Sculpture park founder to take over as Creative Scotland chair

Robert Wilson has taken over from Ben Thomson as chair of Creative Scotland.
Robert Wilson has taken over from Ben Thomson as chair of Creative Scotland.
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The multi-millionaire founder of a vast sculpture park on the outskirts of Edinburgh is to take over as chair of troubled arts quango Creative Scotland.

Robert Wilson, who has commissioned a host of leading Scottish and UK artists to design work for Jupiter Artland, near Ratho, has taken over from merchant banker Ben Thomson.

The new figurehead for the body has been unveiled days after it was forced to climb down over controversial funding cuts to several companies following an intervention from the Scottish Government, which appoints Creative Scotland’s chair, as well as provides most of its funding.

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

Mr Thomson had been chairing the quango on an interim basis following the death of previous chair Richard Findlay last summer.

Mr Wilson is the chairman and co-owner of healthcare firm Nelsons, which has been run by his family since 1972.

He and his wife Nicky spent several years creating Jupiter Artland in the 100-acre grounds of Bonnington House, the Jacobean manor house the art collectors bought up in 1999. Artists who have produced work for Jupiter Artland include Charles Jencks, Laura Ford, Antony Gormley, Nathan Coley, Jim Lambie and Cornelia Parker.

Mr Wilson has also had extensive involvement in the cultural sector as chair of Edinburgh Art Festival and as trustees of Little Sparta, the late artist Ian Hamilton Finlay’s sculpture garden in Lanarkshire, and the Dovecot Studios and the Royal Botanic Garden, both in Edinburgh.

He said: “Creativity has the power to touch all aspects of a nation, and the Scottish people have long embraced culture with a passion.

“To be appointed chair of Creative Scotland is an enormous honour and one I’m extremely proud to accept. I look forward to working with my fellow colleagues from across all aspects of the sector to celebrate and champion the vibrant cultural scene that belongs to Scotland.”

Creative Scotland came under widespread criticism last month after stripping 20 companies of three-year funding deals under a shake-up of how a £99 million budget is spent.

However five companies - Birds of Paradise, Catherine Wheels, Lung Ha, Visible Fictions and the Dunedin Consort - had their funding restored after culture secretary Fiona Hyslop raised concerns on her Twitter feed about the cuts.

Creative Scotland has promised to carry out a full review into how it allocates its funding in future in the wake of the row, which was defused after it allocated £2.6 million from other budgets.

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

The quango had earlier been forced into an emergency board meeting by the intervention and then lost two directors - Ruth Wishart and Maggie Kinloch - amid claims the quango had become "a family at war with those it seeks to serve."

Mr Thomson, former chief executive of the merchant bank Noble Group, served for eight years as chair of the National Galleries of Scotland. He was appointed chair of Creative Scotland for six months after Mr Findlay's death in July after a cancer battle.

Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “Robert brings a wide range of leadership experience in the commercial, philanthropic and charitable sectors, with particular experience of the arts, including festivals and the visual arts.

“I welcome the leadership that he will bring to Creative Scotland in taking forward their future strategy and supporting Scotland’s vibrant creative sectors.”

Mr Wilson said: “Creativity has the power to touch all aspects of a nation, and the Scottish people have long embraced culture with a passion.

"To be appointed chair of Creative Scotland is an enormous honour and one I am extremely proud to accept.

"I look forward to working with my fellow colleagues from across all aspects of the sector to celebrate and champion the vibrant cultural scene that belongs to Scotland."

Creative Scotland's chief executive Janet Archer said: "I very much welcome the appointment of Robert Wilson as Chair of Creative Scotland and am looking forward to working with him over the next period.

"Robert has a long history of supporting the arts and creative sectors and a deep knowledge of the visual arts."