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Boot corporations out of the arts

A row has broken about the role of Creative Scotland, successor to the Arts Council, which the poet Don Paterson has denounced as a “dysfunctional ant-heap”.

The so-called “Year of Creative Scotland”, a banal construct with endless TV ads, underlines the merging of arts funding with the tourism and business agenda.

In the ghastly business-speak that dominates public discourse, Creative Scotland describes it as “a chance to spotlight, celebrate and promote Scotland's cultural and creative strengths on a world stage, and to position Scotland as one of the world's most creative nations..."

In other words, to qualify for funding, artistic creations must contribute to Scotland’s “position”. Artists can’t just do their work; they have to fit in with an agenda – exactly the opposite of an independent artistic process. Creative Scotland has abolished grants for running costs and instead artists and art centres must propose endless one-off “projects”.

Paterson accuses Creative Scotland of treating artists with contempt and ignoring them. Consultations are “unprofessional, mendacious, corrupt” and ruined by “nepotism, autocratic whim and lack of oversight”, he claims.

He reports a leading writer seeking help with completing an incomprehensible form being told by a Creative Scotland official it was no tougher than a benefits application and worth the effort “to get something for nothing”.

Paterson calls for all “foolish, short-term, PR-driven, empty and self-conscious celebrations of our own creativity, more appropriate to and becoming of a county the size of Rutland than a real nation”, to be abandoned.

But he goes on to say that arts officials should not be recruited from outside Scotland. He asks how anyone who has not lived here for some time “who does not know our complex history or who has no first-hand experience of the psychological make-up of our citizenry, who is not familiar with the work of our leading artists and writers – possibly react to our cultural biosphere in a way that will not caricature it, elide it, or reinvent the wheel?”

Here Paterson entirely misses the point. The agenda Creative Scotland is responding to is the totally home-grown Scottish government version of changes in arts funding that are happening everywhere, throughout the United Kingdom and far beyond.

To see what has happened, just go and see the excellent film installation at Glasgow’s Tramway. It tracks changes in the visual identities of three cultural institutions – the Tate in London, the New York Museum of Modern Art and the Pompidou Centre in Paris. These graphics have changed, as the institutions themselves have changed, to fit with what corporations and governments will buy into.

Andrew Dixon, head of Creative Scotland, is one of the generation that implemented this approach everywhere. It is hardly surprising that the Scottish government chose the man who led the process that delivered the Baltic arts centre in Gateshead.

There are plenty of Scots on the Creative Scotland Board. Sir Sandy Crombie, former CEO of Standard Life and currently senior independent director of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc is its chair. Then there’s Peter Cabrelli, former group human resources director of HBOS plc where he led the merger of Bank of Scotland and Halifax.

The idea that Scots citizens have a shared national “psychological make up” that would help prevent this approach is nonsense. Scotland exists, willy-nilly and whether still part of the UK or on the morning after independence, within the globalised capitalist world, with its obsession with markets and its horrible perspective on art.

Anyway, the whole idea of a national psychological make-up is deeply reactionary. Do we want to espouse such an exclusive concept? Instead, whether in Scotland or anywhere, we should aspire to abolishing bureaucracy altogether and booting politicians and the corporations out of the arts.

Penny Cole
17 September 2012

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