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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Open letter on the future of the arts in Scotland

Monday (and monday night!) saw email inboxes in the region glowing red hot as Jan Hogarth led an idea to get a group from our arts sector signing up to a letter. A letter that added a different and positive voice to the debate over Creative Scotland and the future direction of arts policy nationally. The resulting letter was sent to the editors of the  national newspapers.
Whatever the result etc, the mere fact that folk could come together in this way across the region is testament to the way the arts are flourishing and breaking new ground in the SouthWest

The principles that the letter outline are of of a fairer geographic spread of resources and for a vision of the arts as part of the fabric of everyday life - culture and artists being part of the way we work together in Education, Health, Tourism, Environment etc....rather than something solely for a 'arts audience'. An approach that is exemplified by the emerging new arts structure in the region. The people who signed up to the letter identify these principles are part of the credo behind Creative Scotland and are concerned that this direction is not reversed in the process of remodelling the organisation.

Dear Editor,

As members of the arts sector in Dumfries and Galloway we wish to add another voice to the national conversation taking place about the arts in Scotland.

Since Creative Scotland was established there has been a fairer geographical distribution of arts funding. We believe that Creative Scotland has successfully balanced competing demands for the development of the arts and creativity across the entire country.

Dumfries and Galloway has long held a reputation of artistic endeavour and achievement and our recent experience of working with Creative Scotland has seen both an increase in confidence in existing work as well as promising new initiatives springing up from the grassroots. Whilst we accept that there are questions to be resolved over the delivery of some of Creative Scotland’s remit – we expect due recognition of the successes of the organisation in committing to a nationwide vision for creativity – we cannot countenance a return to the bad old days.

In the south west we are building new models of working in the arts that involve diverse partnerships with local and national organisations – partnerships that promise to deliver real impact for our way of life, taking account of both global environmental issues and the specific realities of life in rural Scotland. Creative Scotland have understood and supported these initiatives as they have been often led by the region’s creative community.

Taking account of this strategic direction, Creative Scotland has backed public, performing, visual and environmental arts, capital projects, festivals, literature and much more. This has helped many artists and makers develop their careers and has done much to further build the reputation and confidence of Dumfries and Galloway as a vibrant cultural centre.

We understand that many have wrestled with the changes that Creative Scotland has made and we believe that the discussion about the role of the arts in contemporary society is precious and vital. However, many of us operating in this region feel that the overall momentum of change is in the right direction and must be maintained.

Yours faithfully,

Dr Jan Hogarth, Creative Director, Wide Open. Dame Barbara Kelly, Chairman, Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust. Charles Jencks, architectural theorist and land artist. Matthew Dalziel, Artist. Louise Scullion, Artist. Alasdair Houston, Chairman, Gretna Landmark Trust. Cathy Agnew, Project Development Director for the Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust.  Wendy Stewart, Musician. Jane McArthur, Freelance curator. Pam Pumphrey, Chairman Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival. Spring Fling Art and Craft Open Studios Event.

Tom Littlewood, Director, Ginkgo Projects Ltd. Pete Renwick, Director of the Emerge Agency. Emma Varley. Sam Booth. Jim Buchanan. Winnie Cooper, Wigtownshire Arts Hub. Jo Hodges, Artist.  Alex Rigg, Oceanallover. Robbie Coleman. Linda Mallett, The Stove. Will Levi Marshall, Public Artist and Arts consultant. Matt Baker, Public Artist. Adam Booth, FWCB. Guy Veale

The letter was published as the lead letter in The Scotman and also in the Herald (though a number of the signatories were omitted for reasons of space (we suppose)

Those following the national picture will recognise immediately that the above letter does not exactly fit with "Creative Scotland Story" that is being written by the national it was no great surprise to see the way it was reported by two of the countries leading arts journalists:

Philip Miller in the Herald

and Andrew Eaton Lewis in the Scotsman Mr Eaton Lewis says 'oh well'.

Still - this point of view was branded a 'lone voice' by another national arts journalist last week...maybe that voice just got a bit week - who knows


  1. If your letter had engaged even slightly in the current debate about Creative Scotland, it could have been a valuable contribution. But seeing as no one has questioned the organisation's support of artists in Dumfries and Galloway, it seems like a diversion. The letter's use of CS-speak language – "delivery," "partnerships" - doesn't help.

  2. Mark Fisher's (theatre critic) comment suggests that the national media is out of touch with contemporary art practice. There are two conversations going on here, one amongst artists and one between the media and Creative Scotland.
    The artists that I know all work across different media and it is often difficult to define things as simply 'theatre' or 'music' or 'visual art'....also artists are working with ( partnership) different, organisations, institutions, groups and agendas (err...reasons for doing things). This means that where the actual 'art' is can be blurred, the point is that artists are finding new roles in society - they are still artists, just not working in 'traditional' compartments.
    Artists have always appropriated new language to suit their purposes - if they want to work with different groups in society then they need to form languages that allow them to communicate effectively
    This is relevant to the debate because the version of the CS story being presented by the media is of a need to return to 'direct funding to artists to make art for arts sake'....this is only a PART of the complex picture of contemporary practice.

  3. 'There are two conversations going on here, one amongst artists and one between the media and Creative Scotland.'

    Upland Shepherd, are you really suggesting that the media are orchestrating the complaints against Creative Scotland? You think we cajoled David Greig, Vicky Featherstone, Don Paterson, Alasdair Gray, Matthew Lenton, Tommy Smith, Janice Galloway etc etc into speaking out for our own purposes? I would suggest the conversation going on here is very much between artists and Creative Scotland, with the media (some of the time) as go between.

    As for artists working across different media, well of course they do (I myself spent a lot of this year working on a project that brought together novelists, poets, musicians, actors, dancers, filmmakers and others) but there is no contradiction between this and art for art's sake. The contradiction being pointed out (and mostly by artists, not journalists) is between artists being allowed to make work on their own terms and having to make the kind of work that a funding body tells them to make.

    As for this:

    'Taking account of this strategic direction, Creative Scotland has backed public, performing, visual and environmental arts, capital projects, festivals, literature and much more.'

    Well, good for Creative Scotland. But I'm confused as to why the letter writers feel the need to point this out. Nobody has accused Creative Scotland of NOT doing these things, or of not supporting rural artists, so I genuinely don't understand what this letter adds to the debate.

    For the record, the 'oh well' in my arts diary wasn't meant as a dismissal of the artists who wrote this letter, and I apologise if it came across that way. I just thought it was unfortunate that 1. it was sent out just as Andrew Dixon resigned so was never going to do Creative Scotland much good and 2. doesn't - as far as I can see - seem to counter any of the criticisms of Creative Scotland, just compliment it for something else entirely.

    It's as if someone had been repeatedly accused of stealing, by lots of different people, and then someone else attempted to redress that balance by praising the person for being a good cook.

    Andrew Eaton-Lewis
    group arts editor
    The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday

  4. PS: That cooking metaphor is a bit clunky, perhaps. Trying to communicate my confusion as best I can but, again, not wanting to dismiss anyone's concerns. Is the suggestion here that rural artists need the kind of 'strategic' guidance Creative Scotland is offering more? Or is it just that they're actually paying more attention to rural Scotland than the Scottish Arts Council did? If it's the latter then I'm all for that - but again, I don't think it negates anything that's already been said by the letter from the 400, or others.

    Would be interested to hear more comments. Here to listen, honest.


  5. I believe that there is a genuine concern here that things are in danger of getting out of hand with people talking about 'ripping things up and starting again' 'being told to get their coats etc'...when feelings run so high it is hard to see how any kind of response from Creative Scotland is going to be 'enough' - people seem to genuinely be trying to wipe it from the earth.

    The arts had 5 long years of uncertainty between SAC and CS - none of us can afford to go back into the abyss.

    Scottish arts practice has something genuinely distinctive to offer to its population and the world - for this to reach its potential the arts needs credibility and to present itself as something that others can work with, alongside and for. People who work in the spaces between the 'artists' and the 'rest of the world' are dismayed to contemplate the damage that this very public dispute could do in the long term to the way the arts are regarded. Don't get me wrong I do not believe that CS was perfect - it needed a serious review and in particular of the way it communicated with everyone it worked with.

    When something new comes under scrutiny the temptation is to return to the old and familiar. I believe the D+G letter was trying (maybe not too successfully!) to contribute to the 'whats next debate' by arguing against a return to the SAC model and to point out to to the lay population that some of aims and objectives of CS were being well-received in some quarters.

    Maybe it was a little too far ahead of the game in that respect...something we are used to doon here (....kidding)

  6. I think its important to continue to invest in cross disciplinary/ interdisciplinary creative practices. This iimportants work is crucial for the arts to play its part in dealing with climate change and other issues related to the environment and health and wellbeing. We need to keep moving forwards but taking people with us (everyone in the arts or as many people as possible!). Maybe Creative Scotland tried to move forwards too quickly?