Why has Creative Scotland been under sustained fire during 2012?

Why has Creative Scotland been under sustained fire during 2012?

Wonderland, a recent production by Vanishing Point, one of the theatre companies potentially affected by the proposed changes

The questions surrounding the debate over Scotland's arts funding body

As its head Andrew Dixon faces Parliament, Mark Fisher looks at the ongoing problems at Creative Scotland

The appearance of Creative Scotland’s chief executive Andrew Dixon in front of the Scottish Parliament’s education and culture committee on Tuesday 18 September reflects the arts community’s deep concern about the competence of the national funding body.

Creative Scotland, which replaced the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen in 2010, has been under sustained fire for some time; in particular, since the publication of its review of flexibly funded organisations in May. The attacks have come from many directions, but at their heart is the alarm caused by a change in the way Creative Scotland plans to fund many arts organisations.

As of 2013, the funding body will receive £2m less from the Scottish government, but will have more money at its disposal from the National Lottery. The problem is that lottery funds can be used only for one-off projects. Creative Scotland’s solution is to switch its support of 49 arts organisations from the relative security of two or three-year funding to the insecurity of project grants.

It’s a change that raises several questions. The first is technical. The National Lottery Act of 2006 specifies that lottery money should not be used to replace existing government funding. Even if Creative Scotland can demonstrate it is not using lottery money in this way, it will have a harder job to persuade people it is operating in the spirit of a law designed to protect charities from the vagaries of scratch-card sales.

A more pressing question is to do with the uncertainty the changes have introduced. Companies of the international stature of Vanishing Point, Grid Iron and Stellar Quines need to maintain a year-round artistic team and will not function for long if funded only on a show-by-show basis. All of them fear for their future, not least because they cannot apply for the same lottery funding twice. It is not clear how Creative Scotland plans to support these organisations a year or two down the line.

Artists are also worried the shift puts too much control in the hands of the funding body. An organisation funded for two years is free to follow its artistic instincts; an organisation funded a project at a time can do only what its paymasters allow. It’s a system that could turn Creative Scotland into the country’s de facto artistic director. That’s why culture secretary Fiona Hyslop recently gave warning that ‘it is not for administrators, bureaucrats or governments to tell artists what to do’.

Many more questions are being asked of Creative Scotland, including how it is making decisions without artform advisory panels and whether it will change its policies in the light of the unprecedented level of criticism.

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