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Scottish funding body promises overhaul

In response to growing criticism over its management, Creative Scotland says it will improve its decision-making process

Sandy Crombie, the chair of Creative Scotland, released a statement saying the organisation is looking into answering artists' concerns

Creative Scotland, the national funding body for the arts in Scotland, has moved to quell anger over its “corporate” approach following the publication of an uncompromising open letter signed by more than 100 of Scotland’s artists and representatives of leading arts organisations. After a board meeting held on 22 October, the organisation has promised to simplify its applications and improve its decision-making process.

Creative Scotland was established two years ago by merging the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen, the country’s film-funding organisation, and distributes more than £80m each year. It has attracted growing criticism in recent months over its management, but matters came to a head with a letter sent on 8 October to Sandy Crombie, Creative Scotland’s chair and the former chief executive of the Standard Life bank.

In the letter, a host of artists including the Turner Prize winners and nominees Karla Black, Martin Boyce, Douglas Gordon and Richard Wright, as well as the playwright David Greig, the poet Liz Lochhead, the composer Peter Maxwell Davies and the novelist Ian Rankin, among many others, express “dismay at the ongoing crisis in Creative Scotland” and its routine “ill-conceived decision-making; unclear language, lack of empathy and regard for Scottish culture”. They also decry its “confused and intrusive management style married to a corporate ethos that seems designed to set artist against artist and company against company in the search for resources”. A further 300 members of the arts community signed the letter after it was published.

Arguing for a “fresh start” the letter makes seven requests, including “affirm[ing] the value of stable two to three year funding for small arts organisations”, ending the “business-speak and obfuscating jargon” in Creative Scotland’s communication and ensuring that funding decisions “are taken by people with artform expertise”.

“I have been working in the visual arts in Scotland for the best part of 20 years and I have never seen such a cross-sectoral consensus on anything,” says Katrina Brown, the director of the last two Glasgow International Festivals and of the Common Guild, which was one of 49 organisations told that they had lost their long-term funding and would need to apply to for lottery grants for one-off projects this summer. She says that the artists’ anger is not to do with money. “It is important to say that everyone involved in writing the letter is very experienced—this is not a naive position. We all know that Creative Scotland has got a bigger remit that either the Scottish Arts Council or Scottish Screen and a more complex task on a very flat funding base. But what has been really dispiriting has been a lack of transparency and a paucity in the decision-making.”

Having been told by Fiona Hyslop, Scotland’s culture secretary, that it was “imperative that these issues get sorted”, Crombie made a lengthy statement following Creative Scotland’s board meeting on 22 October. He says that the board was “surprised by the strength of feeling expressed over recent months” and had “clearly not appreciated the level of [the artists’ and art organisations’] concerns”. He agrees to simplify the administrative processes in funding applications and, most notably, suggests that one of the core concerns of the artists—that insufficient expertise was used in making the decisions—is being addressed. “We will look again at our structure to ensure appropriate prominence is given to art form specialism and to ensure specialist knowledge is used effectively in our decision-making processes,” he says.

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