Three Meetings with Janet Archer

132350222__437296cTragic , my version of the Hamlet story, is developed over two years, working with three of the last year of acting students I teach. The first production funding application to Creative Scotland is rejected because ‘it isn’t advanced enough’. After a struggle with emails going back and forward the officer suggests we meet. It turns out we don’t have enough gigs. We had about eight at that point. We have 13 when we re-apply. 
 In both applications we argue for a very young actor because the stakes leap upwards if Hamlet is younger. We also argue our student actors long term saturation in the project more than makes up for their lack of experience. Even so they will have graduated by the time of the tour. However the second application is also rejected with feedback from a different officer: ‘The inexperience of the actor would be less likely to ensure the quality’ of the project. I can’t believe what I am reading. Aside from the lazy refusal to take on our arguments, for a very experienced officer to actually put this in writing is a monumental gaffe. 
 We immediately write to Janet Archer, the head of Creative Scotland, and ask her to back her officers words. She chooses to bat the email back to her officer. The officer writes back to us justifying – more by assertion than argument – her feedback. She also rephrases it. But there is no fundamental difference. We write to Janet again – including both quotes – and saying I have been commissioned to write an article in which I will argue that Creative Scotland are challenging the readiness of Royal Conservatoire of Scotland graduates. Janet replies herself – in double quick time – saying she ‘assures me she takes my criticism very seriously and that is why she is inviting me to her office to meet her in person.’ I am counselled by friends into not reading too much into this unfortunate choice of words. It is probably no more than a well-meaning attempt to flatter me by making me feel welcomed. It is nevertheless an unexpectedly gauche thing for the head of a publicity sensitive quango to put into writing.

Several weeks later I turn up at Creative Scotland’s airy Princes St offices for my first meeting with Janet Archer. She comes out to greet me at reception and welcomes me into her office with unintrusive warmth and grace. Kenneth Fowler, her Head of Communications (Press Officer) joins us. They make an attractive pairing with Janet’s gentle inquisitiveness and Kenneth Fowler’s quick attentive clear-headed intellect. They are engaged in a charm offensive to stop me going to the press, but it is understated and does not impede their welcome. My preparation, their approach and the spacious offices bring on calm elation in me. I am able to speak affably throughout the meeting. And I see pleasure and relief appear in Janet Archer’s face at how I am conducting myself . She grows in confidence as the meeting goes on. This is such a strong impression it makes me wonder – seriously – if she has been briefed to expect a ranting West Coast working class bruiser.

Very early on Janet observes that I had just been given a grant of £15000 to research two history plays. Perhaps she intends to demonstrate that her organisation is not hostile to me. Although I do not challenge her on this it does not wash because its not the organisation as a whole that are historically hostile. It’s the drama department. The research grant is recommended by a different part of Creative Scotland. Subsequently a theatre company commissions one of the writing projects that emerge from the research but the drama officers at Creative Scotland do not recommend green-lighting the other. This makes me wonder – not for the first time – exactly where Creative Scotland are on joined up thinking. Go ahead and spend months researching your plays, just don’t expect to get to write them. This latter decision comes after the meeting so I am not able to throw the research grant ball back at Janet.

I make various challenges about Creative Scotland and the old Scottish Arts Council’s record.
 I am critical of Creative Scotland feedback. I do not say what I think good feedback is. (It does not occur to me at that point that Creative Scotland might not know what good feedback is. The puzzle is why they seem to avoid ever giving it.) Then comes my first big surprise. Kenneth says they know there is a lot wrong with the feedback at Creative Scotland. Janet says that she is sending her officers on a feedback course. 
 I am also very critical of their application forms – particularly the criteria – 
not linked to specific questions and all couched in barely penetrable jargon. Janet’s answer to this is her new Open Project funding strand, which is soon going to be introduced. She claims it is also going to address some of the points I have raised. So far so good.

I am critical of the competence of officers when they are justifying decisions to artists, often giving away the bogus rationale behind decisions, which an elementary reading of the application forms they are supposed to have assessed rigourously, would disqualify. All the anecdotes I furnish are about officers who are still employed by the quango. (I do not name them.) Neither Kenneth or Janet respond to this.
 Having spent most of the meeting making general points about Creative Scotland’s ways of working I am grateful when Janet asks me what I hope to achieve for myself. This makes stating my personal aim easy. So I ask if the decision about Tragic can be reversed. Having been warned that they will do anything to avoid this I was taken aback by the prompt arrival of surprise number two when Kenneth says: ‘That’s perfectly possible. Its just a matter of checking to see if all the processes have been carried out correctly. ‘

Towards the end I suggest that some applicants should be given interviews to help Creative Scotland make decisions about what projects would go forward. My reasoning is that on many occasions officers make decisions on the basis of having not understood the application. This is almost inevitable given the multiple ambiguities of the English language. Janet is implacably opposed to this. She says it isn’t practical. I keep narrowing down the kinds of applicants that should be interviewed to counter her notion of impracticality. Finally she says that she knows dancers would not be able to cope with being interviewed. To this I say ‘These things cut both ways, Janet. What about all the people who would rather be interviewed than fill out an application form?’ It surprises me she has no answer to this . She has left an open goal for anyone who wants to mock artists as fragile flowers who cant cope with being interviewed when they are applying for a large amount of public money, while interviews are ok for the rest of the population with their zero hours contracts and minimum wage jobs.

At another point Janet hands me a hot off the press pocket sized leaflet. She beams with pride about it. It’s a kind of prospectus for where she wants to take the organisation. Even at a glance I can see that its a vacuous puff leaflet full of windy aspirations, written in a mix of flowery self-aggrandizing phraseology and bureaucratic arts jargon. This amounts to my main internal crisis in the meeting as I try to usher it into my bag as quickly as possible so that I might conceal my real feelings about it. In truth I don’t want to conceal my real feelings just from Janet. I also want to conceal them from myself. In trying to be optimistic about the meeting and its potential outcomes this leaflet is the biggest single spoiler.

Janet departs a bit before Kenneth. At this point he confides in me that the officer who recommends the research grant is very dedicated and hard-working. I realise he is making a kind of entre nous bonding gesture. He is indirectly criticising the officers who had rejected funding my production work. This is a form of emotional blackmail which roughly might translate as ‘Don’t be hard on Janet – she has to deal with much you don’t know about.’ I say to him at this point that I do not want to be an enemy of Creative Scotland. I am very happy to help it become a more effective organisation. He says my desire to be constructive came over abundantly in the meeting.

Three months later the Tragic decision is reversed.

The senior officers who check through the application let rip. They apologise – in writing – for ‘very poor service’ and which is ‘well below the standards they expect of themselves’ and insist that the argument for a younger actor for artistic reasons and the preparedness of the graduate actors is very well articulated. This is a victory of sorts. But how many other projects would have had their rejection reversed if the senior officers had been brought into play and properly scrutinised the junior officers work? Or is it just a coincidence that the very decision we happen to challenge and threaten to make public is the only one that could be deemed incompetent? Unfortunately the reversed decision comes so late it puts us all under extraordinary pressure. The main victims of the late decision were our publicity campaign, which began far too late and our casting plans where we lost our original actors. The casual approach of junior officers finalising the deal and getting funds to us suggests that Creative Scotland is out of touch with the reality of putting on a show. That is the kindest interpretation we could think to put on their behaviour.

In January of this year we apply for another autumn tour. A double bill of (one new and one nearly new) plays called THE INTERNET COMEDIES. It is a very well planned tour reaching every geographical part of Mainland Scotland except the South east Borders. With a week in the North East, a week in the West Highlands, a week in Glasgow, and 2 weeks in the Central Belt and South West. 23 performances in 19 venues, with never less than four gigs a week.
 This is our first go at Janet Archer’s new Open Project. On first sigh t
the form seems like a big improvement. The first questions are much clearer and the guidelines are specific to each question. But about half way through the questions slide back into impenetrable language. The guidelines become as opaque as the questions. You could be forgiven for thinking they ran out of time to get the form adequately finished and instead of putting the new regime back a couple of months they ploughed on.

We are determined we are not going to be faulted because of confusions over the form. So we spend 90 minutes talking to two helpline officers. One question in particular is very troublesome. It asks for our plans for ‘engagement with audiences’. In a theatre context everyone I know agrees you would normally interpret this as the show. Theatre IS engagement with audiences. So why are they bothering to ask? And why do they want 500 words? The second helpline officer explains it is one of the questions that ‘don’t apply much to theatre’. He says we might say something about ‘signed performances for the deaf’. We suggest they could save companies some stress by saying on the form: THIS QUESTION IS NOT PRIMARILY FOR THEATRE. He agrees. At the end of the session the officer thanks us and says our questioning of the form has amounted to by far the best and most extensive feedback they have had from any company. He also says this is useful because the form is a bit of a ‘work in progress.’ Three months later the application comes back rejected because we have ‘not gone into enough detail about our plans for engagement with audiences.’ In other words it is rejected because of the wrong information that Creative Scotland provide for us.

Shortly before this rejection I have my second meeting with Kenneth Fowler. I want to challenge him about the drama officers consistent rejection of all production related applications going back many years into the days of the Scottish Arts Council. The exact percentage isnt hard to calculate. That is because it is a 100% rejection rate. I want Kenneth to offer some kind of rationale about how this is possible. He denies there is any kind of prejudice in the building but does not provide any evidence of any kind, let alone counter the startling statistics I quote to him.

On the possibility that all our applications are poor things in themselves I also want to know how could we do better given the consistent failure of Creative Scotland feedback to provide anything remotely resembling practical advice. (Bearing in mind that feedback is useful information that can be acted on.) I show him an example. This is for Tragic, which following its tour last autumn we applied to the Made In Scotland funding strand. (Made In Scotland is for taking Scottish work to the fringe with the international market in mind.)This is not strictly speaking Creative Scotland’s baby. The funding comes directly from the Government. However it is administered by Creative Scotland officers, it is advertised on their website and they are charged with providing feedback. Here is what the rejection letter says.

‘The panel discussed the international potential of this piece at some considerable length but ultimately, and within a highly competitive process, felt there were other applications which would take greater advantage of the particular context of the Made in Scotland showcase and given the profile of international presenters which attend the Fringe.’

This is not feedback. There is no actual feedback anywhere in this letter. The criteria for the Made In Scotland funding strand is so bereft of meaning or content it is difficult not to feel some sympathy for the judging panel. (They are not Creative Scotland employees.) However the Creative Scotland officer had – in this instance – the answer at hand but chose not to employ it. She acknowledges that the panellists discussed the project ‘at some considerable length’ but chooses not to provide any meaningful information from this discussion. (The same officer did exactly the same two years previously with another Made In Scotland application.) This particular officer has never provided anything remotely resembling meaningful feedback. When challenged she will often throw up a bluster storm. For example she once wrote: ‘the problem with answering your queries is the assumptions that underlie them.’ This of course begs the question if the officer is capable of the subtlety of thought which allows her to know what an underlying assumption is why is she blind to the possibility that her sense of what our underlying assumptions are stem from her own underlying assumptions. Nevertheless when you ask her what she thinks your underlying assumptions are – or when you ask her pretty much anything – she goes into her other favourite response: she does not reply. 
 When I show this letter to Kenneth Fowler he agrees it is entirely useless and he says he understands our frustration. Running through my criticisms of the officer concerned he says that I have grounds to make an official complaint against her. I decide against doing this because I am moving to a point where I am sick of all involvement with Creative Scotland and I do not want to add more complications to my own life and more fuel to their burgeoning bureaucracy. He also says that Janet Archer is very open to meeting again and that I should take this – and my other points – up with her. 
 So I arrange another meeting with the lady and – fair dos to her – she agrees. But in the meantime the decision about the Internet Comedies shows up and that becomes the most pressing issue
and the key point for my second meeting with Janet Archer. I am less well organised this time. I have not really worked out my over-riding aims as I had the first time. Organisation takes energy and belief. I am running out of both. 
 In the second meeting I encounter a very different Janet Archer. The warmth of the first meeting has evaporated. Her chilliness communicates itself to me immediately. I don’t know whether she is scared or hostile or just doesn’t want to be there. But it is clear she is not happy.

I outline my points in great detail. 1. The officer giving us the wrong information. 2 The weaknesses in the application form. 3. The officer’s comment that it was something of a ‘work in progress.’ Again and again and again in the meeting Janet says: ‘I can only apologise but you will have to re-apply. ‘ I don’t think she says it less than ten times. This is a slightly strange thing for her to say because during the actual meeting I do not mention having the decision overturned! I think this whole meeting is very painful to her. Here on her first outing with her Open Project I am showing her in great detail where she has gone wrong. Large amounts of public money are being doled out on the basis of a rushed and partially inept application form. And this is on Janet’s watch. There is nowhere for her to hide. She says very little in the meeting that actively engages with me. It is as though she has been advised to say nothing. Just take the hits from an angry bampot self-seeking artist, show you are – technically speaking – willing to listen, and give nothing away.

I also show her the feedback that I have shown Kenneth Fowler. Her response is completely different to his. The fact that I see anything wrong in it sends pain shooting across her face. She manages to say: ‘Are you saying we should be braver?’ I am rendered speechless by this. Creative Scotland are tasked with providing proper adult feedback. Not with deciding how brave they should be. Only an inward-looking blinkered self-protective organisation could even be thinking in these self-centred terms.

As to our rejected application. It turns out that ‘engagement with audiences’ means publicity. The form does not say that. The helpline officer does not know that. But during the meeting Janet Archer gives me detailed advice on publicity as if the mistake in the application is ours. It amounts to covering her ears and chanting. The contrast between the first meeting, when we are discussing a funding strand begun by a predecessor, and the second meeting, where we are discussing a funding strand established by her, couldn’t be starker. I realise she isn’t going to do the honourable thing and say: ‘This is appalling. I promise you I will get to the bottom of this. And get it sorted. I can assure you I will do everything to get this reassessed as quickly as possible and make sure that this grotesque mistake is not repeated.’ And at that point – feeling sorry for her as I did – my respect for her collapsed. She may not be that good as an operator but when push comes to shove as a moralist she is a total failure. Janet Archer, the head of Creative Scotland, with all the power at her disposal, did not do the right thing.

Janet does mention one or two things that are useful about publicity. So I go to take note of them. But she says that isn’t necessary. They will all appear in the p. a’s notes. Which would be sent to me. Her very brief notes arrive a couple of weeks later with not a single reference to publicity. So it seems that the emptiness I pick up in the later part of the meeting isn’t my imagination. She really has been saying the first thing that comes into her head.
The second application is rejected finally five weeks ago. Only one answer has been altered
and yet it takes three months to make a second decision! The decision comes three weeks before rehearsal is due to begin. It arrives after most of our venues have gone to print. This highlights the hideous catch 22 in our theatre funding system. Book a tour or you are not fundable. If you are rejected you have to cancel the tour. If the decision is late – as in our case- the tour gets cancelled after the venues have scheduled and publicised the show. Creative Scotland know full well this catch 22 exists in the system. It is in their power to end it. This is actively damaging the venues relationship with the audience and the producing theatre companies relationship with the venues. It is a serious flaw in the system that Creative Scotland show no signs of taking responsibility for nor of taking steps to bring to an end.

Its worth pointing out that with the second rejection comes a note that two rejections per project are now the maximum allowed and we would not be able to re-apply. It’s highly unlikely that we would have reapplied, even if we could have persuaded upset venues to put back our visit several months. Either way nothing could make it clearer that Janet Archer’s Creative Scotland have no intention of accepting their mistakes or of climbing down from the serious moral misjudgment made by Janet Archer herself.

It is also worth noting that several of the theatre projects that Creative Scotland have funded this autumn have seven or eight performances booked spread out over several weeks, with one or two gigs in certain weeks. I draw attention to this to contrast with the assessors for the original application of Tragic two years ago saying eight venues is too few. Part of the reason myself and so many other artists in Scotland so mistrust the quango is the inconsistency in their judgments and feedback. They really are making it up as they go along, as if they live in a dreamworld in which people don’t have memories and don’t share notes with each other.

My third meeting with Janet Archer is a few days before the end of the fringe. I am strolling along George Street towards Assembly Rooms on my way to perform in my one man show. I see her first so I get to see her seeing me and her body jolt and her utter horror and her stark realisation that Edinburgh is much smaller than London. I see her eyes avert and – just as she reaches me – she turns her head sharply out towards the road. Not satisfied with this simple evasion she goes on to cast her eyes and tilt her head downwards and more or less close her eyes till she passes me. Superficially I think she is hoping against hope I havent seen her. But I think she knows perfectly well I have.

Why are Creative Scotland so accident prone? I think the answer is simple. They have an impossible task. They are riven by a classic conflict of interests. They are a sponsor, a policeman and an artistic director. They have to choose, support, police, judge a show’s potential before production, and judge its success afterwards. They have a vested interest, in other words, in backing up their own decisions. They make artistic decisions by application form, and treat these application forms to an exhaustive and expensive judgment process with relatively stable committees of state employees who supposedly have appropriate expertise in their area and make recommendations for the wider multi- art form panels. Its difficult to know how informed the challenges multi-art form panels make to drama officers recommendations can be. The bureaucracy has a look both ways mentality denying they are making artistic decisions while making them all the time. And they make them without direct contact with the art being funded. They say they don’t have the capacity to read scripts or turn up for viewings of extracts. But you could more easily say they don’t have the capacity to read and exhaustively pore over application forms for months at a time. They spend an extraordinary amount of time doing a task of very little value and spend no time doing a task of serious significance.

Why do Creative Scotland have so much trouble fulfilling their brief to provide meaningful feedback? We have only had anything remotely resembling proper feedback from the quango on three occasions. On all three it highlighted major flaws in the organisation’s competence. For that reason its difficult to resist the suspicion they avoid giving feedback in case it gets them into trouble. Their problem with application forms stems partly from the supposed efficiency of having one form to cover all the arts. But it also stems from bureaucratic blinkers. A detachment from how non bureaucrats interpret language. One of the disastrous by-products of Creative Scotland’s application form process is that an army of professionals whose specific skill is completing application forms has grown up to fill this gap in the market. These people do not come cheap. Their expertise is expensive but deemed worth it because they know how to over-ride the failures of the application process and the confusions of the actual forms with what they know Creative Scotland are actually seeking. Public money intended for the support of art and artists is, in effect, syphoned off into a task of no artistic value.

There is a very simple solution. Delegate the theatre project decisions to the established producing companies. Each company to make one or two decisions per year. This would allow decisions to be made by actual artistic directors, whose thinking would be disciplined by their stake in the visiting companies’ production. Decisions would be made on the basis of scripts and performed extracts not application forms, using the same skills that artistic directors have to show as part of their existing brief. Young companies starting out would have all the paraphanalia of application form hell removed at a stroke and the arduous producing work taken care of by the host company. This would allow the young artists and companies to concentrate on making the art instead of having their focus split right at the start of their careers. Creative Scotland’s brief would be to prescribe the agreement and funding for each theatre and to police the project so that the hosting company does not cheat the applicant company or individual. To prevent the same individuals or companies from being over-commissioned Creative Scotland would define limits per artist or company. Opening the decisions out to a wide variety of theatre companies, who have a wide variety of artistic policies, would potentially result in a bigger variety of decisions and avoid the danger of ‘opinion coalescence’ that tends to occur within stable groups, such as the ones that populate Creative Scotland decision making panels. This system would also cut out a huge swathe of pointless bureaucracy and potentially feed large amounts of money back into production.

It is difficult to imagine Creative Scotland relinquishing such a large part of their workload and status. Only strong government intervention can bring the tendency for a bureaucracy to conserve its own power base – against the best interests of the clients it was set up to serve – under control.

 

 

Iain Heggie is the multi award winning writer of Wholly Healthy Glasgow, Politics In The Park, American Bagpipes, Sex Comedies, Experienced Woman Gives Advice, King Of Scotland, Wiping My Mother’s Arse, the Don, Tobacco Merchants Lawyer, Queen of Lucky People, and The Tin Forest. In 2014 he wrote the King James 6th monologue for Dear Scotland at the National Portrait Gallery. He has recently completed the first Scottish version of Gorki’s masterpiece Lower Depths for National Theatre of Scotland. He is presently writing his first two-actor drama On and he has been commissioned to write a play for NTS set in 1920’s Glasgow. He is also an experienced director. Credits include Winters Tale, A Month In The Country, Sex Comedies, Three Sisters, Beauty Queen Of Leenane, The Don, The Goat, Oleanna, Lie Of The Mind and Tragic. He was a teacher of acting through improvisation at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland between 1990 and 2011. He began the process of developing his one man show Facebooked! at the Assembly Rooms at the 2015 fringe.

Comments (20)

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  1. Jim Bennett says:

    Ouch!

  2. Darby O'Gill says:

    Very well said. And high time too.

  3. Arahoco says:

    You’d probably have gotten further if you had an English man or woman as a figurehead to submit your proposals since CS seem to be fully noli me tangere w/r/t actual Scottish people. I know that from experience, sadly.

    Although, to be frank, who in the world needs yet another version of Hamlet?

  4. punklin says:

    “There is a very simple solution. Delegate the theatre project decisions to the established producing companies. ”

    Yes, the very principle that the Scottish Arts Council used. Peer group choices. Trust the artists and producers to divvy up the money.

    The laborious, unnecessarily bureaucratic Creative Scotland – kicked off by Jack McConnell’s St Andrews Day speech (who hadn’t really a scoobie what he was proposing) – was strangled at birth by an extortionately expensive, infinitely delayed gestation. The current set-up has helped nobody, including the benighted officers struggling to justify decisions they cannot be capable of making.

    Cut the lavish bureaucracy, and give the cheque book to the shivering, talented practitioners. It would save a lot of time, money and effort.

    Of course you have to find to find a “mechanism” so’s people don’t award their pals etc., but the peer group principle has never been bettered, anywhere. Janet Archer, the board, the officers etc cannot see this – but politicians should, or it will never work properly.

    How can we help them see this and make real changes?

    Thank you for elaborating this – I no longer work in the arts, but have been through much the same process. It saps the spirit.

  5. Douglas says:

    Arts administrators are deforming and cannibalizing the arts…
    University administrators are deforming and cannibalizing education…
    Hospital managers over doctors…
    White Papers and policy rule the roost over articulate and intelligent political discourse (when was the last time you heard a good speech?)
    Jargon, cliches and soundbites instead of news and analysis in the newspapers…

    The death of language, friends…the triumph of the managers and bureaucrats and form-fillers who earn salaries parroting a few stock lines and ticking boxes, the most soulless people on earth…

    Peer-review? What like they do in science, in academia, in most other arts bodies in the world?
    Far too obvious, Iain, but what do you expect from a company with a name like Creative Scotland?

    Creative Scotland is a kind of Frankenstein/juggernaut out of control….nobody can come to grips with it probably by now….the inertia of such a vast bureaucracy, of so many vested interests, allied and competing at one and the same time, works like the anti-matter of a black hole…sucking in everything that comes into its orbit…

    …as for Janet Archer’s look, a classic of the arts world…. that ability to be “nice” and then not much later give the cold-shouldering is EXACTLY how you get on in the world of arts administration…so Janet probably deserves that fat-cat salary after all….

  6. Douglas says:

    As for your feedback point…I don’t really believe in it…I mean I believe in it at an informal level, with four or five people you trust….but not at the wider level, not as a general practice, and not connected to funders, please…

    For every person you are lucky enough to find who knows how to read a text (in its con-text), there are ten who read words and sentences, and at the very most, paragraphs…for every piece of useful advice, ten red-herrings which can lead you down a blind-alley, at least that is my experience of film development.

    One of the great myths of our time is that everybody knows how to read. It’s a total fallacy, like saying everybody knows how to write (90% of journalists, for example, type rather than write…).

    I would say, roughly, one in ten know how to read a text….the reading fallacy is like saying somebody knows mathematics because they learned how to count at school…

    The language C.S use is like Orwell’s double-speak or whatever it was called in “1984”…opaque, because it can only be opaque, because all bureaucracies exist to perpetuate their own existence….like viruses, or rabbits or black-holes…

  7. Douglas Robertson says:

    What strikes me in this detailed account of engaging with bureaucracy are the parallels to other spheres of public funding I am more familiar with. It appears we have two parallel universes, the one the politicians inhabit, offering their crafted and considered solutions, and the reality, what the civil service regimes actually deliver. I am also aware that the crafting process butts up against bureaucratic obstacles before it publicly appears, as land reform for instance so ably illustrates. Funder, policeman and critic – and at times a manipulative one at that – all encased within a generous admin budget, at least at the executive level, is an all common characterisation of the delivery of Scottish public services by government. There is, within all of this a powerful, distinctive but politely hidden class dynamic in full operation here. Delivering a New Scotland demands more of what Iain eludes to here. In the meantime I look forward to his contribution being developed into a Kafkaesque play.

  8. Graeme Purves says:

    A suitably Kafkaesque title might be “The Directorate of Creativity”, but I suspect a Flann O’Brien style of satire might be more effective, and certainly more fun.

  9. Paul Codd says:

    I had almost exactly the same experience with Scottish Enterprise over a 6 year period 2002-2008. I have not engaged with them since so can’t comment on whether things have improved. In the end I found them far more interested in looking upwards to their bosses and masters than outwards to their customers and markets. Clearly this is systemic and in my view stems from the difficulties of innovating and risk taking in rigid hierarchies, unable to quickly and easily adapt and flex their roles and processes, to the conditions they find themselves in out in the “real” world.

  10. john young says:

    Get in people who have a proven track record in the particular field e.g. doctors/nurses for the nhs allied to them freethinkers/visionaries cut the red tape to the bone whereby you release funds/ideas.

  11. RPJ says:

    Blimey, well said! My comment may be a gross generalisation, but it explains why I have never applied for an Arts Council grant – or any other sort of grant for that matter. In my experience, arts administrators (and I have met a few) are well paid, certainly compared with the artists they ‘serve’, and it is sometimes difficult to see how they actually further the real task of funding impoverished artists. There are exceptions of course, but many of them appear to be more interested in climbing the greasy pole, enjoying the obsequious attention of applicants and attending miscellaneous junkets. The granting bodies have aims and objectives stated in the twisted, inarticulate language beloved of bureaucrats which may be interpreted by the apparatchiks at a whim. The main function, it seems, being to enable the quango to say ‘Done it!’ at the end of their accounting period. This, in turn, allows the politicians, who ultimately control the purse strings, to say ‘Look how we are supporting the arts (or whatever their brief was) Aren’t we great!’ And so the business of ‘promoting the arts’ and greasy pole climbing can continue leaving a trail of confusion, disappointment and bankrupt arts organisations in its wake. Having said that, various friends have received grants for worthwhile, and sometimes no so worthwhile, projects but I suppose someone has to get the available budget – after all, what would they do with it otherwise? But then again, I am just a jaded old curmudgeon who does not need a grant.

  12. Ariel Killick says:

    Thank you for writing this, and especially discussing the absolutely lethal Catch 22 of arts funding in general, not just in Scotland. Spend massive amounts of unpaid time developing an application and the partnership structures required to help ensure the success of the application, and then while you’re waiting three months for a decision, you’re having to turn down valuable work opportunities in the hope that you won’t be available for them because you’ll get the funding, and then if the funding is refused, basically unless you’ve a financially supportive partner or family, or other highly flexible income streams, or just really f*king lucky, artists can run the very serious risk of ending up with no work and unable to pay rent or buy food. It’s that serious. My parents refused to let me study art at school, and though I’ve gone on to gain a significant amount of arts-based employment, it’s only this year that I really understand their concerns, and am at the point where I would nearly vehemently advise young people against a career in the arts. Our country, our culture, our human spirit deserves better. This dangerous Catch 22, where artists – with no pension, paid sick leave or holidays as freelancers primary, are at the mercy of people with steady jobs, contracts and all of the above conditions and who can seem to have no idea what the reality of being a freelancer is like – is neither healthy nor an honourable state of affairs that our political leaders can stand over and be proud of. We desperately need people to speak up if anything is to change. People need to discuss this directly with their local political representatives and work to bring about the changes that the democracy we supposedly live in affords us. I’m on the verge of recommencing an Arts Teaching MA and I’m actually really concerned that it’s actually immoral to try and get money, or a steady job with all the benefits, in an arts system that seems very much to be, quite frankly, suicide-inducingly hellish for those without significant financial cushions to fall back on. I don’t come from a comfortable middle-class background and I can only see this as taking part in an injustice for those from less wealthy backgrounds, or setting young people up for the despair of trying to make a living in the arts. Then I look at all of those in zero hours contracts, minimum wage slave hell, and others in better jobs but who can just be tossed on the scrap heap after years of work because the company’s being restructured/bought out/merged etc, and honestly, hellish as trying to survive as an artist is, even if my life is shorter, I still know what I’d choose to do.

    Won’t have kids though.

  13. Alan says:

    The author seems to have a large misunderstanding of what CS do in everything from what a ‘research grant’ means to the ‘engagement with audiences’ part of the application, which is probably the least problematic parts about that process.

    There seems to be this underlying problem for him and everyone else, in that nobody really understands enough to deal with the financial side of things and blame CS for their own failings as a private business of artistic endeavours.

    Without doubt CS have problems with their applications and vague feedback, which they appear to be trying to solve but this long winded article really is just one side of a story and even then the author’s own words repeatedly show that he really doesn’t understand things well enough and maybe he should get someone else who does.

    If his tone of discussion with CS was anything like the tone of this article then I’m not surprised Ms Archer seemed like she’d “been briefed to expect a ranting West Coast working class bruiser” on their 1st meeting and then tried to pretend she hadn’t seen him by their 3rd, which let’s be honest was actually accosting someone in the street and not a meeting.

    1. Darby O'Gill says:

      There is no excuse for Creative Scotland or any other government agency producing application forms for funding that are not crystal-clear to the applicant. ‘Engagement with audiences’ sounds like a fight scene in the theatre.
      Providing a simple Explanatory Memorandum as, say, those that accompany the Building Regulations would do the trick.

  14. Ariel Killick says:

    On another note (and yes I’m incredibly passionate about this and yes it will be my last comment) – while I’m as seriously wary as the next artist of saying anything that can be interpreted as being criticism of creative Scotland and jeopardizing future funding opportunities, Creative Scotland can’t be expected to know whether the new open project stream system is working as best as possible, or what it’s really like for artists, without also receiving honest feedback on it from artists themselves. While the requirement to have really rigorous testing effectively before the allocating of public money is totally understandable, the attendant requirement that artists’ most crucial skill for survival is to be basically form-filling and financial juggling geniuses on top of any really worthy artistic talent and training, seems seriously out of kilter. In an age where ‘efficiencies’ are ever more the order of the day, it seems a really inefficient use of resources and artists’ time and skills for so much of it to be spent on this kind of activity, rather than honing, developing and producing their craft to the highest degree, which is what the public might expect and deserve. I recently received a kind email from Kenneth Fowler (in response to an earlier email) with an invitation to “a series of open sessions this Autumn around Scotland and it would be great if you could come along to one of them to hear the discussion, ask questions and make any points you would like to make. We will be announcing the dates and locations of the sessions shortly”

    We owe to ourselves and younger artists – and importantly their parents – who may be looking at the experiences of high ranking long established artists, companies over this last year and a half, and understandably taking the view that a career as an artist making art is just a dangerous gamble that you can only play at for so long before taking up a steadier arts admin or teaching job, because the odds can seem as likely as the National Lottery that’s often the source of funding.

    Fact is, watching the funding application experience over the last year of artists and groups with far greater experience, numbers and accolades than myself, I really don’t know I’d ever bother applying for that kind of funding, on the basis of, well if they can’t get funding, I haven’t a snowball’s chance in hell, so it’s just not worth the effort trying and my time would be more efficiently and productively spent seeking alternative work and/or funding opportunities. Extrapolate that out to a larger sector of the artistic population and it has significant effects on the general artistic landscape as a whole. Which becomes something that needs to be addressed via policies.

    While some members of the public and political class might have little sympathy or interest in investigating alternative funding models, we impoverish our cultural future and cut off its diversity and authentic artistic expression from a full spectrum of society if the current system is so wrought with hardship, danger and difficulty that only the wealthy can survive it.

    Make no mistake, the spirit and soul that keeps an artist going and producing work, is a finite resource that shouldn’t be squandered. Are Ian’s suggestions practical and workable? Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. Does the French system or the Irish Aos Dána system hold ideas for a solution? Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. Maybe previous consultation meetings have seemed pointless and ineffective before, maybe they haven’t. Who knows what can come out of the upcoming sessions – but if we don’t speak, our voice won’t be heard and any chances of any change is greatly diminished. If Kenneth Fowler and Creative Scotland are inviting us to give our feedback, we should at least take them up on the offer. If creativity rather than form filling and financial juggling genius is our main strength, maybe we can actually create a better system.

    I live in hope.

  15. Ariel Killick says:

    While on first glance, your point in relation to artists’ “own failings as a private business of artistic endeavours”, seems like a well-made and relevant point, the other side of this is that the arts, like education and health, actually aren’t universally considered mere “private businesses of artistic endeavours”, and are generally considered to have merits, benefits and impacts far beyond just enterprise, business or making money, which is presumably why public bodies to promote and ensure arts, education and other things important for society in general, are funded to exist by governments whose job it is to have that broader outlook. There’s a lot more I and many others could say on this front, but I’ll leave it to them for now.

  16. DialMforMurdo says:

    Previous experience has taught me that the actual creativity was a damned sight easier work than that of tackling CS application forms. Mission statements…

  17. Marcia Blaine says:

    Marvellous to see someone put into print what many artists feel about our out-of-touch arts body. The application/assessment process is notoriously flawed. Assessments of recipients’ performance are too often formed on the basis of vague impressions (or worse, gossip and hearsay) just as funding decisions are often made on the basis of vague expectations rather than on ‘evidence’. Well said, Mr Heggie!

  18. Donald Dewhurst says:

    Heggie nails it like no other. How these fauxie faced individuals at Creative Scotland can hold their heads up whilst rewarding their friends and silencing their critics amazes me. the SNP should sack the lot and regionalise the funding. They have talked for years about sorting out the touring circuit and supporting the infrastructure but constantly fail to fund the venues, organisations and artists that really want to do this. There is a distinct snobbery about their choices and more than a whiff of scandal if one looks really hard. just look at the casualties of their RFO process and all those silenced festivals and organisations kicked to the kerb through complete incompetence. they have come out against “the organisation” and empowered “artists-led” work at the expense of infrastructure, experience and professionalism. After 30 years in the business i am exhausted with this crap and am seriously considering buggering off to a desert island with no forms to fill in.

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