Artists demand greater say from Scottish Government after Creative Scotland cuts

Fiona Hyslop has been urged to ensure artists have direct access to the Scottish Government in future.
Fiona Hyslop has been urged to ensure artists have direct access to the Scottish Government in future.
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An open letter protesting against Creative Scotland’s stewardship of the arts has demanded the Scottish Government gives artists and organisations more of a say in how key funding decisions are taken - due to “deep misgivings” over the quango.

Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop has been urged to ensure the culture sector has direct access to help decide how money are allocated in future rather than be kept at “arms length” by the body.

The open letter, distributed following a “nationwide discussion amongst a diverse group of people across all art forms,” says they have been “deeply perturbed” by the way recent funding decisions were made and the “values these reflect.

The quango came under fire last month for targeting theatre companies who work with children, disabled performers and women as part of a shake-up on how a £99 million cash pot is spent.

Read more: Fury as Fringe and theatre companies have funding axed by Creative Scotland

Five companies were reprieved following an intervention from culture secretary Fiona Hyslop, who was targeted by online campaigners along with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Two board members, Ruth Wishart and Maggie Kinloch, resigned amid claims the decision-making process was “flawed.”

Read more: Creative Scotland forced into funding review after climbing down over cuts

The letter, backed by more than 350 signatories in 24 hours, warns there is “a depth of feeling and sense of urgency” about the need for change.

It suggests that a "National Arts Forum" which is under discussion could give the cultural sector direct access to the government in future.

A lack of clarity over decision-making, inconsistencies in the rationales given for support or denial of support, and poor communication are cited in the letter to Ms Hyslop, which has been distributed days before senior Creative Scotland officials appear before MSPs.

Signatories include theatre-makers Joe Douglas, Adura Onashile, Nicola McCartney and David Leddy, as well as musicians Aly Bain, Findlay Napier and Mary Macmaster.

The open letter states: “This letter is written in response to the recent announcements regarding Creative Scotland’s support for regularly funded organisations.

"These have sparked a significant nation-wide discussion amongst a diverse group of people from across all art forms on the nature of support given by Creative Scotland to the arts.

“We are all aware of how difficult it is to make decisions around how the money that the Scottish Government gives to Creative Scotland is apportioned, relative to the various demands being placed upon it, and we do not envy the task of those who make the decisions.

“However, we are deeply perturbed both by the way in which the funding decisions have been made – and reversed – and by the values that these reflect in terms of Creative Scotland’s support of the arts in these straitened times.

“The lack of clarity in decision-making, inconsistencies across all art forms in the rationales given for support or denial of support, and the poor level of communication - particularly with unsuccessful applicants - has resulted in deep misgivings amongst us around Creative Scotland’s role and strategic direction in supporting the arts within our country.

“A depth of feeling and sense of urgency has provoked the clear belief amongst us that, in order to create a strong and sustainable creative sector, artists must be involved at a political level in the development of arts funding strategies.

“Our aim is to ensure that the voices of all of those who are subjected to funding decisions by Creative Scotland are included in the discussions with government, rather than simply at the arms-length level of communication with Creative Scotland itself.

“An artist-led National Arts Forum is in the process of being formed, with the aim of gathering, reporting and representing the voices of those working in the arts across Scotland. We are sure that you will agree that this is a very important initiative, and it will inevitably take time.”

Janet Archer, Creative Scotland’s chief executive, who was appointed nearly five years ago, said: “Making regular funding decisions within the context of standstill budgets is never easy.

“We are listening to the extensive and constructive feedback that we are receiving from individuals and organisations working across the arts in Scotland.

“We are committed to engaging with everyone interested in culture and creativity to ensure our funding model works as effectively as possible.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “We welcome engagement and debate on support for culture in Scotland, which is why we have spent the past seven months discussing the development of a culture strategy with individuals, communities and organisations across the country through a series of public events.

“We will open up to a public consultation later in 2018 and look forward to receiving further feedback then."