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Thom Dibdin: Creative Scotland is in a crisis of its own making

Creative Scotland chief executive Janet Archer spoke at an evidence session at the Scottish Parliament’s culture committee Creative Scotland chief executive Janet Archer speaking at an evidence session at the Scottish Parliament’s culture committee
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Funding for the arts in Scotland is at a crisis point. But this time the crisis is no longer about levels of funding, rather its delivery. The problems began with January’s announcement of Creative Scotland’s network of Regularly Funded Organisations for the three-year period 2018-21.

In last autumn’s budget, culture secretary Fiona Hyslop had winkled extra millions out of the Treasury. CS now had the pleasure of creating a standstill budget over the Christmas break, instead of dealing with the expected cuts it had modelled.

Ayr Gaiety and Edinburgh Fringe receive 100% cuts in Scottish funding round

It was a job for which it was completely unprepared, through no fault of its own, and which it managed to balls up spectacularly. It used the tiny amount of time available to change course, apply a new model of funding for touring, cut several organisations, and add some bureaucratic organisations in their place.

The problem that the new touring model didn’t actually exist yet was unfortunate. Of more major concern was that it hadn’t even been thought of when the RFO applicants had been filling in their forms.

CS was applying new criteria to old applications in an unacceptable moving of goalposts. This was compounded by a complete failure to communicate the reasoning behind its change, or understand the need to explain that reasoning.

Resignations from the CS board and an emergency re-examination of funds for theatre for children and disabled actor-led companies did nothing to stem the approbation. Nor did the appearance of CS’s chief executive Janet Archer and its former interim chair Ben Thomson before Holyrood’s culture committee. Their evidence revealed that the process for choosing the RFOs was flawed.

Meanwhile, CS has had to continue in its day-to-day existence and its workers have to cope with the fall-out of the decisions. And face people who work in the arts.

And therein lies the rub. The crisis is so all-encompassing – and self-inflicted – that it manifests itself at a most fundamental level. Creative Scotland has simply lost the trust and respect of the arts community.

More than 1,000 artists have signed a letter to Hyslop saying as much, and promising to set up an “artist-led National Arts Forum”. Meanwhile, Holyrood’s culture committee has invited evidence from anyone who applied for RFO status, while Creative Scotland’s decisions have featured at first minister’s questions.

The Scottish arts community needs Creative Scotland to be a properly functioning body. But it can never be so while it fails to command the respect of even those to whom it gives money.

To regain that trust, CS will have to learn a new language to replace the corporate speak that makes its communications so opaque. And find a way of being less reliant on forms. But most of all it will have to learn to listen and understand. If it can, then the National Arts Forum could be a place for it to begin to earn that trust again.

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