If you had a taste for masochism there could have been worse dwelling places than the board of Creative Scotland these last few months. But for those of us still hanging on to the optimism gene, it hasn’t been the easiest of gigs.
Yet, bear with me on this, there are reasons to be cheerful.
Since the last board meeting in Pitlochry, and the subsequent statement, there have been expressions of positivity in the two camps who have to make the future work: the staff and remaining management team, and our friends and partners in the arts.
I say friends, because despite all the turmoil of the last few months, there are still strong relationships between people working within Creative Scotland and those with whom they deal in the creative community. Nurturing these, recognising their importance, will be crucial in the coming months. Hopefully the upcoming consultative forums will help us all make common cause.
Vital too will be translating the words about change into tangible deeds. Re-casting the organisational culture is obviously key, and that will take time, commitment, and genuine motivation.
There is a lot of talent and energy within a staff team which has taken a constant battering, and having that liberated should make a huge difference of itself.
But culture and tone is set at the head of organisations, which makes the upcoming appointment of a new chief executive at Creative Scotland all the more challenging. And, at the precise moment where that search is about to be launched, Scotland hurls itself into one of its periodic debates about whether the leadership of Scotland’s cultural institutions has been hijacked by incoming non Scots. Old habits die hard.
It was interesting to hear outgoing National Theatre of Scotland director Vicky Featherstone wonder aloud in an interview why Scots themselves often seemed more impressed by English candidates. And interesting, though thoroughly dispiriting, to have Vicky flagged up by Alasdair Gray as emblematic of a southern invasion, albeit within the context of a rather more nuanced essay.
Among the points made when Vicky threw a farewell bash at Tramway this month was one more than salient comment in the context of top jobs in Scottish arts. In essence it was to recognise that lazy generalisation is the enemy of self interest when searching for good applicants.
It was an acknowledgement that people who arrive in Scotland intent on telling the natives why and how, poor things, they’ve got it all wrong, should not be in any way confused with people who arrive on our shores anxious to learn, explore and celebrate indigenous concerns.
Vicky Featherstone and John Tiffany took the inchoate ambition of a peripatetic national theatre of Scotland and gave it shape and substance. In so doing, they produced some memorable modern classics. Doubtless, when The Thrie Estates was first performed, someone somewhere thought it was a sign that iconic historical works were being ignored in favour of some arty farty experimental drama.
How Vicky’s English successor will fare we will find out in the course of the next few years. But if he succeeds it will be because he is good and not because he is English. If he fails it won’t necessarily be because he “doesn’t get” Scotland, although that is always a risk.
Which brings us back to the latest gap site in Scotland’s cultural crown. Will the top job at Creative Scotland appear a chalice laced with lethal amounts of poison, or will it appear to someone a challenge well worth getting their teeth into? After all, the one element which remains unchanged is the extraordinary vibrancy of the arts in Scotland at the moment in all their myriad guises.
My hope is that when the trawl begins in earnest for the new Chief Executive of Creative Scotland next month, people of prodigious talent, boundless imagination, and vaulting ambition will throw their hat in the ring. If the best candidate proves to be Scottish that will be great. But nationality can’t and shouldn’t trump talent.
If ever it did, an awful lot of brilliant Scots CEO’s would find themselves involuntarily repatriated.
Creative Scotland’s statement of 7/12/12: http://www.creativescotland.com/news/statement-from-the-board-of-creative-scotland-07122012