How to turn a drama into a crisis: thoughts on the funding announcement from Creative Scotland

On 25th January Creative Scotland (CS) made its long-awaited announcement on funding to its regularly funded organisations. This announcement outlines how organisations across Scotland and in all artforms will be funded over the next three years. It covers £99 million of spend over that period – by far the largest portion of its budget.

The stushie that has followed the announcement – both on Facebook and Twitter, as well as in newspapers and on radio and TV – has been very critical of Creative Scotland over the organisations that have been cut and this and has drowned out the ‘good news’ part of the story. What has happened and, more importantly, what should happen next?

’Twas ever thus

In many respects the outcry is inevitable. You don’t make friends in a tight budget round when you take decisions to cut organisations and allow new ones to come on board. That is your job. I don’t believe that CS should be criticised for making hard decisions and assessing arts organisations, across the board, on the quality of their vision and imagination; their management and governance and ability to deliver; and their strategic place within the arts in Scotland.

For those who have been left out, this is a terrible blow. Knowing their peers are upset for them or that new companies are coming through in their wake does not relieve it. I know from personal experience that this has a real emotional as well as practical impact. So the current outcry about individual companies is to be expected and we all have our views on specific decisions depending on our experience with them or our relationship with their work.

A Cunning Plan?

But it goes beyond the individual decision.   From the moment the decisions started to leak out, I looked for the cunning plan. I am still looking. In the performing arts it appears that there is some kind of attempt to move some non building-based arts organisations off three-year regular funding on to support from a new strategic touring fund. There is a reference to this in the statement issued by CS and I understand it is the basis of conversations with companies. However the criteria, process for application and timing remain unclear and offer little comfort. It beggars belief that having made a three year application in April 2017 you find out in January 2018 that your plans for April 2018 to March 2021 are not being funded and you might be eligible for a new fund with a new process starting in 2019. Makes EU funding look streamlined.

Moreover two key strands of work appear to have been singled out for this treatment: work for and by children and young people and the work of artists with disabilities. In both these areas, Scotland has led the way internationally as well as offering some magical and moving moments at home. This is all happening in a context of CS demanding that the organisations it funds clarify how they tackle EDI – equality, diversity and inclusion. It is not clear from any statements why they have taken this decision but if they are hoping to mainstream these areas of work, then removing funding from organisations that provide leadership in these areas does not make sense. (Incidentally, CS does not capture data on the number of artists with disability who are contracted to work in its funded organisations so there is no way of knowing how successful the EDI policy is).

Winners v Losers

Again inevitably there is some chatter around who has been funded – or more precisely which new organisations. Many have pointed to a number of support or umbrella organisations that have gained three year funding. I can’t comment on many of those, as I have no real knowledge of what exactly they plan to do. As someone who chairs The Touring Network, an organisation that supports volunteer promoters in the Highlands, I cannot subscribe to the view that funding support organisations is all bad. Moreover consider the impact that Playwrights’ Studio Scotland has had on playwriting in Scotland and see what can be achieved by such development organisations. Again this comes back to having a clearly articulated strategy for the support and development of artists and audiences.

What’s the message?

From a situation back in November when we were promised ‘carnage’ by CS, through to the Scottish Government’s budget statement on 14 December which promised good news especially for the revenue funded infrastructure, then a further wait for CS to process this good news only to turn it into a bad news story, it must also seem unfathomable to those watching from outside. If I were the Cabinet Secretary for Finance I would be wondering how could it all have gone so wrong? Derek Mackay is a man who understands the wider role the arts play – beyond the economic – and he delivered.

CS has given no clear rationale for the decisions made on the areas highlighted and this has opened the floodgates to the whole announcement and the good news has been lost. The message is messy and counter productive and ultimately damaging for the whole sector.

What next?

There is no appeal process and it is not possible to reverse the decisions. The only hope for some of those who have been cut is to get funding from the new tranche which has been set aside to address issues from the Review of Touring.  CS has to find a way of getting out of this mess. We await the announcement of the appointment of a new Chair and maybe that will provide the clear thinking needed at the top of the organisation. It might also be a moment in which to review how decisions are made – and communicated.

 

 

 

 

 

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