Arts workers unite

Feb 19 2018 | By More

Call to sign open letter to Fiona Hyslop

Workers from across the Scottish arts are being urged to sign an open letter to Holyrood culture secretary Fiona Hyslop, ahead of the setting up of an artist-led National Arts Forum.

The letter expresses concern at the way that Creative Scotland’s recent decisions about Regularly Funded Organisations were taken and reversed, saying that the arts body’s lack of clarity in its decision-making, its inconsistency and its poor communication has resulted in deep misgivings about its role and strategic direction.

Ben Thomson is give evidence to the Culture Committee. Pic Creative Scotland

The letter follows wide-ranging discussions between groups from the different art forms concerning the nature of support given to the arts by Creative Scotland.

The letter points out that an artist-led National Arts Forum is in the process of being formed, with the aim of: “gathering, reporting and representing the voices of those working in the arts across Scotland”.

It says that the aim is to: “ensure that the voices of all of those who are subjected to funding decisions by Creative Scotland are included in the discussions with government, rather than simply at the arms-length level of communication with Creative Scotland itself.”

The culture committee of the Scottish Parliament is due to meet this Thursday morning, 22 February 2018, when it will take evidence from Janet Archer, Creative Scotland’s CEO and Ben Thomson, its interim chair from June 2017 to February 2018, as part of the committee’s enquiry into sustainable funding for arts and creative organisations in Scotland.


However, the letter asks Hyslop to ensure that any decisions or discussion by the Culture Committee is delayed until the Forum has met and decided upon its first representations to government.

The letter says: “we are deeply perturbed both by the way in which the RFO decisions have been made – and reversed – and by the values that these reflect in terms of Creative Scotland’s support of the arts in these straitened times.

“The lack of clarity in decision-making, inconsistencies across all art forms in the rationales given for support or denial of support, and the poor level of communication – particularly with unsuccessful applicants – has resulted in deep misgivings amongst us around Creative Scotland’s role and strategic direction in supporting the arts within our country.

“A depth of feeling and sense of urgency has provoked the clear belief amongst us that, in order to create a strong and sustainable creative sector, artists must be involved at a political level in the development of arts funding strategies.

“Our aim is to ensure that the voices of all of those who are subjected to funding decisions by Creative Scotland are included in the discussions with government, rather than simply at the arms-length level of communication with Creative Scotland itself.”

The letter’s writers are asking anyone who works in the arts in Scotland to sign it with their name, arts job description and company (if appropriate). They had attracted 350 of a hoped-for 1,000 signatures within 24 hours.

Anyone working in the arts in Scotland who wishes to sign the letter can do so here:


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Comments (2)

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  1. Craig Richardson says:

    Letter to: Fiona Hyslop MSP, 59 West Main Street, Whitburn, West Lothian, EH47 0QD

    RE: RF Funding decision (Creative Scotland) and Transmission Gallery, Glasgow

    Over the week I have received numerous emails regarding the future funding of Glasgow’ Transmission Gallery as well as engaged via Twitter more broadly with the UK’s arts sector on the same topic.

    A number of the correspondents are eminent arts figures and they are all of the view that Creative Scotland’s decision to completely remove Regular Funding from Transmission is deeply concerning.

    Transmission’s Committee has now issued a well-argued response to recent decision, one which reminds me that the mission of the gallery changes, as per its constitutional arrangement. The next generation of artists in Scotland continue to show deep convictions regarding representation and cultural leadership.

    Transmission’s constitutional model is completely different from almost everything else that Creative Scotland funds, to some degree that is its constitutional directive. There are many different types of governance at work in Creative Scotland’s other funded organisations. Yet Transmission’s constitutional model remains an acknowledged international success story, recognised as such everywhere, copied by organisations, investigated by academics, eulogised by professionals and broadcast in the media and other fora. For instance, in 2015 I talked about it to the bidders of Galway’s EU City of Culture bid, which they won, and described Transmission then to the bidders as a model which ‘listens to artists.’ I can’t begin to tell you how well that message regarding representation was received on the day, in Ireland. Transmission’s model works and because it works it inspires confidence elsewhere. But not now in Scotland, apparently.

    It is correct, principled indeed, that Creative Scotland’s funding decisions are managed at an arm’s length by the Scottish Government. But the wider context seems to be one in which other losses of funding include those for disabled arts’ companies and those working with children. I fear that I may now sound like someone lecturing, for which I apologise, but on this occasion such an arm’s length approach strikes me as distinctly different from the enviable social model which continues to develop in Scotland. While the arm’s length principle is understandable, I was honoured to be present at your opening speech at the Scottish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2013 and have since written about the principles voiced then as symbolising Scotland’s enviable progressive approach, including welcoming people to Scotland. Some of the exhibited artists in Venice had made Scotland their home, which meant they were eligible for representation as much as anyone else there, thus went your argument. This is really different from other sentiments now at work in the UK, sentiments which are now under attack broadly in the UK, there is a general sense that policies and sentiments which promote ‘belonging’ are under attack, there is an Us and Them sentiment at large. But belonging is what Transmission stands for. Transmission’s model underlines the idea that people are responsible for making their own culture and funding gives them an organisational route to carry out this ambition through becoming responsible for programming activities. It shows Scotland’s best to the world and it welcomes participation.

    It is inexplicable that Creative Scotland does not quite understand the necessity for an organisational model such as Transmission Gallery. The decision suggests Creative Scotland are not at all interested in supporting a diversity of models. Why is that? Transmission’s Committee have issued a response which implicates Creative Scotland in conscious or unconscious bias. Whatever the reasoning, the removal of Regular Funding strikes me as punitive, it simply does not make sense unless there is at work in the decision a political message.

    The situation is now moving rapidly, statements made will be very difficult to un-state. The funding decision requires a review of the initial process, including the suggested retrospective development of support for Artist-led galleries. But I do feel that the Scottish Government could help by reiterating of the importance of a variety of different organisational structures in the arts, in order to ensure effective representation.

    I wish you well in your ongoing work and future deliberations and please accept my kindest regards.

    • Tony Reekie says:

      A brilliant letter Craig. It can be argued back and forth about ‘winners and losers’ and ‘only so much money to go around’ but the difficulty here is the utter weirdness of the companies chosen for cutting. Many, like Transmission, are not only lauded at home for the extraordinary work they do but, as you point out, are praised beyond our shores and recognised as models of working that move us all forward culturally. What we have fundamentally is a funding system so caught up in years of strategic doublethink that it cannot see what is in front of it. Some people in CS must know it’s broken, we just need to keep pushing and helping to change things and put the small amount of money our country chooses to spend on the arts in the hands of those, like Transmission, who can make new and brilliant things happen.