Representatives from Scotland’s visual arts sector have given evidence to MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Culture Committee, as it discussed the work of Creative Scotland, the arts funding body which replaced the Scottish Arts Council in 2010.
Francis McKee, director of Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA), and public artist Matt Baker were joined by Creative Scotland Chief Executive Andrew Dixon and Gwilym Gibbons, director, Shetland Arts Development Agency.
Baker, who is based in Dumfries and Galloway, raised concerns about the geographical bias of the funding body, accusing it of disregarding local input: “We’re getting large cultural producers being parachuted into our areas [by Creative Scotland], swallowing significant amounts of our local budget,” he said. “That’s left a lot of discord locally and been very destructive.”
Baker also criticized the organisation for a lack of transparency, a point picked up on by Francis McKee. He said: “It’s good dialogue face-to-face [with Creative Scotland], but there’s not enough dialogue publicly with the arts community, trust is being lost and that’s dangerous. There’s a communication gap that needs to be bridged – that communication has to happen.”
Despite the controversy surrounding the organisation’s funding decisions – Turner Prize nominee Luke Fowler has characterized it as “New Labour meets the politburo”, while Scottish poet Don Paterson, who won the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2010, recently described Creative Scotland as a “dysfunctional ant-heap” – the mood among the panel was good natured and professional rather than heated.
Poor communication by the organisation was a recurring theme throughout the session and on numerous occasions Dixon accepted that the organisation needed to improve on this: “I’m absolutely committed to transparency and I admit that we’re not getting it right,” he said.
On the issue of changes to flexible funding for 49 organisations across Scotland announced in May, the deadline for which has since been extended by six months, McKee said: “It’s a fraught process because it’s change for a start. There have been problems along the way and those problems are still evolving.”
McKee explained that an organisation like CCA couldn’t operate on a project-by-project basis, as Creative Scotland’s changes initially required it to, due to the need for long-term and strategic planning. He acknowledged that Creative Scotland had modified the process in order to enable the organisation to apply for project funding across a two-year period.
“There’s been a constant moving of the parameters which are helping us as we go, and that has been a positive change,” he said. “They’re changes we need to see.”
Baker said that the issues around flexible funding were largely irrelevant to him. Describing the artist-led organisations and initiatives that he was involved with, he said: “We’re not expecting core funding, we’re after advocacy and help from Creative Scotland to allow us to use the arts for the wider good. And [in that area] quite a lot of the noises we’re hearing are quite good.”
McKee added that there were concerns among flexibly funded organisations around the use of Lottery funding. He said: “Perhaps on behalf of all the flexibly-funded organisations, I should say that there’s a worry about the relationship to the Lottery. The Lottery looks as if it’s project funded, and we’re now talking about more sustainable funding through the Lottery. We all welcome this, but we just want to know that the Lottery agrees.”