Creative Scotland and the creative industries

The debate around the future of Creative Scotland includes calls for a re-visiting of the role of the arts funding body as laid down when it was first established.  In essence what is being called for is the removal of responsibility for supporting what is called ‘creative industries’.  I disagree, and here is why. 

Jenna is a dancer.  She is a member of Spilt Milk, a company formed by two of her fellow dance graduates.  They produce work which takes a witty, intelligent and sometimes ironic look at social dance.  They have performed in festivals across England and were showcased at the Linbury Studio, the Royal Opera House.  Like all emerging artists, they spend time making applications for public funds – especially from the Arts Council.  And like all emerging artists, they don’t earn much from this work.  So to support herself, Jenna teaches dance at University level.  She has also runs a business which is her passion: weekend dance classes for children and their parents. Jenna wants to do a PhD in inter-generational dance and these classes provide her with the material which will inform her research as well as being a creative outlet and, crucially, an income source.

I met the entrepreneurial Jenna when she came to work with me in the Midlands as we developed a centre to support recent arts graduates establish their own businesses.  We received economic development cash to retain creative graduates in the area, support the development of sustainable businesses, and, through this, create jobs.  We worked with graphic artists, photographers, film-makers, dancers, theatre artists, musicians and web designers Our job was to give them access to advice, mentoring, specialist training, technology and hot desk spaces to allow them to launch their businesses. Or that’s what we said when speaking to people in economic development.  When talking to the Arts Council we spoke about helping artists to create work through providing studio and office space and expert support and guidance from established artists and academics working in their field—as well as providing short courses on things like marketing and finance.  Both these statements meant the same thing.  Jenna and I are bilingual in the language of economic development and art, and for us there was, and is, no tension.

More importantly there was little conflict for the artists with whom we worked and they were happy to accept advice on how to work in a variety of settings if it meant they could make work.  Applying to the Arts Council to do a collaborative project or develop a full-blown show or exhibition, or selling the work to specialist markets— both allowed them to do what they wanted to do.  The desire to make money was secondary in all cases to making work (although some of the web-based companies had half an eye on being the next big thing in social media). However everyone needs to make a living and our role was to help our graduates sustain their practice through accessing commercial and public sector opportunities. Which is precisely what Jenna is doing through her dance classes.

We worked with tiny businesses and fledgling companies so I watched with interest the proposals to establish Creative Scotland out of Scottish Screen and the Scottish Arts Council and make a closer and more explicit link at national level, between work which is supported via arts public funds and work which can be sustained through engaging with the market —sometimes given support from economic development agencies.  However for a variety of reasons the debate in Scotland became sterile and there was a growing mistrust from the artist.   Arts funding equalled good; economic development equalled bad and, worst still commercial equalled selling out.  There was no bilingualism, just babel.

This discontent grew into the rejection of whole the idea of ‘creative industries’. Many a tree has died in critiquing the concept of creative industries- and I too tire of the overblown rhetoric around the concept of creative industries being the saviour of our economy.  But it is foolish to deny the link between of film, broadcasting, publishing, recording, design, games architecture and the rest of the arts sector and build some kind of cordon sanitaire.  Equally it is depressing to promote the notion that if a theatre show makes money in a commercial sense it must be without merit and exploitative of the artist and the art.

Some who reject what they call the ‘ideology’ behind the establishment of Creative Scotland and the term creative industries have their own deeply held ideological position which they will hold fast until we reach the sunny uplands of a new Marxist world.  I however, can’t wait that long.

Another position taken by some is that Creative Scotland should focus on art and the artist, and let another agencies in economic development do the rest.  However, as I have tried to suggest above, it is not always so clear-cut and tidy.  I also think this is a timid position. Surely we want to see leadership from the arts community when it comes to seeing public investment in creative businesses?

The real failure in our approach to the creative industries in Scotland is not that Creative Scotland has funded a cookery programme — that’s bad judgement and rightly pilloried.  No the real failure is that, in common with other industrial and commercial sectors in Scotland, we are brilliant at creating and inventing and terrible at making any money from it.  Thus, we have in our midst, paying taxes and being part of our society, the most successful living writer in the world (J.K. Rowling) but Scotland makes next to nothing out of the ‘exploitation’ of her talent in publishing and film making.  And before anyone tells me that we are too wee to make any impact on the global film industry which is US dominated, I say, Wellington, New Zealand.  And oh if only we could use our fabulous talent in writing, acting, music, design, and technical skills and produce just one TV drama to match that which is coming out of Denmark at the moment!

Not all of this is down to what Creative Scotland supports from its budget — economic development bodies have a role too — but the leadership must come from the arts body, surely.  And in turn its legitimacy will come from the expertise and skills it gains from working with artists whose creative output it supports.   It starts with the art whether we call it a project, business or an industry.

Postscript Spilt Milk is keen to tour to Scotland and especially the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  Follow the link to get hold of them if you can help!


This blog has attracted a few comments on Facebook and Twitter.  I quote them here with my response.

From Robert Dawson Scott on Facebook, two points:

1.    I’m really glad someone has at least come and out argued this case. Like you, Christine, my initial thoughts on the idea of Creative Scotland were not negative; the very fact that government was treating the creative sector as something worth investing in, rather than just a drain on money that could have been spent on schools/hospitals/la la la, seemed to be a positive step. Where it began to unravel, I think, or at least where one of the threads began to work loose, was when it became clear that CS wasn’t going to get any of the resources that, say, Scottish Enterprise, can access to invest in industries. Whether that was the Enterprise network leaning on government to protect their comfy berths for clapped out business men or not we may never know but I shouldn’t wonder. It left CS a bit broken backed from the start; and also made the mash-up of art and commerce more uncomfortable than it needed to be.

Good point – maybe this needs to be re-visited at the very least to make the relationship between Creative Scotland and the enterprise agencies (let’s not forget Highlands and Islands Enterprise) more effective.  There is what is called the Creative Industries Partnership of which Creative Scotland is a member along with Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Funding Council, Skills Development Scotland, Scottish Development International, and Convention of Scottish Local Authorities  (or if you prefer CS, SE HIE, SDS, SDI, COSLA – aka a bad hand at Scrabble). Maybe some clarity is required.

2.    On a smaller point, and you should know better than repeating this, CS has not invested in a cookery programme. It invested in the pitch to get a network programme to Scotland. The cash will be repaid since the pitch was won and the result is about 28 jobs in the TV industry at no cost to anybody (except the licence fee payer). Even cookery programmes need camera people, editors, blah blah. Oddly enough, for all the opprobrium this has attracted, it was actually an example of CS doing something that it was supposed to do. Of course I am an employee of STV so I would say that; but also I am an employee of STV so I do actually know the detail.

I stand corrected and agree I made a cheap dig.  However I do not think this is what CS is supposed to do.  I do not think that its remit should include supporting the core work of a PLC.  I do not think supporting jobs CS’s primary role (although it is always excellent when it does). This perhaps just illustrates how muddled the thinking has been in this area—and I don’t blame STV for trying.

From @johnnygailey on Twitter several tweets and two main points.  I have re-produced the tweets as they appeared but because of the restrictions of Twitter, the points are made in abbreviated form.  I have re-stated what I believe to be the essence of what is being said but happy to correct if I have got it wrong.

1.  it’s not the same thing: one you fund coz it can’t find form in the market, the other you find coz it can, and you expect return

The point is that the creative industries and the arts are not the same thing because you expect a financial return on the former.  I agree with this.  State funding for the arts is indeed about supporting the creation of work which cannot be sustained via the market.  This in itself does not deny the link between the artist/idea and a viable business.  CS has a role in supporting artists directly but it also can, should and does work in other ways to allow the work to be produced and distributed in a way which will make a return.  Whether CS shares in this return depends on what it is.  For example, film funding can be given as ‘an investment’ so the public purse is recompensed if the movie is a hit. But normally the view is that public money is sued to assist the artist – and the work—to reach a wider market and this will in turn help to support future work.  Whether this works as well as it should is a moot point and one I am raising.

2.  The ideology is not to dump ctve ind remit..the ideo is whethr arts should spec. be tied to the Single Overarching Purpose of Govt:”2 focus govt & public services on create a more successful country,with opp fr all of Sctld to flourish,thru increasg sustnble econ growth”

Economic growth is not the only way to ensure a country ‘ flourishes’

Just because there is economic growth, doesn’t mean ALL Scotland is flourishing.

I suggested that the problem with CS is not one of ideology but how the relationship between creative industries and art is managed and developed.  @johnnygailey’s challenge is that the ideological problem is not as I have described but the fact that CS is expected to follow Government policy and in particular the focus on public services being aligned with economic growth. Absolutely fair point. I agree that I have misinterpreted some of what has been said about the underpinning ideology of CS’s remit.

I agree that economic growth is not the only way in which a country flourishes.  I also agree that not all benefit from economic growth. Further, to link the  development of the arts solely to an economic return flies in the face of everything artist stand for – and indeed what we all understand as the role of state funding for the arts.  So far I agree wholeheartedly.

However I think we need to recognise the realpolitik.  The funding is public funding.  Government is responsible for setting the budget and determining how that funding is spent. The current Scottish Government was elected to do just that.  It is not surprising that it expects its public bodies to develop their plans in line with its objectives.  This should not be confused with government interfering with individual funding decisions in terms of what is or is not funded. It is about CS’s plans and priorities.

This is nothing new.  All governments have sought to determine how their money is spent whether directly by them or via another agency.  In reality this works as a continuous dialogue between government and the agency.  I sat around the board room table of the Scottish Arts Council during the last Conservative government in the early 1990s and witnessed the Council managing its relationship with a sometimes hostile—and sometimes not—political reality.  As was said in 1999, the good thing about devolution is that it brings the arts and government closer together and the bad thing about devolution is that it brings arts and government closer together.  For an utterly brilliant and fascinating exploration of all this check out a project led by Susan Galloway at the University of Glasgow, The Scottish Arts Council 1967-2007: arts governance and national identity. A historical analysis of cultural policymaking.

This is neither good nor bad but, like the weather, we have to live with it and how we handle it is part of the democratic process.

From @southfilmfest:  I wonder if JK took HP to Canongate? & no film studio i Scotland, calls for one ignored by Scottish Screen for years.

No idea about whether or not there was an opportunity for Canongate to publish Harry Potter.  It is a remarkable business and has made a great contribution to the cultural as well s economic scene.  I am not an expert int his area but I belive it becomes very hard for small publishers here or elsewhere in the UK to hang on to successful writers as they cannot compete with ‘the big boys’ on advances.

On the issue of film studio, the issue is partly capital investment to create such a facility– which could  attract lottery funding–but also the viability of such a facility.  I realise there is a bit of chicken and egg here but I understand that what is needed is a big commitment from major film and TV companies to make the business plan stand up.

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