Research Topics and Speculation about Art and Public Space by Scottish artist Matt Baker

Saturday, 15 September 2012

What I Wrote to a Parliamentary Committee

I have been asked to appear before the Parliamentary Committee on Education and Culture next week - in advance I was told I could submit a written contribution to the debate. Before doing this I spoke to many colleagues and put out a call for comment on our local arts blog 

Whilst much of the content of my statement has been discussed with colleagues - it is entirely my own personal view. The statement is now in the public domain and has already been reported by the media - the article that I have seen,I feel, places undue emphasis on 'criticsm ' of Creative Scotland - what I intended, was to provide positive strategies for action that would benefit grassroots arts in Scotland and assist CS in achieving their aims. 
Here is my full submission to the committee if anyone would like to see what I actually wrote:

(NB when I wrote my statement I thought it would only be read by committee members in advance of the hearing and then would be made public along with full transcript of the committee proceedings.......It was certainly NOT my intention to whip up any kind of public controversy) 

Culture and Education Committee - Scottish Parliament 18.09.12

Creative Scotland – One Year On          Written Evidence submitted by Matt Baker

1. Much to applaud in the bravery of the apparent attempt to affect a sea-change in the way we approach public support of creativity and culture in Scotland.
2. From the ‘factory floor’ the CS approach comes across as threefold:
·       To market Scottish creativity on an international stage at the highest level
·       To move creative endeavour away from dependence on subsidy and towards self-sustainability
·       To breakdown out-dated distinctions between artforms ………ie focus on what the work is doing for different audiences rather than concentrating on how it was produced.

3. HOWEVER ……..there is unease at some of the ways the CS approach is being received at grassroots of the Scottish creative scene and serious questioning about the long term implications for our industry.

4. The way that CS is marketing Scottish creativity on an international stage is similar to having employed a foreign football coach to try and achieve greater success in European competition……this feels like the team our ‘natural game’ is being suppressed in favour of an unfamiliar system. It is still early days and it is probably worth sticking with the experiment for now – but important to keep an eye out for morale in the camp.

5. The second element of CS’ apparent tripartite approach is the one which I believe is the most in need of immediate adjustment: away from dependence on subsidy and towards self-sustainability……
·       CS appears to be applying a traditional Development Agency model to the arts. the strategy seems to be to remove core funding and instead support individual projects on the premise that this targeted support will allow/encourage organisations to become self-sustaining and independent of ongoing support. This strategy applied from a centralised national body – and without a complimentary package of other measures (see below) cannot work and will cause wanton destruction of vital arts infrastructure in the country (eg withdrawal of Flexible Funding programme)

·       A significant problem with this approach is that the delivery of ‘one-off projects’ is too often awarded to ‘safe pairs of hands’ and even more problematically to consultancies and production companies that are often based out with Scotland. Thus, such projects do not leave any meaningful future capacity behind them.

Meanwhile…… a quiet revolution is taking place at the grassroots of the arts in Scotland – a revolution that could help CS to achieve the aim of away from dependence on subsidy and towards self-sustainability…… if they were to make some quick changes of emphasis in the way they are applying their approach.
The arts in Scotland have always been world leaders in work that is collaborative and developed through the active participation of communities of folk. Recent reduction in local government support for the arts (and the confusion at the end of SAC and start of CS) has seen the flourishing of cross-disciplinary and practitioner-led organisations. These organisations are forging meaningful partnerships in their locality and working together to deliver on strategic objectives out with the normal arts remit (eg Health/Wellbeing, Education, Economic Development, Town Centre Regeneration, Tourism, Environment and Sustainability). These initiatives are breaking down the perception of ‘arts being just for an arts audience’ and building a case for the arts as tool for the common good right across the spectrum.
Examples of such initiatives that I have personal experience of are IOTA (Inverness), Glorious Govan (Govan) , The Stove (Dumfries) and Borders Arts Trust

What is needed… is for CS to adopt a more devolved development structure to encourage the growth of local practitioner-led groups – these are the breeding ground of tomorrow’s national Scottish cultural ‘squad’.
·       Regionally based CS officers – spending at least 2 thirds of their working week in their region (and the rest at CS HQ) – getting a genuine feel for how the arts in a region are working and where development investment would be most valuable. A regional strategic organisation like the ‘Chamber of Arts’ in the SouthWest would be perfect structure for such a regional officer to fit within.

·       Helping to change the understanding of the Arts as ‘different’ – the prevalent business culture is that artists need a ‘middleperson’ to mediate between them and the ‘normal ‘ world. CS needs to stop giving funding to consultants and agencies (especially those based in England) – instead they need to give priority to projects where creative individuals and groups are working directly with other partners and particularly where projects will result in increased local capacity for future projects.

·       Supporting practical initiatives eg introduction of ‘percentage for arts’ legislation within local planning legislation (ref The Highland Council), working with local authorities, NHS etc on ways that procurement process can be easier for creative organisations to negotiate. Supporting local arts organisations in negotiating contracts with Education, Regeneration, Tourism etc to establish themselves as contractors in these fields and to ensure that this support assists in the building of long-term sustainable working relationships for local arts organisations (rather than just short-term gains for external consultants etc).

Public Art….. is an example of the window of genuine opportunity that exists right now. CS is investing in a few large-scale Public Art projects that it sees as being of ‘international scale’. This ‘grand projects’ scale of Public Art has never been a big part of practice in Scotland – rather we have been world leaders in truly integrated and ‘socially-engaged’ public art.  Public Art is one of the areas of arts practice that is most conducive to blurring the boundaries between arts disciplines and to building partnerships with agencies out with the arts. Carefully targeted CS investment in local public art capacity could provide a vital income stream for the arts in region that would help support self-sufficient local arts infrastructure. All CS would need to do was deploy a local officer to:
·       Advocate for the arts with potential partner organisations
·       Direct CS investment to build local capacity
·       Work with local authorities to broker cross agency working and encourage the use of arts project to deliver on strategic objectives
·       Discourage the reliance on external consultants – instead promote the idea of building sustainable relationships directly with local artists and arts groups.