Kevin Buckle: New Creative Scotland chief exec has to be more creative

Janet Archer's successor at Creative Scotland will have their work cut out tackling cronyism. Picture: Neil Hanna
Janet Archer's successor at Creative Scotland will have their work cut out tackling cronyism. Picture: Neil Hanna
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Janet Archer, the chief executive of Creative Scotland, may have resigned but it is hard to imagine things being much different whoever takes on the considerable task of trying to restore confidence in an organisation described in an inquiry by a Holyrood committee last month as having a funding system that fell “well below” the standard expected of a public body.

One of the basic problems – that is outwith Creative Scotland’s control – is that there is not enough money to keep everybody happy. Having said that, when you look at the sort of things people expect to be funded most people would be of the opinion that a reasonable number don’t deserve it so everybody being happy is certainly not any way to judge if Creative Scotland is doing its job.

In fact there are many within the arts that admit that there are very few arts projects that anybody whose granny needed an operation would maintain were more deserving of funds. Of course, it doesn’t work like that but maybe it is time artistic merit was judged compared to real-world needs.

The fact there aren’t enough funds immediately puts people and organisations in competition and never in a healthy way, creating a situation where everybody is looking after themselves. This may not be the natural instinct of many artists but it is a situation they are forced into. It also means that networking, lobbying and persistence become important factors in getting grants, none of which are characteristics that any artist should have to aspire to in order to be successful.

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Lobbying and networking is one thing but at Creative Scotland things have been allowed to go beyond that to create a situation where some people clearly have a pipeline into funding while others that deserve to be supported but have annoyed the “CS gods” – often by pointing out the blindingly obvious – are blackballed.

Blackballed is an appropriate phrase to use, given its use when somebody wants to join a private club. It would be very hard to find a group more opposed than the arts community to the Tory Party and yet the Tories’ system of nepotism and patronage is exactly how much of the arts world operates.

There are, of course, many good people working in all areas of the arts but they understandably don’t want to put their necks on the line by saying anything and often the problem is exacerbated by the fact that those in more senior positions, who have often failed to move with what are constantly changing times, are not only the problem but are simply unwilling to do things any differently, even when offered ways forward.

What needs to be remembered is that, in the arts timeline, the very regimented system that now operates has existed for a relatively short period and results from the large amount of lottery money that became available. As I said in my column last week, community is a very important consideration in the big picture but to tie it so closely to the arts is a result of lottery fund wishes more than anything else.

Similarly, treating everybody equally irrespective of sexuality, colour, disability or country of origin should be a given, but to go beyond that to give any group an advantage over another is simply wrong. However, I’d wish any incoming CEO good luck in trying to implement that.

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The truth is that many of the problems with arts funding are found in the structure of that funding, which is dictated by the lottery. Certainly what any new appointment can do is look at how those who work at Creative Scotland are allocating funds and root out the obvious cronyism that is often in plain sight.

On a lighter note, the singer Martin John Henry of the band De Rosa recently tweeted: “Folk that spent their 20s doing only indie music then finding themselves doing bill paying, day jobs, nappies and very little indie music. There should be a support group for us. Funded by CS. With wee meetings and ‘back to rock’ workshops and coffee and stuff.”

Creative Scotland have funded things a lot less deserving!

Retail inexperience adds fuel to the fire

As there are calls to aid businesses after the fire in Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street, it has to be said that things weren’t great there before the fire. Don’t get me wrong, I think businesses should be supported but it shouldn’t take a major fire for something to be done.

Supporting small independent businesses may not be as “sexy” for councillors as saving theatres or providing bicycle lanes but it is vitally important. You won’t find many councillors against having a diverse range of independent businesses in the city centre, but little has been done to actually make it a reality.

Part of the problem, I suspect, is that if you look at the backgrounds of councillors, their retail experience is close to zero, which is understandable but does not give them the same passion many have for the arts and their bikes. Simply buying things in shops does not count I can assure you!