antithesis, that politics is a managerial task involving the identification of consensus. Limiting participation to relatively ‘shallow’ forms of democratic engagement averts the problems of conflict.” – Ronan Paddison, ‘Protest in the Park – Preliminary Thoughts on the Silencing of Democratic Protest in the Neoliberal Age’

    As I previously posted in December 2011 on the service delivery model of provision:

    With Creative Scotland’s continuing opacity, unfolding contradictions (no cuts/ cuts) and informational asymmetry (including drip-feeding rumour of uplifting a few FXOs to Foundation status, since dismissed), to date as practitioners we have mostly tended towards focusing on Creative Scotland’s largely unfamiliar (to us) ‘language’ of Service Delivery while perhaps not yet naming it as such – in part because exploration has taken us to this point of recognising it.In the absence of a cogent explanation from Creative Scotland of the fundamental changes it is effecting and why, our focus on Creative Scotland’s unfamiliar language and its alienating effects has been understandable as one of the few (in)tangibles we have.One concern emerging, though, is in appealing to Creative Scotland for it to moderate this language as being the same thing as a change to the new model of provision itself and the Scottish government objectives that underlie it. Again, in part, this may be because we have regularly experienced changes to the lexicon of funding with incremental changes to provision models – e.g. ‘Social inclusion’ – but nothing as abrupt and all encompassing as what we now experience. (And for this reason comparisons with provision in England may be erroneous.)It may now be time to get to the crux of where that language comes from, what system it is of and what is meant by it, which appears to lead us to analyse what was/is meant by “single purpose government” in Scotland and its assumptions surrounding economic growth at any cost.What is becoming evident is that what we are being subject to is less of a ‘national cultural strategy’ and more of a ‘national service agreements’ ‘service delivery model': [more]

    Posted by Variant at 08:33

  5. I love how the only form of snobbery mentioned here is the ‘reversed’ kind, nice framing Hannah. Of course that’s the only type of snobbery extant in the scottish arts scene today.

    You do realise that this call for openness and transparency looks really, really bad if arts organisations and individuals aren’t doing the same themselves.

    It mystified me creative scotland never really went on the offensive about this – as it’s fairly obvious to anyone with a slight ability to google how er……….coincidental it is that names and numbers seem to keep stacking up.

    Now Hannah,
    You were invited to a meeting with Creative Scotland to discuss the issues around mid november – since then, you have not published a single detail of what was discussed.

    In the interests of accountability and transparency – could you tell us what was said – as you’ve actually taken more time than Dixon to tell us.

    As for Variant – you try and clean up your fucking act as well.

  6. The problem with Creative Scotland is that it is a government department of culture. What Scotland needs is a body which can resource artists to create art so that the people can engage with it and respond to it and then we might get oursellves a country.

  7. scrap the whole thing and transer responsibilities to the Cultural Enterprse Office – it’s been mentioned before, and they seem to have ;ess propensity to be at home to Mr F@ck-up, it has to be said

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