Why There Is No Going Back For Creative Scotland

I don’t think anyone believed that when Creative Scotland was established it was going to be an easy ride. Almost tortuous in its creation it has had, what could only be described as a tumultuous couple of years before culminating this week in the resignation of CEO, Andrew Dixon.

One thing is certain though, and that is there is no going back. There is simply no case to return to an age when arts bodies were little more than a source of money distribution. The world has moved on and Scotland has to keep up. We now live in a competitive, international market place for culture, knowledge and ideas which is constantly changing and which does not stand still for a minute.

I accept that many of our artists don’t like Creative Scotland. There was great unhappiness about lottery money replacing core funding and there was frustration about managerialism, access and intriguingly the language used in conversations with artists.  All of these may be correct and genuinely felt but we have to be careful that we don’t take several steps back in the context of what we need to do to move forward.

Creative Scotland was a bold idea. For the first time it brought artistic disciplines together with economic development. Yes, of course art has to be at arm’s length and simply for art’s sake, but what if the gallery is being closed down, the record can’t be brought out for lack of funding or the orchestra is abandoned due to lack of sponsorship?

The idea of anything being even described as  “creative industries” has also received a fair share of opprobrium and, for some, uttered between the most gritted of teeth. Well, let’s look at what these creative industries contribute. Creative industries contribute some £2.4 billion Gross Value Added to the Scottish economy employing some 60 000 people across some 8 000 businesses. Our creative industries are one of the major drivers of our economy and they have to be looked after, supported and nurtured.

It is just something we do spectacularly well. In music, film, design, publishing, computer gaming and so many other creative and artistic endeavours we are in the top league with a massive reputation for excellence. Scotland, for a small nation, also has a great international cultural footprint and we are fortunate that we have a high recognition factor throughout the world.

That is why we do need strategies to compete and develop our own distinct product. It’s why we need a body that can bring together our cultural businesses with economic development and international promotion.

Then there is the internet. The migration of cultural content online goes on unabated. Just ask music, film and increasingly publishing. Culture is simply created, consumed and shared in an altogether different environment. The battle over IP rights, monetisation of the net and the tension between content creators and distributors is what consumes the creative hub of London. Scotland has to get engaged in this debate and we must stake our place in the ever shifting sands of this new environment.

We have to be careful therefore about our next step with our national arts body. That is because the comfortable world of old where arts consumption, creation and distribution were almost passive activities is not there to go back to. Creative Scotland is by no means a perfect body but it is a body created to be equipped for the new world in which we now find ourselves.

6 thoughts on “Why There Is No Going Back For Creative Scotland

  1. Andrew

    Overall I agree with you, but the main problem Creative Scotland have, I think, is the perception that folk from ‘business’ decide what creative projects go ahead (or not) due to their perceived commercial viability and market value.

    It can be argued, and rightly so, that financial viability should play a part in decision making, but to use it as the main reason for a project going ahead or not, is wrong.

  2. acoulton

    The problem with this argument is that asking creators and artists to focus on the side benefits of their work (the economic, social and diplomatic ones) stifles the creativity and risk taking required to make work that produces them.

    Many of the most successful technology startups have relearned what the arts always knew – and now focus on simply hiring talented developers and designers who use the product and telling them to work on whatever they want to in the belief that this individual freedom and financial security will deliver the most effective overall result. Sometimes people will come up with new features that put them ahead of the competition. Sometimes they’lll make design tweaks that at some intangible level make the product feel more polished . Sometimes they’ll make changes behind the scenes that make the product easier to work on. Sometimes they’ll deliver work that on its own doesn’t seem to achieve much, but that develops their skills or acts as a platform or inspiration for someone else to go on and create something much more exciting. Of course on occasion it becomes apparent that sombody’s priorities and interests are not delivering towards the company’s overarching strategy in the long term and that is addressed but on the whole this approach based on trust and individual creativity delivers incredible results.

    There is clearly a need for a national cultural funder to have an eye on the bigger picture, and to be balancing the range of artists and organisations on its books so as to deliver a broad spread of benefits beyond simply the thriving cultural life of the nation (which, let’s be clear, is a major and valid objective in its own right).But these assessments should be happening at high level, with the funder acting as translator between a set of wider government objectives and the very different individual artistic activities that taken together will achieve them. The minute the funder instead asks artists to learn, talk, and consider this language in developing their ideas it has failed and will fail to deliver anything creative enough to achieve its goals.

  3. Tam Dean Burn

    Given this argument of economic success story made with comfortable old ways, why the need for change at all? You can’t put any of this success story down to Creative Scotland and the policy behind it, surely? Intriguingly, it’s not just the language used in conversations with artists but the ethos underlying it all- that we’ll all benefit from being part of economic develop, learning to compete and make distinct product. Compete with who? acoulton shows in a very clear way the flaw in this whole project- “Many of the most successful technology startups have relearned what the arts always knew”

  4. discoverfineacting

    Very interesting, with more of interest in response to this post here…


    Though ‘art for art’s sake’ is mentioned briefly in your post, there does seem to be a focus on business as a basis for the creative arts and their funding rather than something that should be complementary, but not central – as mentioned in the other comments above.

    acoulton in particular impresses here!

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