As the arts world waits for a clear proposal from Creative Scotland, the current stalemate is potentially damaging, argues Robin Hodge
Scotland has witnessed a remarkable flowering of creative talent over the past three decades with our writers, artists, theatre companies, designers, filmmakers, actors and musicians creating work of significance that has been acclaimed internationally.
While creative talent cannot be conjured up by government edict, funding from the public purse has played a crucial role in helping support and nurture artists. The Scottish Arts Council, for all its faults and excessive bureaucracy, can claim credit for contributing to this success.
It is now more than three years since the proposal was first put forward to merge the SAC and Scottish Screen and fold them both into a new organisation. At that stage it was one of over 100 recommendations contained in the report of the Cultural Commission. It was also proposed that this new body, Creative Scotland, take control of the Creative Industries budget of Scottish Enterprise.
The idea was picked up by the Labour/Lib Dem administration and last year backed by the new SNP government. The arts community’s response was to ask how the plan would work in practice, on what principles would the new organisation be run, what arts expertise would it be able to draw on and what level of funding would it be given.
These were all crucial questions as there are real dangers involved in any move to abandon independent decision making and suck arts funding into the remit of civil servants obliged to follow government policy. It is essential that any proposed new structure has adequate assurances that the funding would be allocated on the basis of art for art’s sake.
Consultants were commissioned, transition boards established, the months rolled by, the costs mounted up. The artists and companies all expected meaningful consultation but no detailed proposals have been forthcoming.
A collective of 400 Scottish artists has launched a petition calling time on the whole process. We cannot keep waiting for detailed proposals. They are right, we should not disband the structures that exist on the nebulous suggestion that something better will one day be proposed.
There is a real danger of further paralysis and damaging disruption to the arts if the Scottish government attempt to press ahead with this vague and misconceived idea. Culture minister Linda Fabiani should abandon the whole proposal for a new agency. There is currently every reason to allow the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen to continue their work supporting the arts and culture of the country which contribute so much to our life and to Scotland’s international reputation.