Reclaiming a creative Scotland?

Equality Equality

Button by Anna Francis and Johnny Gailey


Presentation to Creative Scotland at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Isle of Skye,  23 April, 2013.

Feasgar math. Many thanks to Kenneth and Pat for inviting me to speak, here at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig – it’s always a pleasure and privilege to come back…I was invited here to speak because of an article I wrote in Bella Caledonia, saying I wouldn’t be here. I said I wouldn’t be here for a number of reasons…Firstly I am a freelancer and this is my time – any time out from my work, is not only unpaid, but also stops me doing paid work – the equivalent of a football six pointer.

Secondly I have been to numerous consultations in the past, where I have contributed to a discussion, only to feel that that my contribution was not represented after – its not a case of making your voice heard – it’s a case of whether it is being listened to or not.But thirdly, I am not quite sure the fixing of this is within Creative Scotland’s making…Now I ended my article by proposing that we think under a new flag.

Creatives of Scotland


Now I’m from Northern Ireland, I was in Belfast and saw the pantomime at Christmas at the flag protests as the Union Jack was once again recast, as it had been in the summer during the Olympics. Flags are highly charged, contested symbols – I suggest this one, not as a flag but as a symbol – one without baggage, one that allows us to jettison dumb identity politics and partisan positions – one that allows a public space for the population, the artists and the writers to coalesce and contribute to the future – for me that space (through the middle) is culture. With this reconfigured flag I’m trying to ask that we work towards the unknown rather than fixed points.

That there is an alternative; we just haven’t imagined it yet.I’ve been asked and paid to come here to present, on what I think the future of Creative Scotland could be – and I’ll start with a similar bit of further fanciful imagining – that Creative Scotland move out of Waverleygate: Their auspicious, corporate, rather spivvy, pretentious, Italianate rococo setting with the daft cardboard stairs – that we are paying £285,000 per annum – straight out of the public purse into the private sector. I would reset and recast the organization within a democratic, educational setting, and move it up the road 500 yards, to Royal High School, where the Parliament was once mooted. Edinburgh Council were prepared to gift the building to the National Photography Museum, and I’m sure they would appreciate some additional public funding in their coffers… The new institution would stand on top of Calton Hill, overlooking Parliament – representing the role and the ideal that artists and culture oversees and checks our democracy and free society.

A building for cultural activity

So to start with my first – my status as a freelancer, and I want to pitch this within the context of equality. I am a photographer, educator, artist, writer, activist, organizer, gardener, freelancer, in other words whatever I can get paid for…There according to info extrapolated from CCSkills data, approx 2000 visual artists in Scotland – of whom some 46% are self-employed, with the rest undertaking other work to supplement their income.

In 2002 The Scottish Arts Council undertook a survey of visual artists and found that 83% of them earned less than £5000 from their practice. Last year I earnt around £8,000 and this year just ended about the same… and that includes my income from gardening, so I’m one of those 83%.

One of the underpinning, cross cutting themes of Creative Scotland is supposed to be Equality – now how do you square that ambition whilst proposing to pay the Chief Exec over £110 per annum. Is that ethical? If you earn over £99k in the UK, then you are part of the richest 1%. It’s all very well to be talking the talk, but Creative Scotland, like all public agencies should walk the walk, and work to dismantle structural inequality.

You got two options – either lower the CEO salary, or raise artists income. Actually there’s a third way – do both.

I value the idea behind the recent announcement of artist bursaries, monies dedicated to artists own work, rather than fulfilling someone else’s brief. That’s seems to be moving in the direction of trusting artists. However question the size of the budget.
Budget for artists’ bursaries: £1.45m – That’s roughly 2% of the total creative Scotland budget, and equates to roughly 100 £15,000 or 300 £5k.

There’s 2000 visual artists alone, let alone the writers, the dancers, the filmmakers etc… such small amounts can only foster competition for scare resources.

I believe that fund should be needs to be £5m – 1000 awards of £5,000 – maybe even 10% of Creative Scotland’s overall budget – why not?

In fact that was my second proposal in the article – that we move to designate next year, The Year of Independent Scotland – and artists and writers can write about/do what the hell they wish to, rather than proposing something that fits someone else agenda.

Indeed part of that allocation should be a small seed fund that creatives can apply to for quick decisions – up to £2000. In fact the decisions also need to be made faster.

Why does it take 12 weeks for a decision? The Big Lottery turns around application in six to eight weeks and it would suggest that Creative Scotland need to do the same to allow artists to make the most of opportunities. This is the second summer where an exhibition opportunity present itself, but the lead in required to apply is too short.

In the same vein – Creative Scotland should insist that all recipients of public funding should pay artists fairly – agreeing a minimum rate in consultation with the network agencies such as the Scottish Artists Union and Equity. In this last year, I have been approached to contribute to events organized by publicly funded organizations at both £50 or the day and free. Organisations would not be precluded from paying less than this fair rate, but are refused a ‘pay artists fairly’ kite mark. This way CS would directly support and directly show support for the economic well being of freelance artists amongst the organizations it funds.

I would like to Creative Scotland establish an in house research unit – one that is responsive to demand from both within the organization and outwith the sector – I would like to see them stop outsourcing their ideas to consultants (which it has to be said it partly why we are where we are), but instead utilize the experience and knowledge of their own staff, and actually own the outcomes of the research.

Through the unit I would envisage them dedicating themselves to improving the economic wellbeing of artists – updating the research from 2002 to look at how artists are faring after the crash…

I would want them to undertake some research as to how much of their investment actually gets through to freelancers, trickling down from organisations.

And as a result of such research, I would like them to establish that base percentage of the overall Creative Scotland budget that goes to the self-employed creative, whether that be 10% or not. And indeed the unit would be the base for all future evidence based policy…

Now I want to deal with my point that I am not quite sure the fixing of this is within Creative Scotland’s making. Creative Scotland, we all know has been a long time in the making – and again, I should highlight the work Jennie Macfie and Variant has done in tracing the pre-history of the body. What I would suggest is that Creative Scotland is a product of pre-crash thinking – it was forged in the heady days of 2008 by the transition team, talking of reduced staff numbers, flexibility, and giddy cultural entrepreneurialism. And if you go back to some of the documents, that guided it’s formation, it’s no wonder we ended with the car crash that we had, which Clive Gillman visually represented.

Top down, command and control doesn’t work anymore.

And yet, we find the organization doing exactly as charged by the government – namely to sere the government’s Single Overarching Purpose: “to focus government and public services on creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth” “A successful country”, “opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish” – laudable aims but the emphasis on “sustainable economic growth” as being the route to doing so has resultantly impacted on the public services (one of which is of course Creative Scotland). This has caused consternation from a range of sectors in society that the worldview that economic growth is the sole way to ensure that Scotland flourishes is too narrow. Economic growth is one way, but not the only way to ensure a country ‘flourishes’, and indeed just because there is economic growth, doesn’t mean ALL Scotland is flourishing.

I propose that we need an organization, that is confident in it’s own skin, and confident that it represents the sector it is charged with, that speaks back to government.

To me the Action Plan for Change is a mostly an exercise in tinkering: a new style language guide, clarification of funding streams, a new Customer relationship Management system, an annual conference – all of this doesn’t seem too much like change to me.

The one thing is of note – is the desire to ‘publish a revised strategic plan.’ I’m very interested in this, as this seems to be the opportunity to make a real and lasting change to the organization.

But I question – Who is determining that strategic direction, to be published ion May?
Wouldn’t appear to be us, at these Open Sessions?
Not the new CEO?
Is it the board?

The Board has corporate responsibility for ensuring that Creative Scotland fulfils the aims and objectives set by the Scottish Ministers; for promoting the efficient use of staff and other resources, in accordance with the principles of Best Value and for establishing the overall strategic direction for Creative Scotland. 

The same board that established the previous problematic strategic direction are now tasked with bringing forward another direction? I’m not sure that that is credible.

Within my article I ended with three challenges for these CSopen events:

The primary one being that we in the cultural sector discuss and articulate why we should publicly fund the arts in the first place. This for me is the key question, as it seems to me that this is the main cause of disconnect and discontent between Creative Scotland and the creative sector

Is it to be a sort of creative bank, investing in development with one eye to envisaging future return? Or is that not what the banks are for? Or, is the purpose of publicly funding the arts to fund the very thing that the market cannot provide – to fund work that is uncommercial, unexpected, that is unsponsorable, work that may, or indeed may not, be critical. That not’s to argue for the avant-garde, but rather to seek to secure the space for a public culture and discourse that is democratic and free. Free from external interference, whether that patron is public or private.

I want a board that articulates why we should publicly fund artists. One of the first things that Peter Bazalgette, new chair at ACE was publicly stand up and present what the organization would look like under his stewardship, and which direction it would face – I would call this  the leadership of the lectern rather than leadership of the boardroom/clubroom.
So I want to see a new board – one that is representative of both the sector, and more importantly, society. At the moment it is culled from Public Appointments Scotland website, under the premise that public appointments is your chance “ to give something back” This is predicated on the belief that you have received something from the existing set up, you have benefited, and that it’s a favour.

It’s not. I want the board to be rewarded for their time and diverse expertise like the SNH board, who are actually employed to do a job – to oversee the running the organization. then its fair and open

For me we have to make Creative Scotland more democratically accountable, stop it thinking like a corporation – and to do that we need to #openCS

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  1. Chris Kelly says:

    Excellent analysis and great to see a presentation to CS that gets to the heart of issues for the practitioner. There is much here that CS and every other arts org in scotland would do well to take on board. Power to your elbow Johnny

  2. Many thanks Chris – your kind words of support appreciated…

  3. The Giro Whisperer says:

    “For me we have to make Creative Scotland more democratically accountable, stop it thinking like a corporation – and to do that we need to #openCS”

    I agree pretty much with your article, there have been many demands for cs to be open and accountable – but doesn’t that cut both ways ?

    The main group of people who are discussing an alternative or some sort of strategy (I know not what they post) have currently set up “the group with no name” on Facebook, to which you and I have not been invited – is that open ? is that accountable ? is that that the alternative we are supposed to accept ?

    I’d like to see it cut both ways, I’m tired of seeing people use their positions in galleries to promote their own work,to hide opportunities from others, or to hire their mates. You know who you are – i’ll refrain from naming the bad apples here.

    At a wild guess, I can’t see Scottish culture advancing much in those conditions – where the arts body is told to behave responsibly yet others play the same old game.

  4. Hi Giro Whisperer

    Absolutely – I think an open and critical (as in critical thinking not criticizing) dialogue is necessary to foster trust, which then perpetuates the conditions for everyone to speak…

    Personally I’m not on Facebook. I find Twitter a better tool for creating community and collaborating with people I both know and don’t know. But people should use whatever method they find best for communicating and swapping ideas. I think people have always gathered to educate themselves before speaking publicly. I would suggest that one major factor for communicating in a more closed way is the fear of ‘biting the hand that feeds’ and the perceived idea that criticallity could jeopardize funding.

    Firstly I think that is the point of the arts – to be able to question and interogate why things are the way they are. Secondly, we need a body that engages and encourages people to speak about what they know best and are passionate about… At present I don’t think we have that.

    Finally, the question with opening CS up, for me, is more to do with governance and equality…

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