Beware false prophets

The front-page splash on Saturday’s Herald was about impending cuts to public expenditure and the possible impact this could have on the arts in Scotland. Richard Findlay, Chair of Creative Scotland is raising the alarm and warning the Scottish Government and the arts world about the devastating affect these cut will have. Findlay and Creative Scotland should be congratulated for taking a lead in influencing the government and advocating for the arts.

The justification for arts funding is familiar and in summary is a. the arts don’t cost very much as a proportion of public expenditure; b. the sector employs lots of people for that money; c. their turnover runs to billions; d. the arts are good for our economy.   Given that one of the key priorities of the Scottish Government is economic growth, it is understandable why Creative Scotland is making the economic case.

However I would argue that it is not the arts’ strongest suit. First the numbers are a bit slippery. Findlay asserts that Creative Scotland supports 118 regularly funded organisations (although later in the article this figure becomes 121) and these organisations employ a total of 8,000 people. This averages 68 people per organisation. Even a cursory knowledge of the arts in Scotland suggests this is inflated- presumably by including freelance and contract artists- who are not employees and not on 12 month full time contracts. Perhaps more concerning is the conflation ‘arts and creative industries’- where 71,000 people work and these businesses turnover £5.75 billion. What the article does not say is that the creative industries include areas such as advertising, architecture, computer games, radio and TV, heritage, software/electronic publishing- all of which fall outside Creative Scotland’s remit[1]– indeed most businesses in these areas are not supported by the cultural budget at all. Perhaps it is unfair to be picky about figures quoted in a short article, but if the argument is to be made on numbers the numbers have to be clear and consistent. [2]

Second, while the arts have got a role to play in Scotland’s economy, it is hardly their raison d’être. Their role in tourism and image making is pretty clear – see the Edinburgh festivals — and Ministers regard the arts as being important in supporting Scotland’s image abroad. It is not unusual for the arts to be part of the soft diplomacy of a country, region or city. However outside these areas, arts organisations supported by Creative Scotland do not in and of themselves generate a large economic return. If people of Glasgow, for example, are spending their money in the theatre, they are not spending it in other wealth generating areas.

As we move closer to the big reckoning we are going to hear more of this. If not the case for economic impact, it will be the impact on health and education. Like the economy, the arts have a role to play in those areas too. There are examples of engagement in the arts affecting mood in those suffering from depression, or providing a therapeutic support for those with Alzheimer’s or well-designed hospitals aiding healing process. However there is a lack of robust evidence that the arts are good for your health and well-being. There is also an argument to be made in the role of the arts in schools being stimulation to learning concentration and confidence. But there are other activities and actions that can aid health and well-being or raise educational standards.   The Big Noise in Raploch has had an enormous affect on the youngsters participating in music-making. Elsewhere in Stirling a primary school has used sport and exercise to improve the health as well as the concentration of its pupils. Both these projects are excellent and in their own way support the development of the next generation. The arts do not have the monopoly on good ideas and effective interventions.

So while arts organisations should be demonstrating how they are contributing to local economic development or linking with schools, or working with people with disabilities or combatting isolation of the elderly, or supporting the refugee community as they learn about life in Scotland, the case for arts funding will not be won by claiming that the arts can solve society’s ills nor that they can be instruments in socio-economic development.[3]

So where should the arts be staking their claim? In entertainment, enlightenment and provocation; by exploring ‘who we are and how we carry ourselves’[4]. In 2000, I co-authored an article that examined the place of the arts at the start of devolution. We said about the place of the arts in the pre-devolution era[5]:

‘The impression is that in the dark days of 1980s and 1990s, when the devolution cause was nurtured in Scotland by a growing band of Scottish politicians, community leaders, churchmen and trade unionists, it was Scotland’s cultural community that kept the flame alight and warmed the spirits. It was the poet who articulated our national identity as both nostalgic and radical; it was the film maker who presented Scotland in all its beauty and quirky nature to the wider world; it was the singer who told of Scotland’s industrial devastation at the hands of an uncaring Westminster government; it was the fine artist who made us look at ourselves and our cities in a new ‘cool’ way. In these ways Scotland’s artists defined us for ourselves and re-defined our place in the world as a nation capable of at least being able to run our own domestic affairs.’

If the arts had a role in the 1980s and 1990s in how we saw ourselves, they moved nearer to centre stage last year during the referendum campaign– not only with campaigning, although some did- but in exploring ideas of cultural and civic identity and imagining a better Scotland regardless of the constitutional position.  Artists challenged ideas and images of the place we occupy in the world today. Or, to put it another way:

‘Fostering our sense of belonging by supporting and promoting cultural and creative opportunities, events, festivals and the celebration of key dates in the Scottish calendar.’ -from The Scottish Government’s National Outcomes

After the Charlie Hebdo atrocities, sales of the books of Voltaire, Montesquieu and other authors of the French enlightenment soared, in reaction to an attack on free speech. The recent attacks in Paris have led to another literary phenomenon – this time copies of Paris est une fête have sold out. Known better by its English title, A Moveable Feast, it is a memoir by Hemingway of his time in Paris in the 1920s. It is being read today as an assertion of Parisian identity and French values. The author says in his introduction:

‘If the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as a fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact.’

Surely this is the place of the arts and the role of the artist – to throw a light on ‘the fact’?  It’s not about the economy.


[1] (p24)

[2] Mark Brown wrote a letter to the Cabinet Secretary, Fiona Hyslop criticizing Creative Scotland’s Creative Industries strategy. Re-printed in the Sunday Herald 15 November 2015

[3] This is not just an issue for us in Scotland. Last month I was at a gathering of the European Cultural Parliament where there was a great deal of discussion about the current crisis facing Europe with the arrival of thousands of migrants (this was pre Paris). That was until a Greek delegate pointed out that culture could not prevent the deaths in the Mediterranean and Aegean nor could it solve the problem refugees landing in Lesbos or Lampedusa. There is a humanitarian crisis that demands a humanitarian solution. The arts cannot intervene where we have no real role.

[4] From the speech of the First Minister Donald Dewar MP, MSP at the opening of the Scottish Parliament, 1 July 1999.

[5] Cultural policy and Scotland: a response to the National Cultural Strategy, co-authored with Adrienne Scullion, Scottish Affairs 39 (spring, 2002): 131-48.



Women’s Cultural Heritage Day 19 September

Midi-Minuit du Matrimoine – Women’s Cultural Heritage Marathon

A major event to celebrate the first ever International Women’s Cultural Heritage Day – La journée internationale du matrimoine – is being held
on 19 September 2015 in the Place du Palais-Royal in Paris, from Noon to Midnight, to raise the profile of creative women in the past and their work.

If you would like to contribute to showcasing a female author, composer, singer, choreographer, filmmaker, etc. who is no longer living (through a slam, reading, performance, dance, music, poetry, architecture, drama, visual arts, philosophy), send us your proposal.

Together let’s turn the spotlight on the hidden [female] face of our cultural heritage!

For proposals and all information about the event, contact:

This event is supported by

Mouvement HF for gender equality in the arts and culture, Osez le Féminisme!, Genre et Ville, la CLEF (Coordination française pour le Lobby Européen des Femmes), le LEF (Lobby Européen des Femmes), Le Deuxième Regard, le collectif Georgette Sand, Prenons La Une, les Voix Rebelles, le comité Métallos, La Barbe, le Réseau Féministe Ruptures, la Maison des Femmes de Montreuil, Clasicas Y MODERNAS (Espagne), Projecte Vaca (Espagne), Mujeres en las artes visuales (Espagne) & 50/50 le magazine de l’égalité femmes/hommes, etc.
On Facebook :


Diversity on Boards

Creative Scotland has advertised for board member(s) and a discussion has been taking place on FaceBook about whether or not board members should be paid and how they should be selected.  Several suggestions have been made about how to reform the process.  Here are some thoughts:

What is the problem to which we are seeking a solution? Is it that the board of Creative Scotland (CS) is not diverse enough (helps if you are male, over 50, live in Edinburgh, work in the finance sector, and are a keen attender at arts events during the festival but never actually worked in an arts organisation)? Is it that the barrier to greater engagement by artists and others from the sector is due to lack of remuneration or is it lack of confidence or even lack of experience?

My own view is that the rules/process for appointing board members are already in place to ensure diversity. It’s just that they are not being applied particularly rigorously. Since Nolan (Lord not the sisters), public appointments DO have to go through a process- call it a job application, a tender or even response to a potential commission. It’s all about saying who you are and what you can bring. The problem is that the way in which the rules are applied appears not to be very rigorous. And my suspicion is that in part this comes down to leadership – political leadership even. When it comes to Govt appointments—like the Chair of CS- too often in my view the civil servants encourage the ‘safe option’. On the other hand an overtly political appointment is to be deplored too. Bet there were lots of retiring Tory MPs getting appointed to paid quango chair positions in the last few months. As ever we have a chance for it to be better here. Before our FM went off to win hearts and minds in rUK, she made a very important point about diversity on boards (and I think it is in the SNP manifesto). So maybe some hope as CS follows the political lead.

However this debate started with the advert for board members – not the Chair and but these are also public appointments managed by the civil service.   Is it really the case that artists are not putting themselves forward because they would not be paid? Assuming all reasonable expenses are met – including child care- is attending 6 meetings a year a real issue for practising artists in terms of time? If it is, then yes let’s ask CS to consider setting a ‘loss of earnings’ amount and/or meet actual loss of earnings if they can be demonstrated. Can’t imagine that would break the bank. And in my experience folk who are earning will claim out of pocket expenses but not cheat – and those ‘too-rich-to- work’ will not claim because they see it as part of their civic duty.

Of course being a board member of CS should go beyond this and you should attend events/shows/exhibition locally but again most who work in the arts do this anyway (I assume either comps offered or tickets reimbursed).

The other option is to look and see what other organisation pay their board members but here we are getting in some cases into the several hundred £s a day attendance and to be honest I for one would prefer to see the money go into making work. This is OUR sector and to an extent we should take responsibility for it and work within its limits and capacity. Like academics who do not get any more money for peer reviewing articles or attending long meetings to decide who will get the research money, there is an element of doing it for the good of the sector and the standard of the work (don’t get me wrong, I know academics are paid a salary but this work is over and above teaching, research and admin- and believe me they moan about those areas but rarely about peer-review work).

Is it the case that artists are not applying to be board members? Do they think it is not for the likes of us? Given the current advert is specifically about members with finance experience, I suspect they are right to think that. But more broadly, do they feel they are not sufficiently skilled? Is that down to how the adverts are framed or is is more to do with not wanting to sit through boring meetings? Or, heaven forfend, have they witnessed boards of arts organisations demonstrate a complete lack of diligence and skill, and want to be no part of a board as a result?

So I suppose I am saying if we want more diverse membership on CS board, there needs to be a clear message saying ‘artists welcome’; a reasonable loss of earnings amount offered for freelancers; out of pocket expenses reimbursed. We should encourage this engagement as part of a broader desire to see good decisions and good work. Over an above this, we need to really start taking seriously the role of boards cross all arts organisations. I have seen some shockers – and some good ones- but mainly the former. Good well-functioning boards are good ‘feeding grounds’ for larger bodies like CS- and also good for the sector.


Glasgow’s Shame

I am a volunteer tutor in English for Speakers of other Languages – also known as ESOL- and supported brilliantly by Glasgow ESOL Forum. For the last three months I have been working with a young man who fled here a decade ago from persecution in his own country. Let’s call him Adam. I do not know his full story—it is not my role to uncover uncomfortable truths from his past. We are working on his future. But there is a lot I do know because, well, I can’t avoid it.

At some point after Adam arrived here, he was savagely attacked and sustained multiple injuries. This has resulted in him being seriously visually impaired, with hearing difficulties, has problems with speaking and is confined to a wheelchair. He also suffers from vertigo and, it appears, some brain damage. He is, to all intents and purposes, housebound. The ESOL Forum does not normally support volunteers to go to learners’ homes – too risky. However Adam receives two 2- hour sessions a week of support from the Glasgow Association for Mental Health (GAMH). It is during one of those sessions that I go to his flat and work with him on his English. Without GAMH he would not receive any support at all in English nor in a range of other aspects of his life with which he requires help – from ordering shopping online to help going to the polling station- which he did for the first time on 18 September.

I have just read that Glasgow City Council has voted to slash GAMH’s funding by 40% and I could cry. But this is Adam’s story and not mine.

Uneducated in his country of birth, Adam can speak and understand Farsi, but the only language he can read and write is English. He also lacks numeracy skills. However he is a very intelligent man and someone who wants to learn and is particularly keen to understand the building blocks of the English language through understanding its grammar and also get a grasp of how numbers work. I bought him an abacus and once I showed him how it worked, he exclaimed ‘genius!’. It is a struggle given his complex health problems and his disability but teaching him is not a chore but a joy. He has ambitions to improve his language and numeracy skills to the level where he can study further. He is fascinated by science and medicine- possibly because he has spent quite a lot of time in hospitals with doctors and health workers. He is also a philosopher and an observer of life in his beloved Scotland – even from his wheelchair in his living room. He recently told me:

‘I love to mix with people who are well educated and positive. Before I met the wrong people and I thought all people same. But they are different. Human life is very short and you must live with good people.’

By ‘good people’ he means me and the ESOL Forum, his carers who come in four times a day, his friends from the local church and above all the workers from GAMH who help him navigate through life.

I have no idea what impact this decision will have on Adam but what I am pretty sure about that it is unlikely he will receive the additional hours that his support worker has said he badly needs. Adam I know is not alone in requiring and valuing the support of GAMH. But he is the one I know about and his story is one which should shame anyone who believes that this wonderful charity should be cut.

This is not a decision taken by a UK agency. This is not another heartless squeeze on people with disabilities by Westminster. This is not a Scottish Government decision. This is an attack on the most vulnerable in our city taken by our own city council. These are not Adam’s ‘good people’.

For readers in the rest of the UK

Here is a link to an article I wrote in the run up to the Scottish referendum in September 2014 on the role the arts and artists were playing in the debate.  This article was published in Arts Professional on 17 July 2014.

I was also asked to do a similar piece for Stratagem, a consultancy based in Northern Ireland as part of a wide series of articles on Scotland and the referendum for an audience in Northern Ireland and the Republic.



Women in Theatre Scotland – Where next?

Thanks to all who came along to the Traverse on 26th September to discuss this issue.  As said at the time, the response to the event was overwhelming.  I also want to thank those who could not make it along but who before and after the event made a special effort to talk to me about this is question and express their support for any action.  You are part of this too. Attached are the contributions from the three speakers and notes on the discussion which followed.

The key question now is where next?  A few of us kicked this off, but this does not imply that we have all the answers – nor that this is a centrally run campaign.  Our intention was to raise the issue and see where it took us.  Nevertheless, if there is to be change, it is helpful if there is some kind of coordination and the circulation of this report on proceedings is a contribution towards that.  I am happy to continue to circulate information and provide a space for people to share ideas.

It was sheer serendipity which saw this event followed up by a week of theatre at the Tron under the title ‘Reclaim the F Word’ and many congratulations to Julia Taudevin for putting together a great platform and presenting such an interesting range of work.

Meanwhile there is a Facebook page established by writers – Feminist Scottish Theatres Network –and Nicola McCartney, Chair of the Scottish Society of Playwrights has posted:

The women playwrights have been meeting together for a while to chat about this issue. We have come up with an idea that we try to organise some sort of theatre industry forum event in early December this year to facilitate a discussion on the way forward. Possibly followed by a direct action day around International Women’s day in March. What do you think?

There were several issues that I am happy to coordinate and to take the lead. The issue of data is central to making the case and I will be working with others in lobbying both Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government.  I am also interested in building alliances across artforms- this is not an issue which is just relevant to theatre.  All support on these welcome!

Finally thanks to Equity, Federation of Scottish Theatre, Playwrights’ Studio Scotland,  Scottish Society of Playwrights for supporting the event; to the Traverse for giving the space and to their staff for being so helpful; and to Jon Morgan for taking notes.

Thanks are also due to Max Beckmann from Equity and Blandine Pélissier from H/F Network, France, to Anne Withers Tradeecosse who was on hand to help with translation for Blandine and to Sheena McDonald for her expert chairing.

Christine Hamilton


Women in Theatre Scotland- Where Next? Speakers’ contributions and notes from the discussion

Max Beckmann,  Equality Organiser, Equity

Women in Theatre:  Traverse Theatre 

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you tonight.   I’ve been asked to talk to you about three areas:

  • What Equity does to promote the employment of women in theatre
  • What we are currently focusing on in this work
  • And about how the Public Sector Equality Duty applies to theatre

Before I start, for those of you who don’t know who we are and what we do, Equity is the UK trade union representing 37,000 performers working throughout film, television, theatre, the music industry and the live arts.  Our membership includes actors, dancers, singers, television and radio presenters, models, variety acts, theatre directors, stunt performers and other creative professionals.

Equity’s membership is evenly split between the sexes overall and the leadership of the union includes a female General Secretary, Christine Payne, and two female Vice Presidents, Jean Rogers and Natasha Gerson.  Our work on women’s Equality is also led by our Women’s Committee which is made up of of nine female Equity members who are elected to represent the interests of our female membership.

So, what has Equity done to promote the employment of its female members over recent years?

For a good number of years we concentrated on research to inform our awareness raising and campaigning work.  Our research has involved working with academics and undertaking it ourselves.

And I want to give you a brief overview of these two areas of research:

In the early 1990s Equity’s Women’s Committee worked closely with the academic Dr. Helen Thomas who produced two research reports on the subject of gender, one looking at the position of women in the recorded media and the other the position of women and pay, both in recorded media and the theatre.  Helen found that women:

  • worked less than men across cinema, television, radio commercials and theatre;
  • played fewer different types of roles than men,
  • had shorter careers than men.
  • earned less than men and significantly less than men in TV;

More recently, members of Equity’s Women’s Committee raised the subject of women’s disadvantage at meetings of FIA (the International Federation of Actors) and this resulted in a pan-European Steering Group being set up to look into the subject of women’s equality. Funding was secured from the European Commission to undertake a piece Europe-wide research on the employment situation of women performers, with a specific reference to both aging and to portrayal.  The research was carried out by Dr. Debroah Dean from Warwick University and her key findings were these, in summary:

  • Female performers have shorter careers than men;
  • 26% of men see ageing as an advantage in relation to pay, compared to just 3% of women;
  • 49% of women perceive ageing to be a disadvantage, compared to just 9% of men
  • A greater proportion of women fall into the lowest income groups of performers (38% earning less than £6k compared to 24% of men); and
  • Women represent a small proportion of high earning performers (0.1% earning over £60K compared to 4% of men);

So moving on to look at our own research, in 2011 Equity’s Women’s Committee undertook an audit of roles for women in a selection of subsidised theatres in England based on published cast lists. Of the 36 theatres surveyed only one, the Manchester Royal Exchange, appeared to have employed more female than male performers.  A further five, the Royal Court, Soho Theatre, Bristol Old Vic, Keswick Theatre by the Lake and Northampton Theatre Royal, had cast slightly more men than women.  In the remaining 30 theatres roles for men significantly outweighed those for women.

Because this research had been compiled from published sources only and we couldn’t be certain of its accuracy, we then wrote to all 36 theatres asking them to check the figures and to discuss with Equity the lack of roles for women.  Only eight theatres responded.

We did manage to extract statistics on women’s performer employment from the National Theatre.   Nicholas Hynter explained in his correspondence to us that “Whilst we support the Equity Women’s Committee campaign and endeavour to increase the number of female actors appearing on our stages each year, our casting is inevitably dictated by canon.  But although we can never achieve a gender balance in some areas of the repertoire – Shakespeare being a good example – we do strive to feature work which is more representative.” And he offered up the following figures:

In 2008-2009 the National employed 93 female actors and 185 male actors. For 2009-2010 these figures were 76 female to 152 male actors and for 2010-2011 they were 127 female to 200 male actors.

And last year we undertook some elementary research into the professional acting opportunities for men and women in two producing theatres in Scotland over the last twenty years.  What we have found is that for every five opportunities for men, there are only three opportunities for women.  This is slightly better than the 2:1 ratio in England but what’s alarming from the data we’ve collected is that the situation appears to have been getting worse for women in the two Scottish theatres we looked.  Looking at five sets of data over the twenty year period, 62% of roles went to men and 38% to women.  But if we look at the situation in 2012, 70% of roles went to men and 30% to women in these two theatres.

So, a clear and consistent picture of the disadvantage experienced by women performers has emerged from both the academic research and our own research.  So what then have we done about it?

Well we’ve made sure that over the last few years the subject of women’s employment is rarely out of the press.  Whenever we undertake research we put it in the public domain and generate as much press attention and publicity as possible around it.  Jean and members of our Women’s Committee and leading Equity women including, for example, Harriet Walter, Ann Mitchell and Maggie Steed have all probably lost count of how many interviews they’ve given to the press over the last few years about the lack of work available for women performers and particularly older women performers. And we do feel this is having an impact.  It helps keep the pressure on theatres to deliver change.

We concentrate on making sure that employers and the theatre establishment can’t possibly claim to be ignorant of the fact that the industry is characterized by significant discrimination against women in access to work and we challenge them to do something about it. We make sure that we regularly raise the subject of women’s employment with employers and we ask them questions about their record on gender.  We also draw their attention to the findings of, and the recommendations arising, from the research, such as the Good Practice Handbook put together by FIA.

We keep the subject of women’s equality very much on the agenda by organising meetings of women performers, speaking at conferences and panel debates.

A couple of years ago we organized a petition which called for the equal representation of women in Film and Television drama and we managed to get over 10,000 people to sign it. It was primarily an online petition but Equity members also stood outside of theatres gathering hundreds of signatures from members of the audience and we’ve used this support in our negotiations with employers and in our representations with the politicians.

We have also built solidarity with other trade unions, particularly our sister entertainment unions and we form links with and support the work of organisations such as Sphinx Theatre Company, Women in Film and Television, and organisations that campaign on the subject of women’s portrayal such as the Fawcett Society and UK Feminista.

And when groups of our female members feel particularly aggrieved by the inaction of individual theatres on women’s equality, our members are not afraid to take a more direct action type approach to campaigning, as happened last year in North West London in respect of Hampstead Theatre’s record on roles for women. Hampstead had staged a number of plays which delivered 80% or more roles for men and it then concluded its season with the all-male company Propeller performing Henry V and The Winter’s Tale.  Women performers living near the theatre felt they were being denied the opportunity to work at their local theatre and they made sure that both the local and national press knew about this situation and asked questions of Hampstead about its choice of programming and how it was spending public money.  As a result Hampstead was forced to issue a statement and publish its own statistics on women’s employment on its website.

So moving on to the current focus of our work, it’s very much on the Public Sector Equality Duty and the area of legal compliance.

So what is the Public Sector Equality Duty?  It’s a legal duty set out in the Equality Act 2010, the Equality Act being the law that protects people with, what are called protected characteristics, such as race, sex or disability, from discrimination.  The Equality Duty which is set out in the Equality Act applies to all public authorities and this includes Arts Council England and Creative Scotland.

Amongst other things the Equality Duty sets out that in exercising their functions public authorities must have what’s called ‘due regard’ to the need to:

  • Eliminate discrimination; and
  • Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a relevant protected characteristic and those who do not; such as between men and women

What this means is that both Arts Council England and Creative Scotland must consciously consider how they can eliminate discrimination and advance equality of opportunity between men and women in their decision-making processes, and that includes when they are making decisions about funding processes.  They need to be taking steps to remove or minimize the disadvantage experienced by women in theatre in order to comply with the duty.

The existence of the Equality duty provides us with a legal mechanism to hold Arts Council England and Creative Scotland to account if necessary, in a way that we are unable to do with individual theatres themselves.

We have been using the Equality Duty in our meetings and correspondence with Arts Council England on the subject of gender equality and we have clarified the basis on which we think Arts Council England should be meeting its equality duty in respect of women’s performer employment.

We have made it clear to Arts Council England that we think it’s not enough for it to rely on a policy that seeks to achieve

  • greater diversity of arts engagement;
  • an increase in the numbers of women who sit on boards or in other senior leadership positions in arts organisations; or
  • an increase in the numbers of female staff employed by theatres;

Initiatives to deliver all of these things are obviously incredibly important but we say that Arts Council England also needs to be taking tangible action to address the under-representation of women on our stages.

Arts Council England already considers the potential contribution made by arts organisations to race and disability equality as part of its funding process, so why doesn’t it do this with reference to gender?  Why is no consideration given to advancing gender equality on stage?

Arts Council England already collects large amounts of data from funded organisations about the protected characteristics of the people who run arts organisations or who are employed by them, so why doesn’t it require these organsiations to provide data on those who are actually employed on stage?

We have been calling on the Arts Council England to do this, to monitor on- stage employment by gender and by actor weeks.  Surely organisations in receipt of large sums of public money should be required at the very least to know how many jobs are being created on their stages for both men and for women as a result of the decisions and choices they are making.  Monitoring would expose the imbalance of roles for women and men and focus minds on addressing it.

Our dialogue with Arts Council England on the Equality Duty is continuing and it’s our intention to have a similar conversation with Creative Scotland about its compliance with the Equality Duty. We want to engage in dialogue with Creative Scotland about how it’s using the Equality Duty to address the under-representation of women on Scottish stages.  Here in Scotland public authorities are also under a specific legal duty to equality impact assess their policies and practices.  How is Creative Scotland doing this when it comes to performer employment?

We fully accept that advancing gender equality in the theatre is very different to advancing it in other occupations.  The artistic nature of what theatre does makes it particularly complex but it’s not impossible.

Our message to all those who are engaged in the making of theatre is this, if you are serious about advancing gender equality make a public commitment to it and formulate an action plan on how you will deliver it.  Make yourselves aware of the findings of the research and the recommendations that have come out of it.

  • Get more women onto your boards and into positions of artistic leadership. As Elizabeth Freestone’s research has shown, this does make a difference.
  • Review how your artistic policy impacts on women performers;
  • Invest in new writing and commission more women writers;
  • Employ more female directors;
  • Look at how the Tricycle’s season of plays “Women, Power and Politics” delivered so many roles for women and consider how your programming does this or could do this;
  • Think of innovative ways your theatre can help address the underemployment of women on stage.  This might involve asking Phyllida Lloyd to direct an all-female Julius Caesar, as the Donmar Warehouse as did, or reviving three major female roles from Jacobean drama, as Eric Whyman has chosen to do at the RSC.
  • Make gender the determining factor in some decisions you take;
  • Support Equity’s My Theatre Matters campaign and our fight against the Arts Cuts.  Theatre is the bedrock that supports many female performers throughout their careers, particularly theatre that invests in new writing by female writers.  We need to fight the funding cuts that will hit women performers hard as companies will look to revive old plays and content rather than invest and take risks with new material.
  • And to wind-up, whilst we clearly need to celebrate the fact that more women are breaking through to run our theatres we still need to look at whether or not theatre is a female friendly environment.  We need some in-depth analysis which looks at issues such as recruitment and career development, the working hours that are expected, workplace culture and issues relating to pregnancy, maternity and childcare.  This type of analysis might help us better understand how to really tackle the whole area of women’s equality in theatre going forward.

Max Beckmann

Blandine Pélissier, founding member of the H/F association for gender equality in culture in France 

In France, it all started in 2005 when the then Minister of culture got concerned by the fact that he seemed to be surrounded by men only in meetings regarding arts. He commissioned Reine Prat, a high civil servant, to do a qualitative and quantitative research on gender equality in the performing arts. The first report was issued in July 2006 and made the headlines of journal Le Monde. It felt like a bomb going off in the art world where it is hugely taken for granted that it is avant-garde and progressive, as it clearly showed a massive gender imbalance regarding top positions as well as programming or production means.

Some key figures from this report :

18% of the top managers in cultural administration were women (less than in the Army)
4% of directors of Opera houses were women
9% of directors managing CDN (National Theatre Centers) were women
0% of directors leading the five National Theatres were women
30% of directors leading CCN (National Choreographic Centers) were women

This under-representation has a direct impact on employment, especially for female writers, stage directors and conductors.

15% of shows performed on stage are written by women
25% of shows are directed by women
5% of concerts are conducted by women
13% of technicians are women

Despite Reine Prat’s report, nothing was done on a political level, except quickly appointing 2 women at the head of Comédie Française and another of the 5 National Theatre..A second report confirming the findings of the first one was issued in 2009. But Nicolas Sarkozy had been elected in the meantime and gender equality in the arts was the least of his concerns. The report was put in a drawer and not even published.

Meanwhile, a group of people from the performing arts, mostly women but not only, got together in Lyon in 2008 : they aimed to raise awareness of these reports so the relevant authorities could not ignore them. They started off by organizing events just like this one. Women who attended realized that their relative lack of success, compared to their male peers, could not just be attributed to their lack of talent but that there was something else going on. It was a comfort… or not, depending how you look at it! They were clearly not being given the same chances. This explains why, even with a majority of female students in art classes, we see them “evaporate” as soon as they come out of school. Besides, we find the same glass ceiling effect that is vastly documented in the corporate world.

From then on, the HF movement spread region by region. It is now established in 14 of 22 of  the regions in Metropolitan France. It is currently structured as an inter-regional Federation and it has a strong lobbying impact. It has been working hand in hand with the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of the Women’s Rights that president François Hollande re-established after years of non-existence.

Until recently, the public bodies responsible for appointing theatre directors insisted that there were not enough women to choose from. By refusing to question the reasons for such limited female options, they actually played a part in perpetuating this state of affairs.

In May 2012, new President François Hollande formed a government with as many women than men and repeatedly stated his commitment to achieving equality within the lifetime of his presidency. We, at H/F, believe that rules regarding equality in politics must also apply to the arts. Hence our insistence that measures should be taken as soon as possible in order to encourage the appointment of women to top positions in the arts.

A few of our actions :

–       We have been organizing debates in our own regions but also during  the Avignon festival, the major theatre festival in France

–       We participate in a number of forums, symposiums etc. whenever we are invited

–       We lobby and are in touch with other feminists associations (amongst them the feminist activist group La Barbe who initiated actions for example during Festival de Cannes 2012 and at the presentation of season of Théâtre de l’Odeon in 2012 (0% of female playwrights and directors): )

–       We sit down at the table with professional bodies like the SACD (Authors Society), CNT (Centre National du Théâtre), unions, ministries and local authorities, asking for data and studies. For example we have been working with the SACD since the beginning and for the second year, we co-produce this brochure called “Où sont les femmes?” (Where are the Women?) to highlight the percentage of women playwrights, directors, choreographers and so on in the main subsidized institutions ( ).

–       We gather our own data and studies to establish a resource center

–       We use communication tools (like videos or sound objects, fb pages, twitter and a tumblr – )

–       We develop partnerships with universities holding a gender studies department

–       We encourage theatres to join the Saisons Egalité. HF gets things moving on a local scale by inviting theatres to commit  to a policy of gender equality  both in terms of programming and of producing, and in their governance (with equal pay for ex and a greater gender mix within the teams). Those theatres also commit to “spreading the word” in their season‘s brochure.

We also wrote down a Manifesto calling upon public bodies to promote equality in the following ways:

– re-instigating the collection of statistics regarding gender inequalities

– promoting female/male equality in all official communications and policies

– enforcing existing laws on professional equality

– promoting the use of anonymity of applications whenever it is possible. For ex, it’s the use of screened-off auditions for recruiting orchestra musicians which has helped women join orchestras

– making symbolic gestures like the admission of women in the Pantheon. The Pantheon is the monument where Great Men who served France in different ways are buried; it currently houses only two women, Marie Curie and another woman who is only there because she was such a good wife she must be buried next to her husband!

In short, we demand the implementation of a voluntary policy in order to drastically reduce the gender imbalance in every field, as recommended by the European Parliament resolution of 10 March 2009 on equality of treatment and access for men and women in the performing arts.

We have had a few successes so far.

A “gender equality research institute” was set up within the Ministry of Culture to collect data  (for ex, we are expecting a study on the movie and tv business in November).

A high civil servant has been appointed specifically to be in charge of gender matters at the Ministry of Culture.

Short lists for top positions as head of theatres or operas or choreographic centers are now shorter, and composed of 2 males and 2 females.

A law on women’s rights is currently being discussed in which there was originally nothing regarding the arts. With the help of the Senate delegation for women’s rights, we had the Senate vote an amendment to include artistic and intellectual production in the law.  It was of great symbolic importance to us that the word “Culture” be spelt out in this law.

To conclude, I would like to say that the distribution of public money must embrace all audiences. Artistic projects should be many and broad. A biased cultural output can only produce a narrow-minded and unbalanced society.

Blandine Pélissier

Christine Hamilton, Consultant

What’s the problem?

In May I was invited to speak at a conference in Lyon organised by Blandine Pellisier and her colleagues in the H/F network. For this, I went back through my personal archive and found material/research prepared over the past four decades- mainly, but not exclusively, in theatre and performing arts:

  • In the 1980s— I was involved in campaigns on women in the arts.  This work originated from the Labour Party and the publication in 1987 Missing Culture.  I was working with the trades unions in Scotland at the time and organised a campaign and a conference on this in 1989. Our concern then was that the exclusion of women was not simply an issue of jobs but also affected the very roots of our culture.
  • In the 1990s I was working at the Scottish Arts Council.  We introduced a policy that all organisations that received public funding, monitored their activity and produced figures on equal opportunities.  In 1996 we analysed these figures in a major review which highlighted continuing inequalities facing women in positions of influence and power across the arts. This led to the development of policies in that area.
  • In the first decade of the new millennium, I undertook a review of training in theatre directing in Scotland where I observed that it appeared that you had to be a man to run a theatre in Scotland. Part of the recommendations on training was to create a greater diversity in leadership.
  • More recently, I led the theatre review for Creative Scotland, We uncovered the absence of monitoring of equal opportunities policies within the theatres which received public funding.   Nearly 50% of those surveyed did not bother to monitor. Creative Scotland itself took no steps to gather data nor monitor the application of these policies.  This means that there are no current data available on the number of plays by women which are produced, nor on job opportunities for women directors and designers in theatre in Scotland.  This takes us back before 1990s.

So the title for my talk in Lyon was, not surprisingly, ‘Feminism is like housework you have to re-visit it every ten years’[1].   And I am pleased to say there is a similar phrase in French. Which appeared in the publication Causette in 2010:  «Le féminisme, c’est comme le ménage, si on ne s’y colle pas régulièrement, on finit par s’habituer à la crasse. »  ‘Feminism is like housework: if you don’t get down to it regularly, you end up getting used to the dirt.’

For today’s event, I could be reading a paper I prepared at the end of the 1980s and apart from updating the statistics slightly and making some of the references more contemporary, nothing has changed. The conclusions are just the same.

However I had a look behind the data to see if there were any shifts in what is happening, any victories won, and clues about how we might continue to tackle this issue.

To find the most detailed recent research in Scotland we need to turn to work done by Stellar Quines, which commissioned research comparing the position of directors, writers, actors, designers and composers in theatre when they were founded in 1993 with the situation in 2009.

Key findings are:

  • The gender balance in a typical theatre season was more female in 2009 than 1993 but in no one category were women represented at a level of 50% or more.  Indeed in only one category (actors) was women’s representation above one third.
  • In general comparable data from UK, European and international sources showed an increase in women represented in theatre across a range of artistic roles.  However the trend in Scotland was slow in comparison and there was evidence that women got more opportunities in the less well funded companies.
  • Governance—the boards of theatres are mainly male.
  • Non- white and women with disabilities struggle with the complexity of their identity and appear to suffer from multiple discrimination. (And I might add —  the identity issue is further complicated in Scotland by a debate around the desirability –or otherwise—of having Scots leading key cultural institutions- however we define that.)

There are other arguments which echo down the decades:

  • The position of women in the arts reflects what is happening elsewhere—for example still in the academic world and in business there are too few women leaders.   I want to return to this broader question later.
  • There is the problem of ‘the canon’– a particular issue in England.  Shakespeare dominates theatre in England. An interesting fact – he created 981 characters of which 826 are male and only 155 female. I love the US initiative ‘On her Shoulders’ which aims to ‘re-load the canon’–  and address this issue of lack of historical examples of women playwrights ‘by familiarizing potential producers and audiences with a neglected legacy of plays– not by women playwrights– but by great playwrights’.
  • In Scotland we have a different issue.  Interestingly there is much less in the way of the established ‘canon’ of work and indeed in an analysis of repertoire over the decades we showed in the review of theatre that new work – and new work created or written in Scotland, is central to theatrical output.  So if women playwrights are not getting their work produced then it is because they are being offered fewer opportunities. But, as I said already, there is a lack of data.
  • There is also the ‘female phenomenon’ –where women are in positions of power, they stand out and everyone thinks the problem is solved.  For example in Scotland we might point to Vicky Featherstone’s tenure as Artistic Director of the National Theatre of Scotland. In response to the information which has gone out on this event, I was contacted by Andy Arnold artistic director of the Tron Theatre who wrote in an email to me which he invited me to share:

‘Of the seven main building based Scottish theatres, four are run by women ­ Rachel (O’Riordan) at Perth Theatre , Orla (O’Loughlin) and Linda (Crooks) at the Traverse Theatre, Jackie (Wylie) at The Arches , and Jemima (Levick) (with Phillip Howard) at Dundee Rep.[2] That just leaves CitzLyceum and The Tron run by men (I currently have Julia Taudevin as Artistic Associate).  The National Theatre of Scotland has been run for the past several years by Vicky (Featherstone), and various leading touring companies are run or co-run by women ­ Vox MotusGrid Iron , Company ChordeliaCora Bisset’s company, Cat Evans’s A Moment’s PeacePoor Boy and more….’

This is both true and great progress. Lack of data means we cannot tell if this is a trend which is sustainable or a blip but Andy does have a good point.  One of the questions it raises with me is ‘Is theatre trail blazing on this issue? (one might say theatre and dance) if so why?

It certainly is not the case that major shifts are happening in music. We only have to point to Marin Alsop’s reaction to being selected to be the first woman to conduct the last night of the Proms.  She expressed

‘shock that there can still be firsts for women in 2013.’

Furthermore, Vicky Featherstone as you know has left to take over the Royal Court in London and has been replaced by a man.  This means not one of Scotland’s national cultural institutions is artistically led by a women- including orchestra, opera, ballet, theatre, the national museums and galleries, the national library of Scotland and the Edinburgh International Festival.

What Has To Be Done?

  • We need the data: Creative Scotland in their Equalities Impact Statement has indicated that they are collecting data from this current year. This means that it will be several years before we see any kind of pattern.  We need to get them to act now to go back and do some retrospective data gathering.  We also need to challenge their Equalities Impact Statement which they have a statutory obligation to produce.  It is not good on gender and has all the hallmarks of a box ticking exercise.
  • We need action: Julia Taudevin is curating an exciting week next week at the Tron theatre under the title Reclaim the F Word which features work of women of all ages and stages in their performance and writing career.  Let’s have more of that and where the door is open or at least ajar, let’s get in there.  A Play, A Pie and A Pint, The Arches, here at the Traverse and so on.
  • We need to re-frame the question: The female condition is not the same as the issues facing, for example, non-white artists and audiences in Scotland.   Nor is it the same challenge as working with artists with disabilities or even gay artists.  Robert Softley If these spasms could speak which is touring at the moment, is a brilliant piece of political theatre which has come from the experience of a young gay disabled man- and activist.  And it speaks to a wide audience and should be recognised as such. But it does not ‘represent’ every aspect of discrimination. So while the data gathering might all be wrapped up together for convenience sake, let’s ditch the term diversity and re-cover feminism.  We are not a minority to be catered for, we are the majority who wants to claim its place.
  • We need to critique: I understand the reluctance of many in the arts community to be critical of those who might give them work—but we need ways of feeding back concern on this issue.   It is a really fine balance to be struck between artistic freedom and narrow programming. A play like Black Watch with an all male cast is as important as The Guid Sisters with an all female one. And I am not suggesting we deny one over the other. However I am unashamed about speaking to the Artistic Director at the Citizens’ about his autumn’s season of all male work- and the same could be said about the autumn season at the Lyceum. So much of this is about awareness and we need to keep raising the issue.
  • We need to be inspired by good examples: Creative Scotland has an organisational change programme on equalities happening in six organisations across Scotland- it will be interesting to see what comes from this but embedding equality in an organisation should feminise it not just diversify it.
  • We need to be clear about why this matters: It may seem very far away literally and metaphorically, but the rape and murder of women in India, the shooting of girls in Pakistan because they want to go to school, the restriction of women’s rights in Saudi, the grooming of young girls in Rochdale, Oxford and Northern Ireland, the disproportionate effect of the UK government’s welfare reforms on women, the tension for young women between being obedient daughters and fulfilled adults in Muslim households- which so parallel the experience of many Catholic women of my generation—all these are in our world today.   Of course no one is suggesting that a problem with roles for actors or commissions for playwrights is as dangerous as a girl going to school in parts of Pakistan, but surely it is the artist’s role to witness and reflect, examine and explain. That reflection needs to be a female one as well as a male one.
  • We need to organize: This is not a situation unique in Scotland and while the starting point today is theatre, we know this extends to other areas of the arts and we need to work across the whole spectrum. My email address is on business cards- send me yours, and let’s get moving.

Christine Hamilton

Notes of discussion session at Women in Theatre event on 26 September 2013 at the Traverse Theatre

Please note – these notes represent a reasonably ‘verbatim’ transcript of the main points made by each speaker (separated by ***).  I have not attempted to summarise or draw together common themes. The speakers are unnamed, except for where one of the 3 panel speakers (Maxine, Blandine and Christine) responded to a question or made a point further to their original presentation.


Theatre is old fashioned in its format and hierarchical (male) structure.  We need not to copy male structures.  The Magdalene Project in Wales presents such an alternative model.

There is a distinction between ‘women in theatre’ and women’s theatre’.


People hide behind Shakespeare.  Male parts can be played by women – gender blind casting. Can be done creatively.


Why is gender blind casting so often in favour of men?  E.g. Macbeth production with 3 male witches or all-male Midsummer Night’s Dream.

There is evidence that women did perform in productions in Shakespeare’s time – e.g. Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estates.

Shakespeare should not be an excuse for not casting more women.


Women’s writing is often defined as ‘about women’ whereas men’s writing is considered ‘universal’.  Theatre can challenge mainstream culture and redefine what might be determined interesting and universal, beyond the predominant white, male narrative.


There is a growing trend in Scottish theatre (borrowing from European/German/Polish culture) of questioning realism e.g. Lyric Hammersmith ‘Secret Theatre’ season, where for instance they have cast young British black women in classic theatre roles.


Many male writers in Scotland have created great roles for women.  But women writers struggle to get plays produced.

There have been some good examples of positive discrimination e.g. Traverse Theatre’s women’s writers group which supported the early careers of writers such as Zinnie Harris and Nicola McCartney.

There a more women writers than before in Scotland, but the work is not getting staged as frequently.  But this may be part of a larger problem of fewer plays getting staged as other forms of creating theatre are becoming more popular.


There are often more opportunities for women with smaller theatre companies, including women’s theatre companies.  However, it is very hard to sustain a career based on the usually low wages these companies can offer.

No wonder we can’t break the glass ceiling when we can’t even afford a ladder.



Low wages are an issue.  Equity is pushing for National Minimum Wage to be adopted by all companies.

Changes to welfare (Universal Credit) are likely to affect female actors in particular.

Also as freelancers, actors only ever get Statutory Maternity Pay [£136.78 per week].


It is an issue that pay in theatre in general is low, but with women having fewer opportunities overall, it is particularly so for women practitioners.


Do successful women do enough to support and promote other women?


In Scotland, leading women in theatre do support other women practitioners.

Another barrier for women who work freelance in theatre is that they cannot afford childcare costs.



There is a great age-range of people present tonight.  The event seems to have struck a chord and could be the start of a network.



Networking is very important.  Men do it all the time and women don’t always do this so readily.


We seem to be more accepting of the status quo and to have lost the pain and the anger of the feminist movement exemplified by theatre companies such as Sphinx.  We need to retain feminism.


The way we make theatre is as important as the ‘product’.  Community, support and dialogue are female values which are more important than product which is a male / capitalist concept.


It is about business and production models.  We have made the economic and moral case, let’s make the creative case.


We share the same issue in film.  The Writer’s Guild Film Committee (and no doubt the Theatre Committee) would be keen to take this on and get involved.


We cannot look at the situation of women in theatre without looking at the whole spectrum of protected characteristics and the intersection of these.


60% of people attending theatre are women, so there is a commercial imperative to address this issue.


The panel were asked what they thought needed to happen next:


Set up a network by sharing all our email addresses

Write up and share the notes of the meeting

Lobby Creative Scotland about collating and disseminating retrospective data

Raise the issues with people who run our arts companies


It is important to reclaim our female heritage.  In France they have coined the term ‘matrimoine’ [in French ‘patrimoine’ means ‘heritage’ and derives from the Latin ‘pater’ or father].  It is important that we research and rediscover great women who have preceded us.  Otherwise, women will always feel as though they are starting from scratch. There is a history or herstory of women’s heritage to be found.


Data is important.

ACE and Creative Scotland need to enforce data collection and proper action plans by funded organisations.

[1] I think (and so do others) that this is Liz Lochhead’s quote, but have not been able to confirm this.

[2] You could also add Fleur Darkin, Scottish Dance Theatre at Dundee Rep


Flagging national flagship: the role of the politician

On the face of it, there is little connection between the Théâtre National de Nice and Scottish Opera but while their raison d’etre and repertoire may diverge (as the French might say), there are interesting parallels in current stooshies which are affecting both.

First, Scottish Opera which has been plunged into crisis by the swift departure of its Musical Director Emmanuel Joel-Hornak after only 58 days.  It is supposed this came about when Joel-Hornak discovered he did not enjoy the artistic freedom he assumed was due to a musical director of an opera company and found himself restricted by a powerful general manager.  I say ‘supposed’ because there has been a refusal from Joel-Hornak and Scottish Opera to make any comment beyond the announcement. Considering the level of public money that is given to the company every year, this silence has raised eyebrows.

Whatever the problem, what is not in doubt is that both the board of Scottish Opera and crucially the Scottish Government has responsibility to sort this out.  As an organisation directly funded by the Government the Cabinet Secretary has to take this one on herself.  This is not, as a Scottish Government spokesperson claimed,  ‘operational matters for Scottish Opera.’ The cancellation through illness of an appearance of a soloist is an operational matter.  The resignation of the musical director because of artistic differences, is an artistic crisis.

So where does the link come with the Théâtre National de Nice?  The French Ministry of Culture recently agreed a new set of regulations for those running national institutions (of which this theatre is one).  In essence, no one is permitted to do more than three terms of office as artistic leader of these institutions.  Interesting idea that presumably has been introduced to ensure regular refreshing of the artistic approach and has the effect of allowing younger, different leadership.  Whatever the motivation, the fact is that Daniel Benoin at Nice has been in charge for four terms (twelve years) and it is time to move on.  However he has a powerful ally in the Mayor of Nice who has been involved in a stand off (describe in the French press as ‘arm-wrestling’) with the Ministry of Culture insisting that Benoin continue and rejecting any suggestion that a new director be appointed.

This resulted in a letter being sent from Aurelie Filippetti, Minster of Culture that stated her case in no uncertain terms.  For those who read French, I re-produce in the original.  It’s a corker:

Dans l’éventualité où vous confirmeriez votre souhait de ne pas respecter les règles propres aux centres dramatiques nationaux, je vous informe que je serai amenée à étudier concrètement la possibilité de retirer le label de Centre Dramatique National au Théâtre National de Nice, et, de procéder au désengagement financier de l’État.

In essence:  follow the rules or I will strip from you the title of a national centre and I will cut your state money.

So what’s the parallel with Scottish Opera?  It is this:  the Scottish Government, and specifically the Cabinet Secretary has the power and the responsibility to intervene.  For the most part, direct state funding of the national companies, galleries and museums brings with it positive headlines and a warm glow to Ministers.  This is the other side – the crisis when political leadership is necessary.  There is no shortage of advice around (and some very good historical material: Scottish Opera has been the subject of consultancies and reports every few years over the last few decades) but whatever is decided, there has to be some evidence that the Government, working with the board, is getting to grips with the problems that currently beset the company.

And a final word on Nice.  The new artistic director, due to take over 1 January 2014, is the French-born British actor and director, Irina Brook, who, incidentally fulfils another of Filipetti’s commitments – to increase the number of women in charge of French cultural institutions.



WARNING: Research can be bad for your health

I want to draw your attention to a new piece of research commissioned by the Scottish government which offers definitive evidence for the first time that cultural engagement is having a positive impact on the nation’s health and life satisfaction.  Janet Archer, CEO, Creative Scotland, in an address to FST/ITC Reception, 20 August 2013, Edinburgh.

I was there, unhealthily sipping my wine, when I heard Janet Archer mention this new piece research in her speech and immediately my interest was piqued.   When I was Director Centre for Cultural Policy Research (CCPR), at the University of Glasgow, we were commissioned by the (then) Scottish Executive to find the evidence of the link between arts and sports participation and quality of life and well-being.  From this we were asked to develop indicators which could be used to evaluate the effectiveness of a culture or sport intervention. Susan Galloway at CCPR reviewed the extensive literature on well-being and quality of life and we worked with Professor David Bell, an economist from Stirling University who examined the economic literature on subjective well-being.

Quality of Life and Well-being: Measuring the Benefits of Culture and Sport: Literature Review and Think-piece was published by the Scottish Executive in 2006.   In this we concluded:

‘The central issue for cultural social impact research remains the lack of both empirical evidence, and the lack of a theoretical basis with which to support the claims about the impact of cultural participation.’ (p.42)

In summary, we found that there is no evidence of a link between participation in the arts and sport and quality of life and well-being.  This does not mean that there is not one, but there is no evidence.  Moreover there are challenges in researching this area –mainly around issues of definition. What exactly is quality of life and well-being?  We concluded:

‘What this review tells us, however, is that, in the wider policy literature relating to quality of life and well-being, there is no clear definition of terms and that, the absence of such, leads to a lack of clarity in the policy focus. This, in turn, leads to a ‘back to front’ approach to enhancing quality of life and well-being in communities and for individuals: what can be measured is measured, and what is measured drives the policy. The development of new ways of measuring tends to focus on the quantitative with qualitative measures focusing on satisfaction surveys. Anything even attempting a comprehensive approach to measuring the impact on quality of life can lead to unwieldy data sets. ‘(p. 145)

This is a chunky piece of research and my summary does not do it full justice but essentially it flagged up for researchers and policy makers questions which need to be addressed when looking at the relationship between arts and sport and quality of life and well-being.  So when I heard about this new research I was intrigued to find out how they had tackled the problem of definition, methodological questions around qualitative and quantitative approaches, the issue of large datasets and what evidence was being presented.

This new piece of research, published by the Scottish Government, Healthy Attendance? The Impact of Cultural Engagement and Sports Participation on Health and Satisfaction with Life in Scotland uses the Scottish Household Survey as its data source.  Since 2009 this survey has contained questions on cultural and sports participation and on life satisfaction and self-assessed health.  The researchers analysed data from both of these to reach the conclusion that,  ‘those who participate in culture and sport or attend cultural places or events are more likely to report that their health is good and they are satisfied with their life than those who do not participate.’ (p. 5)

In our research in 2006 we said something similar:

‘In as much as culture and sport is seen to have a role in enhancing quality of life […] it appears consistently […] as one of the indicators and descriptors used in domains encompassing subjective well-being, expressed as satisfaction with life as a whole, and social inclusion/social well-being/social relationships.’  (p.137)

So in the area of ‘subjective well-being’ we too found a link. We go on:

‘This is perhaps not unexpected as it is often assumed that participation in culture and sport has a positive impact on aspects of quality of life as it relates to social inclusion. The academic literature suggests, at best, an association rather than a causal link between these. ‘(my italics) (p. 155)  And finally we are more blunt, ‘While the evidence suggests an association between cultural and sports participation and an improved quality of life, there is no evidence of a causal relationship between the two.’ (p. 155)

But then neither does this latest research claim cultural participation or attendance is the cause of good health.  Specifically they state: ‘Being cross-sectional, this study cannot determine causal relationships.’ (p. 17).  Throughout the researchers are careful to point to an association between participation and attendance in culture and sport- not that one leads to another.

What does this mean?

First, this is not the ‘definitive evidence’ policy-makers claim. We might look for associations between other activity and health benefits – for example being part of a religious group, being a volunteer in a hospital or working with refugees, having an allotment – and a myriad of other activities which are part of our social capital. Making a claim for a casual link between the health of our nation and engagement in culture is, frankly, spin.  Echoing this point, Tiffany Jenkins in the Scotsman pointed out that some art might have the opposite effect and ‘culture was not the solution to our health problems’.

And surely we have moved beyond this attempt to account for cultural spend because of non-cultural outcomes?  After all what was the Talbot Rice Gallery speech by Fiona Hyslop all about if it wasn’t underlining the importance of the arts and heritage to ‘our heart, our soul, our essence’?

But the real lesson from this research is to be found there in the Introduction:

‘Sports participation and cultural engagement levels are highest in the highest household income groups in Scotland and decline to be lowest in the lowest household income groups. Similarly, adult participation in cultural and sporting activities varies by area deprivation, with participation increasing as area deprivation decreases.’ (p. 7)

What that tells us is that not only does high deprivation bring with it poor health (which we already know from epidemiological studies in Scotland), but it also brings a reduced participation in arts and sport.  Surely this is all the evidence we need to know that more work has to be done to bridge the gap between those who have all and those who have none?  Let’s move away from making exaggerated claims for the benefit of cultural participation and attendance and focus on what really matters – creating greater access to all for all.






Stands Scotland where it did? : Work in progress

Paper presented at the Theatre and Performance Research Association (TaPRA) conference at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow on 4 September 2013, with fine assistance from actor Stuart Hepburn1.

If Scotland had a Facebook profile then its relationship status would be ‘it’s complicated’.

First there is our relationship with England and our role within the UK:  when it suits, you can hear the girning and moaning about being oppressed while our history shows us to have been a willing partner in imperial ventures; or what about Scotland’s role in the recent financial crisis when the banks which bore its name nearly brought the economic systems crashing? Then there are our close ties in family, language and culture while constantly banging on about being different.

Scotland also has a complicated relationship with the rest of the world – striving to be a kind of celtic Borgen with a modest yet influential role while all the time basking in the glory of being part of one of the world’s most powerful nations; presenting a profile which is modern, enlightened, inventive, a land of discovery –while marching along 6th Avenue once a year in tartan hoping to attract those tourist dollars to the shores.

But Scotland’s most tricky relationship is with itself.

There are many examples of Scottish art which have dealt with the binary nature of Scottish identity – the rural v urban, Highlander v Lowlander, Jacobite v Hanovarian, poor v rich, newcomer v native, catholic v protestant, romantic v rationalist, enlightenment v fundamentalism but I have chosen a piece of 19th century fiction and a piece of theatre it inspired to illustrate the artist’s response to Scotland and to its split personality.

It is possible that even in this well read audience many of you will not have read nor even heard of James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Or to give it its full title: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner: Written by Himself: With a detail of curious traditionary facts and other evidence by the editor.  Unlike the great classic Scottish novelists Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, Hogg and his work are relatively unknown.  A contemporary of Scott, he too lived in the Scottish Borders where he worked as a shepherd, educated himself and went on to write both poetry and novels.

Published anonymously in 1824, Confessions was presented as if it were a found document dating from early in the previous century.   It is offered to the public with a long introduction by its unnamed editor. It purports to be the memoirs of Robert Wringhim from the Scottish Borders, who falls under the influence of a stranger Gil-Martin. Wringham believes in predestination– a Calvinist doctrine in which a place in heaven is secured regardless of actions in life.  He commits several crimes including the murder of his brother, and descends into madness but not before confessing all in the document that is ‘discovered’ after his death.

The central part of the book is the confession preceded by a long introduction by the editor and the story of Wringham’s decline and fall is in effect, told twice in sometimes contradictory terms. The final section is an explanation by the editor of how the confession was discovered. Throughout the book, Gil- Martin, the stranger, exerts greater and greater influence over Wringham and appears to be able to change shape and identity.  It is left to the reader to decide whether Gil-Martin is the devil, a figment of the protagonist’s imagination or in fact a representation of his spilt personality.

It is part-psychological thriller, part-crime novel, set in Scotland with accurate geographical references but at the same time inhabits a gothic world of horror and fantasy. It deals with madness, the supernatural and religious intolerance and is considered to be the inspiration for Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

The principal actions of the novel take place, as I said, in the very early 18th century around the time of the Union in 1707.  It can be read as a metaphor for Scotland itself and its struggle to resolve the schism in its own identity.  Perhaps it is for this reason it has provided the basis for film, opera and theatre adaptations—few which have been realised and of those, not all successful.

Earlier this year, Untitled Projects, in collaboration with the National Theatre of Scotland, undertook the task of meticulously re-creating an earlier attempt at staging the work by the late Paul Bright, a theatre-maker working here at the end of the 20th century and who died in Paris in his 40s.  Under the title Paul Bright’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner, this production takes the form of a carefully researched and re-created archive, and an illustrated talk by the actor George Anton, one of Bright’s collaborators, with archive footage and contemporary filmed interviews with people who knew or worked with Bright— Tim Crouch, Annie Griffen, Giles Havergal, Katie Mitchell, Alison Peebles and Di Robson.

It tells the story of Bright’s attempts to stage the work in various site specific and theatre settings including an episode on Arthur’s seat in Edinburgh and Traquair House in the Scottish Borders as well as a disastrous production at the Edinburgh International Festival.

The critical response to this re-creation was overwhelmingly positive:  beautifully written by Pamela Carter, exquisitely realised by Stewart Laing, and passionately performed by George Anton.  However what did concern some of the critics was the idea that they were part of a hoax – a new take on the unreliable narrator. It was not what it seemed and did it, in the end, cheat?   For Paul Bright never existed.

The production is an exploration of the complexities of the split personality presented in extreme terms. And above all it is the way the artist lies to get at the truth.

To quote George Anton in the play:

‘I knew I wanted to be an actor from about the age of eight. I remember it very clearly … watching a film with my dad… a Truffaut film … ‘the 400 blows’. I remember very clearly watching this scene where this boy was lying to a person in authority … and I had this sort of revelation … this kid’s lying and getting away with it … I get it, he’s acting, that’s what acting is … lying and getting away with it. Imagine being able to do that for a job?’

And here he is quoting Paul Bright:

‘what is the artist if not a shaman … a seer … how else will I alter states if I can’t alter my own state and release what is buried within me … the real, the truth’.

As Scotland again faces up to an uncertain constitutional future which turns a spotlight on its inherent contradictions, here is one response to the current debate on independence and cultural identity – a play about a play that never existed based on a discovered and edited narrative which purports to be a true story, and which was itself a hoax.

Paul Bright’s Confessions is also about how theatre is made and how it works. Specifically how it can destroy those who believe in their own genius and indestructability.  It is, to quote the brief for this talk, ‘the re-creating of mental and imaginary landscapes of theatre and performance-making’.  But it is also about how theatre was made in the 1980s and exposes the differences between the pre and post devolution theatre in Scotland.

Katie Mitchell, English theatre director, in the interview for Paul Bright’s Confessions says:

‘It was difficult in the late ‘80s starting out as a director … it was the latter stages of Thatcher’s regime and we all felt very much on the outside and at that time the mainstream was pitted against the fringe. I think we all felt that maybe at that time there was a possibility to make a change to create a different mainstream culture. I think we thought that was a fight we hoped to win, but most of my generation didn’t get near to fighting that fight and definitely we lost.’

Wow, ‘we lost’.  Just to be absolutely clear this quote from Mitchell is in the context of a piece of fiction but this position is echoed by others working in English theatre.

Mark Ravenhill in the inaugural speech for the Edinburgh Fringe last month asserts that artists in general and theatre in particular, bought into the Blair agenda of the late 1990s and early 21st century because, in part, the money flowed to the arts, and in part because the artists, like the much of the rest of society, wanted to believe it really was a new dawn and the third way was possible. He implies the arts community sold out by adopting and accepting the new cultural lexicon of ‘business plans and strategic thinking’.

No doubt that there was a growing target culture in the way in which the arts were viewed; that the importance of the creative industries became a cornerstone of Whitehall policy; that the role of the artist in social inclusion and urban regeneration became part of the way in which the arts were discussed and supported. But what I would question is, did this start with Blair or is this not simply a continuation of the policy of the Thatcher/Major years?

Ravenhill’s conclusion is that anger drives theatre and the arts are at their most powerful when in opposition to government (as they were under Thatcher) and asserts, ‘ thank god we’ve got a government in Westminster we can properly hate and wholeheartedly attack’.

How does this play in Scotland in policy terms?

Agreed that the politics of the 1980s and 1990s provided the same oppositional position for theatre in Scotland but, I contend, with a very different outcome. In a paper in 1990, I argued that the then growing confidence of artists was because of, not in spite of Thatcherism and Scottish artists were drawing inspiration from being in opposition to what was happening in the political sphere. 2.

A decade or so later, in a paper I co-authored with Adrienne Scullion in 2003, we reflected that one reaction to a hostile Westminster government was for artists to ‘refocuse[d] their attentions on work for and in Scotland, looking to the past with new application, creating texts of linguistic and visual specificity, reassessing the cultural influences that make Scotland’.  This could well be a description of Paul Bright’s Confessions.

We also argued, that the arts in Scotland were open to influences from beyond –driven to some extent with the increasing access to international work and concluded that, ‘both dynamics were about bypassing London, or at least finding ways of working beyond the ‘them and us’ identities that the Thatcher government engendered in Scotland.’

And echoing this in a piece just last month in the Scotsman, political commentator and critic Joyce McMillan pointed out that in the 80s and 90s ‘Scotland’s artists, writers and musicians did most of their heavy lifting – in terms of reimagining a post-modern Scottish identity that would be inclusive, creative, and infinitely open to changing accounts of itself.’

So out of being in opposition came a re-visiting of Scotland’s distinctive cultural identity—and no suggestion that ‘we lost’.

Devolution in 1999 was the driver for that change. It unleashed an energy in creation of work and brought the political and artistic worlds closer together in dialogue if not in agreement.  They were part of a shared future:  ‘This is about more than our politics and our laws.  This is about who we are, how we carry ourselves’, said Donald Dewar (Labour) First Minster at the opening of the Scottish Parliament.

A recent speech by Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture in the (SNP) Scottish Government put clear tartan water between her and Maria Miller, Secretary of State for culture in England:

‘We do not measure the worth of culture and heritage solely in pounds and pence – we value culture and heritage precisely because they are so much more, because they are our heart, our soul, our essence.’

So what have these fine words 14 years apart delivered for theatre in Scotland? And what is theatre delivering for Scotland?

Government funding to the arts and heritage has been but cut but not slashed nor threatened completely as it has south of the border or elsewhere in Europe. Can we argue, however that theatre is telling the truth to politicians? Is this a community which has acquiesced to government control and is tick boxing its way to more money?

Scotland has not escaped the ideas so derided by Ravenhill.  Creative Scotland, the relatively new body created from a merger of the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen, has faced a barrage of criticism from the arts community about how it speaks about and to the arts and artists.  So much so that battle between the agency and the arts community (known locally as #CSstooshie) led to the departure of its chief executive and a senior member of his team and a commitment from the board to re-visit its policies and its language.

But what is happening on the ground, in theatre itself?

One of the first cultural interventions of the Scottish Government post devolution was to establish a national theatre.  The vision from the theatre community was ‘The Scottish Parliament and a National Theatre for Scotland reflect[ing] each other in the enterprise of a truly democratic civic society.’3.  So moving from being oppositional to being reflective. This civic role for theatre, I would argue underpins not only NTS itself but also the theatre community more widely.  It sees itself as part of the new Scotland with a voice in its future.

Last year I led a review of theatre in Scotland for Creative Scotland and one of the most striking conclusions is the importance of new work – mainly but not exclusively new writing – to the theatre landscape here.  We undertook and analysis of repertoire sampled over three decades. This sample showed that not only has there been an increase in the number of shows produced but that the largest increase is in new writing from Scotland.  This in part can be ascribed to the development of lunchtime theatre in Glasgow at Oran Mor’s A Play, A Pie and A Pint seasons but not exclusively.

There has been a surge in new work, and a flagship company which has accepted and delivered on its role to present to audiences across Scotland a huge range of work –much of this in collaboration with the theatres and companies which lobbied for its creation in the first place.

But what is theatre saying and where stands Scottish theatre on the question of the day? Yes or no? And here we do come to work in progress.

The question was raised during this year’s Edinburgh Festival, where is the Scottish independence play?  Echoing Joyce McMillan’s comment earlier, the reaction from some Scottish playwrights is, ‘I wrote it five years ago’

McMillan also argues that Scottish playwrights and theatre makers are just as concerned with ‘extreme political violence and our response to it, or the rise of right-wing politics in Europe, or the growth of a pervasive sadistic porn culture on the internet, [which] are not at least as important and urgent as Scottish independence’.

As for 2014 and the referendum itself, NTS has risen to the challenge and commissioned work which will deal directly with the arguments from both sides. However the other chatter from the festival was the outgoing Director Jonathan Mills’s infelicitous comment that there will be no events specifically dealing with the referendum in 2014 and the festival will be a politics free zone. Presumably the Commonwealth and the First World War – which will be festival themes — don’t count as being political.  Or perhaps as journalist Lesley Riddoch has pointed out, these are British political themes and count in a different way.

‘It’s very hard to think about any dramatist who has not had a point of view on the politics of the country in which they work.’ riposted Alasdair Gray, novelist and author of Lanark. Gray has form in this debate. Earlier this year he published an article which talked about ‘settlers’ and ‘colonists’ in Scotland – the former being folk who choose to move and settle here (implication good) and the latter those who choose to further their career by coming here for a few years and then moving away again (implication bad).  The problem with Gray’s analysis is that the language is inflammatory and verging on racist, and the examples are often shot through with inaccuracies.  More recently James McMillan, composer took a view at the opposite extreme and made some unfortunate remarks accusing artists in the Yes campaign of ‘fascistic mob mentality’.

However the debate generally amongst artists has not been as ill-tempered and these voices might be regarded as outliers in the debate.  Generally Scottish theatre makers’ involvement, while passionate,  is more measured- sometimes even nuanced.  The majority are in the Yes camp, but it is not all one way, and there are many who support a No vote—fearing nationalism and arguing for the route to internationalism, preferably of the Marxist variety.  However, the mental and imaginary landscapes of theatre are not yet the place in which they have explored the issue directly and instead have taken to blogging and other forms of social media.

Here is an imagined landscape, created by the playwright David Greig on a blogging site Bella Caledonia:

Leaving the Castle

There is girl. She’s seventeen. She and her three siblings have lived all their life inside an old castle. It’s a vast rambling pile with hundreds of rooms, once it was the fortress of powerful landowner but it’s long ago fallen into disrepair. The kitchens have been abandoned, the rooms are riddled with damp, the floorboards rotten. The roof has mostly fallen in and the windows are shuttered. The girl and her brothers camp now in the old ballroom where they burn the furniture to keep warm. There, they are attended to by old retainers in faded liveries who serve bad food on silver plates. Every day the retainers demand the siblings enact the old rituals of chivalry that were established when the house was first built. They bow and curtsey, they swear allegiance, they practice sword fighting, they call each other Lord and Baron and Knight. Meanwhile, in the attic of the west tower the old king, demented and sick, bangs on tin cans and shouts out to the empty fields about his power and his glory.

The girl has known nothing else. Doesn’t every child live like this? But deep down she has a slowly growing sense that something’s wrong. And then one day her unease becomes too much. She breaks the rules of the house and she opens the shutters of the ballroom window. Her eyes are dazzled briefly by the light but then they adjust and she sees: in the distance, in the valley below, a village. In the village people are going about their business, children go to school, people work, people play football, they garden…she sees and for the first time the girl realises. There is another way things can be.

So Bella, when you ask me how I’ll feel on the morning of independence my answer is this. Imagine that girl walking boldly down the long rotten corridor of the castle, imagine her stopping at the great wooden door, imagine her pushing at it and finding it open, imagine her stepping out into the fresh damp air of a spring day? That. That’s how I’ll feel.’

In summary, theatre makers in Scotland are part of the debate: issues of national identity are already there in the work, and more direct dealing with the referendum issue is yet to come.

However, I say to David and other theatre makers, the day after the referendum, regardless of the result, we will still be facing the same economic and environmental problems and issues of inequality.  And we will be a place which if not exactly torn itself apart, has inflicted on itself wounds which will be hard to heal.

So David, the real challenge for Scottish theatre makers, is imagining a Scotland in 2015 and beyond.



1. Brief for the paper: The panel is asked to reflect on how the practices and insights of contemporary theatre and performance might help to inform, broaden or indeed reconfigure the cultural and political discourses around possible independence in Scotland and accompanying notions of national identity. How might the mental and imaginary landscapes of theatre and performance-making offer productive ways of (re) thinking our views about self-determination, democracy and cultural production in a local, national and global context in the early 21st century.

2. Keynote Speech, Council of Regional Arts Associations Conference, 16 July 1990.

3. Federation of Scottish Theatre, Proposal for a National Theatre for Scotland (Edinburgh: FST, 2000), p. 3.