Arts & Culture - Opinion

2007 - 2022

Reasons to be Cheerful

NVA's_Speed_of_Light._Alan_McAteer(1)As it’s announced that ‘Director of Creative Development’ Venu Dhupa is ‘standing down’, Ruth Wishart looks at the future.

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:


Comments (15)

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  1. Ian Crichton Smythe says:

    This is interesting though I think it misses the point. Ive not heard anyone put forward the view that ‘the leadership of Scotland’s cultural institutions has been hijacked by incoming non Scots’. This gives them too much agency. Instead the argument is that there are structural and cultural inhibitions and biases against respecting and nurturing our own talent, in short: we don’t believe in ourselves. ‘Nationality can’t and shouldn’t trump talent’ – is true.

    But it does often.

  2. ich bin ein burdiehouser says:

    “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.”

    Is this a collective hat ? Do they all join hands and throw it in at the same time ? and what kind of hat would a boxer wear ?
    Imagine Klitschko in a deerstalker from Jenners.
    Or is it more of Gladiatorial thing, with nets and tridents getting waved around as you summon the energy to raise a thumb in the shade ?

    No ones throwing their hat (or trident) into the ring, you’re outsourcing your search to Heather Newill of AEM international, former head of the Norwich festival and director of some other thing that promotes only east anglian writing – but that’s ok, the world needs more writing from East Anglia, let’s not get all sarcastic and ironic here.
    Nationality should not, of course trump talent – that’s why people have been bringing the issue up, because a blind statistician with a wifi connection in an igloo can simply search every single list of staff members in scottish institiutions.
    Let me explain to you, there’s this thing called the internet see, and then there’s this thing called google and……


    I’m betting some sort of jobs been offered to someone mid last november, judging by the sudden lack of criticism of CS.

    1. James Coleman says:

      Heather Newill of AEM international. Isn’t she the person responsible for the last two cocked up appointments?

  3. florian albert says:

    Scottish quangos could be made more representative by the simple expedient of banning anyone called Ruth Wishart from involvement.

  4. Fay Kennedy says:

    Well said Alasdair. There is an inferiority complex in the Scottish psyche and I know that first hand as a Glaswegian living in Australia for five decades still have to explain my speech and its origins.

    1. James Coleman says:

      There is no inferiority complex in this Scottish psyche or of any of my friends. Why should having to explain your speech and origins make you feel inferior? I am proud to shout I am Scottish from the rooftops at all times and I spend half my life in England

  5. I wonder, what did people do before we had CS and similar quangos? Must’ve been miserable, not having any culture, not knowing how to go about getting one, all fannying about aimlessly, waiting for someone to take us in hand and show us how to appreciate this that or t’other. For centuries we had to pass the time somehow – make up daft poems and songs, build stuff, learn whatever we needed, gawp gormlessly at strange new people and objects as and when they presented themselves, and all the while we had no-one to help us make sense of any of it. God bless us and save us and soap us and shave us, it’s a miracle we’ve any culture at all, so it is.
    Can I also endorse ich-bein’s appraisal of East Anglia – it’s a ba’-hair short of outrageous that we haven’t twinned some of our more backward towns with demographically compatible hamlets in that great county. (Dem folks have always had far more culture than they know what to do with.)

  6. thom cross says:

    Towards a sovereign sensibility

    Arts bureaucrats tend to be troubled beings. Their appointments are often seen as acts of apotheosis as they dispense largess often with cruel impunity. The big power arts barons (read board-members) believe talented artists are (p-i-t-a) tedious proto-nationalists, opaque expressive elites or even creative terrorists seeking to forge an autonomous audacity often within a nation-language fueled by bitter class experiences.
    Accepting a senior post in Scotland’s current ‘bubblin an bilin’ arts and cultural cauldron will require a profound understanding of the core function of supporting artists and cultural talent. Will the post-holder have the necessary consciousness of the plural nature of current artistic expression: possess the enormous courage, political savvy and hopefully the prior respect of artists in Scotland? The ground is shifting as we migrate towards a ‘sovereign sensibility’. How do we express this new-day while retaining our internationalism and profound humanism?
    This may seem redundant but with the current board still in place the candidate will require a professional /intellectual grasp of what constitutes the Scottish arts community. More particularly will the new person have an appreciation of/for the several regional, ethnic, civic, linguistic, social and above all artistic options and talents available? (There is also the need to have an acute awareness of the social nuances that create the troubling cultural schizophrenia often seen in our arts.) The new director should also require some hint of experience of the incredible variety of forms, frames and modes of contemporary Scottish expression.
    There is a political problem in arts-management, dialectical in nature. Artists should be able to say ‘fake-off’ to power .Yet they are required (almost like the feudal minstrel/fool/bard) to go proposal- in- hand to seek a crumb. (Jim Kelman doesn’t ask and exists on £15,000 a year from writing).
    So can Creative Scotland (as currently constituted) create a sustainable (and thriving) future for artists; develop a supportive creative climate characterised by integrity while seeking expressive excellence?
    Creative Scotland should look after arts development: providing artists with time and space to create. Inter alia its remit should be to discover fresh talent, instigate, nourish, nurture and enable while supporting established artists. For this to happen we must move out the power of the bankers who see life differently.
    But there is a case for a Scottish cultural industries sector but not in Creative Scotland. Let Scottish Enterprise seek opportunities to apply technology to talent. There are entrepreneurial opportunities in publishing, print -making, computer games, digital arts, design, craft, fashion, the recording industry, heritage tourism and above all in an indigenous film/TV production industry. But this down- stream commercial industrial development vision (with export potential) needs very different heads who seek profits not prophets. (Move in the bankers.)
    So Scottish Review’s Kenneth Roy is so right in suggesting that the Minister/Cabinet needs to take a much more vigorous and formidable look (again) at Creative Scotland. First step change the board, then change the vision, change the remit and give artists a chance for change.

    Thom Cross

  7. Do we really need a new CEO of Creative Scotland? Apart from the larger-than-Salmond’s salary being re-distributed, just maybe that CS workforce and Scotland’s artistic community can work out a fair, sensible and energy-unleashing system of distribution.
    Keeping on the road we’re travelling with CS, whoever is at the steering wheel, is, I’m convinced, heading for the land of loans not grants for artists and that’s why there are so many bankers on the board. Ruth, are you willing to discuss this?

    1. Hi Tam,
      Hope you had a peaceful time over the proverbials, and get a richt guid Bells under yer belt into the bargain.
      I’m surprised your comment (above) didn’t attract more response – it raises important questions, posits some scary scenarios: loans rather than grants? Hmmm…it’s like that IMF high-heid yin, yon French burd saying ‘we don’t do grants, we do loans’. Oh right, thanks for clarifying that Christine, we weren’t sure what the IMF is all about. (I would provide a link to Pilger’s ‘New Masters of the Universe’ or whatever it was called, but I can’t be arsed.)
      On the new CEO of CS? If it was possible to nominate folk for such a position (and why isn’t it?) I would consider nominating you. Would you accept such a post? I’m being serious here. If not, why not? Okay, I appreciate you’re working, but how much time does such a job entail for someone who’s on the ball and doesn’t have to waste valuable time ‘learning’ what Scottish culture is about? Just so you don’t think I’m picking on you, here’s another few names off the top of my napper – Lesley Riddoch, Stuart Cosgrove, Pat Kane, Billy Connolly, Craig Ferguson, Ken Loach, Tam Cowan, Ian Bell, Irvine Welsh, Janice Galloway, Tom Leonard, Sandy Moffat and, er, maybe even Kevin Williamson?
      Those are names plucked from my limited awareness of Scottish artists/culturally ‘important’ people – not saying I favour any one of them, but they’e viable candidates, no? There must be many others, spanning all creative fields, who’ve done their time, have great contacts and respect for fellow artists. You must have your own hypothetical ‘list’ – who would you nominate?
      No harm Tam, and no offence, but I think you know as well as me that the announcement, when it does come, will not feature any of the names listed above – it’ll have folk googling the name to find out who it is, and if it turns out to be some well-intentioned, mildly-left-of-centre grey-man from the Home Counties, it’ll be very difficult to maintain the illusion that the residency of these important posts is anything but a State-funded holding operation.
      We don’t need CS, or any variant thereof.
      I’m about to get ‘personal’ here, and I hope you don’t mind, but you know I have great respect for you and your work, so here goes –
      Did anyone, at any point, ever tell you that you were going to be an actor? Were you pushed into it? Didn’t you get pure dogs abuse from relatives and so-called ‘friends’ who, behind your back, were laughing at you as you tried to get a foothold in the business? Did the Arts Council help you then?
      Tam, I’ve never even met you. Only time I ever saw you ‘live’ was doing your ‘Lizzy’ sketch at the Calton Hill that day, way back, (2003?!) – what an atmosphere that was. And how quickly it all went to fucking dust. (TS must’ve known that day – he wasn’t his normal self, there was something missing. Aye, it all came out in the wash… and when it did? suddenly we’re twenty years back – we landed on a big fucking snake, and TS knew it was coming – a lot of folk still mending broken hearts over that one).
      If there’s any point to this message, it’s this – you didn’t ‘become’ an actor any more than I ‘became’ a writer – you do what you have to do, and if CS simply ceases to be and/or isn’t replaced, it won’t stop you and it wont stop me. We’ve thousands of fellow Scots who are doing their thing across all ‘the Arts’ – most of them are, and will remain, unknown. I don’t believe that many of them – be they painters, poets, novelists, sculptors, musicians, or whatever else – are spending serious effort on creating work which extols the virtues of staying in the UK.
      You, Tam, are a top man. That is a known known. Please, please, please don’t invite the likes of Wishart to ‘discuss’ this stuff – by acknowledging her waffle you lend her a status she doesn’t deserve. She – and her ilk – have long-since nailed their colours. They make public appearances with a damp forefinger held aloft, gauging opinion at the last minute. They can’t have it both ways, and shouldn’t be allowed to.
      I hope I haven’t said anything to upset you, but I know I’m not the only one who yearns for strong folk – well-motivated, decent people who have some public profile – to get off the fence and help us grab this chance.
      You are one of those people – you’ve done it, on the personal level, by making your own ‘dream’ a reality. I’ve done it. Are we millionaires? Naw. Would you swap it? Naw…
      Let’s help this once-in-a-lifetime effort to give our weans a chance of something different.
      I wish you well for this coming year, and the year after – two years hence, we’ll be living in a ‘different’ country, regardless of how the referendum goes. When that happens, I hope we’re on the same side.

    2. Tam,
      Maybe she will get around to ‘discussing’ the important questions you raise. Likelier is another appearance at major ‘Yes’ rally, where she’ll deliver more rhetorical blethers, face painted blue, waving a claymore.

  8. ich bin ein burdiehouser says:

    Aye Twin Scotland with East Anglia and lets have done with it.

    I tell you though, nothing placates a Scottish leadership crisis better than a board member rolling in and quoting Macbeth.

  9. James Coleman says:

    The real problem is that top arty farty jobs in Scotland are chosen by members of a Scottish Establishment clique all with RP accents or the Scottish equivalent, and who mistakenly, constantly look to London for their inspiration. They thus have a vested interest in playing down Scotland’s everyday culture.
    Every ‘arts’ appointment at a senior level should include in the job description … that the person appointed is well aware of Scotland’s culture modern and historical at all levels of Society and that they will prioritise the development of that culture during the course of their appointment.

  10. vronsky says:

    Plus ça change.

    “There has arisen gradually, on the part of England, a desire of engrossing the exclusive management of Scottish affairs, evinced by a number of circumstances, trifling in themselves, but forming a curious chain of proof when assembled together; many of which intimate a purpose to abate us, like old Lear, of our train, and to accustom us to petty slights and mortificications, too petty perhaps individually to afford subject of serious complaint, but which, while they tend to lower us in our own eyes, seem to lay the foundation for fresh usurpations”

    – Walter Scott, ‘The Letters of Malachi Malalgrowther’

  11. vronsky says:

    It’s Christmas Day. Excuse typos.

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