Originally posted on The Scenic Route:
It’s taken me a while to get round to writing up my thoughts on the Open Space at Waverley Gate. What with directing and producing two shows concurrently, this is the first spare moment I’ve had to write things down! With any luck, I’ll get round to answering some of the emails I’ve received in the wake of it too…
It was a very intense day. On the one hand it was very exciting and inspiring to be around so many artists who all felt strongly about the need for change. On the other, there were a few frustrations – the focus was mostly on how we make it easier for artists to access the money available through Creative Scotland. I’m not denying that that’s important, but I don’t think that rethinking the application forms is sufficient. These problems with Creative Scotland are the result of ideological problems. For Creative Scotland to function well and be useful to artists rather than an obstacle to them, it must sort its collective head out.
When I look at the information currently available on the CS website and at their funding forms, I see language which reflects some troubling ideology. It’s very ‘businessy’. The Creative Scotland staff who attended the Open Space were at pains to point out that part of CS’ function is to act as an interlocutor between artists and government, making the case for our continued funding and role in society. Fair enough, but the issue is that if you don’t speak both languages you’re not much use as an interpreter. If artists are expected to learn the ‘businessy’ language (assuming it can be learned, because some of it looks like it really doesn’t mean anything), what’s the point of an intermediary? If that’s the role CS wants to fulfil, they need to speak OUR language. If they only speak the language of government, they can hardly be surprised if we regard them as an agent of government.
How can we fill in the gap between the first steps into a creative career and full professionalism? – i.e. how can we develop the infrastructure for the creative industries in Scotland.
Notes taken by Andrew Connor. If you were present and would like to add anything or give your own perspective, please comment below.
Andrew Connor introduced the topic, and noted that in his area, sound design, there were recent graduates with skills in the area, who worked on a few shorts and films making use of their own limited facilities, but who could not afford the professional facilities they needed to use for the next step. His worry was that, without the infrastructure to fill in this gap, we would continue to lose good talent to London and other film centres with a better infrastructure. He noted that he had submitted an application to CS outlining this concern, and suggesting a sound studio hub in Edinburgh as a resource to develop sound designers who had reached this ‘brick wall’, which would also collaborate with colleges to give the students a chance to shadow and build a knowledge of the industry.
Andrew Dixon noted that there was a specific problem with the film industry infrastructure in Scotland. He noted that a particular problem was the lack of a professional studio facility, but that CS have made some provision for this and were hopeful that there would be movement on this over the next few years. He noted that this film problem was quite distinct from other creative areas – for example, there are a lot of theatres in Scotland, but not enough professional productions to fill them, so the infrastructure was present but needed to attract more work in that example.
He also noted that there was a problem in infrastructure in other areas, though – Edinburgh, despite its status as an international festival venue, was in sore need to a good dance venue, a mid-sized music venue. He noted that venues like the Traverse are great in what they do, but had some problems with their acoustics.
He has been investigating the development of a National Youth Film Company to encourage and develop new talent in film-making. Andrew Connor acknowledged that this was a good idea, but also pointed out that there was an increasing number of older people switching careers or developing their talent in film-making, and that they should not be discriminated against because of age. He suggested a ‘New Talent’ or ‘Emerging Talent’ film company might be a better concept.
There was a discussion about theatres in Scotland – and that there is definitely an audience there to attract into the theatres, but that it was sometimes hard to match up productions and the places they could be programmed into. Scott noted that the general public view tended to be that if a production was at a venue with a good reputation, that was a guarantee of quality.
The group talked about crossing disciplines and how each could help the other – Scott and Janis talked about how dance could be placed into theatres, how it could be effectively subsidised by other more popular art forms such as panto. Michelle noted that there seemed to be a growing audience for site specific works, which may be an avenue worth exploring for crossover works. Janis pointed out that there was a danger that the art forms would just face calls to be innovative and collaborative, which was something most good artists already did.
There was general agreement that the arts needed to talk more to arrange ways to grow the audience, and encourage a new generation into the audience.
Andrew Dixon had to leave for another meeting.
The place of eduction in the arts was also raised – how we need to raise awareness and interest in the arts from an early age through all of the educational years. How could we get involved with the educational scene to bring people into the arts and encourage them to develop their creative interests. Janis noted she had done this for a while, but had then been asked to stop from telling the students too much about how artists actually survive in the real world, usually on very low salaries.
The people from the Highlands & Islands noted that certain arts have a clearer pathway than others to follow – e.g. in classical music, you study music, you practice your chosen instrument, you supply to places like the Conservatoire, you then apply to join and play with a professional orchestra. We need to explain the pathways into the various arts, encourage positive engagement at schools and colleges to show there are careers that can be developed, and that encouraging creativity develops inspirational skills for students. There should maybe be an apprenticeship / collaboration approach to allow students to see how the arts work. There was a general disapproval of the idea of internships – these encouraged only affluent people to take part, as others could not afford it. Skill and interest should be developed wherever it can be found. It was felt that Scotland could and should establish itself as a leader in Youth Arts.
Session then ended as most people had to leave.
Present: Andrew Connor, Jo King, Andrew Dixon (CS), Scott Kyle, Janis Claxton, Nick Wong (CS), Gillian Morrison, two others whose names I missed (from Highlands & Islands)
Notes taken by Andrew Connor. If you were also at this discussion, please feel free to send in any notes you made or add them to the comments.
Kraig outlined how the games industry currently works in Scotland:
ñ Most companies have to partner with a larger business such as a distributor. This means that most of the profit from any game goes to the larger company first.
ñ There was a bit of a collapse in the games industry a few years ago, but it is rebuilding.
ñ Most of the companies now are small and independent.
ñ There is a bit of a network for talking to each other (Scottish Games Network, co-ordinated by Brian Baglow who unfortunately couldn’t make the meeting).
ñ The companies don’t talk to the other creative arts companies much, and most don’t realise they can get any help from Creative Scotland.
ñ Most public funding for the games industry would come from Scottish Enterprise.
ñ There is little realisation that they can talk to Creative Scotland, or of the support that could be on offer.
ñ Creative Scotland would not be in a position to offer financial help, but could help with representation, networking, etc.
The CS people present noted that as there hasn’t been a central body for the games industry to date, it has been hard to get a coherent view of the industry. There was a hope that the Scottish Games Network would provide this voice and there would be a co-ordinated approach to CS via this network, and better communication within the games companies to create a unified voice.
There was a discussion about both talent retention and talent acquisition – both the film and games industries have a problem that people reach a certain level of ability, but there are too few opportunities to keep their skills in Scotland, so we lose them to London or the USA. There is a need to develop the infrastructure to retain our own talent, and attract international talent and investment here.
Venu noted that the talent forming the infrastructure is not always appreciated. In the theatre, it used to be that the central management did everything, including finance and running the payroll. Then there was a move towards creative producers / directors who only wanted to concentrate on the creative side, and the ‘payroll’ function was assigned elsewhere – over time, that function has become regarded as second class. We need to remove that stigma and realise that everyone is contributing to building and developing the creative industries in Scotland, no matter what they do.
There is a movement towards professionalism in arts, which loses the camaraderie, and creates static roles. We need to break down the barriers, both within and between the various arts sectors.
Kraig and Andrew noted that we’re all happy describing games and film as industries, but theatre, literature and other arts are less happy to be described as such. Andrew noted that though roles were very defined in film, most acknowledge all roles are necessary to make the whole thing work.
Ann left, Gillian joined us.
We discussed the tone for CS communication, that it needed to be refreshing and allow the arts communities to reply with their views.
Gillian suggested a moderated online forum, noting that Argos pays attention to the reviews posted by its customers. Andrew thought that a series of face-to-face meetings across the country might also reassure the creative community and give CS immediate feedback. There should also be an effort to encourage more cross-art discussion and collaboration, and that decision making should be more transparent.
Venu and Iain noted that two-way discussions were good, but that meetings tended to rely on individual people getting involved, standing up and getting the conversation going, such as Jen.
Venu had to leave for another meeting.
The discussion then centred on transparency, that it was important that the creative community have a better understanding of how the decisions were made. The application process is complicated, and it might be a good idea to have a first point of contact who could assist and steer applicants towards the correct funding stream. Iain noted that CS is 2 years in, and reassessing its procedures all the time. It is anticipated that there will be a more simplified application process in the next year or so.
Kraig noted that a key question often raised by the games industry was ‘where does it hurt?’ (i.e. what did you find awkward / confusing / unhelpful) which got more honest and open feed back than ‘what do you think?’. He suggested CS make use of that approach in assessing their procedures and operations.
Andrew left – and had to stop taking notes (but it was breaking up by then anyway).
Discussion attended by (please comment if your name has not been included or has been listed incorrectly and it will be fixed):
Kraig (sorry, missed his surname)
Ann Bonar (not sure of spelling)
Venu Dhupa (CS)
Iain Munro (CS)
Michelle? (Note from Jen – I can identify ‘Michelle’ as Gillian Morrison of Thought Out Media, so I’ve edited her name in the notes.)
Notes taken by Wendy Law. If you were also at this discussion, please feel free to send in any notes you made or add them to the comments.
Q Re: Creative Scotland - Are the right people making the decisions?
Do they have the specialist expertise needed to ensure funding supports talent development and quality work?
A – There appears to be no external specialist art form expertise brought in to the process (see below)
Q How are the decisions being made?
What is the process? And is that process made clear to the public
A CS person was on hand to answer some of the questions.
When asked, not one member in the open space group knew how decisions were made as this information was not in the public domain.
The decision making process is not publicised on the CS website (publicly accountable?). The website is to be updated. The publication of grant figures has recently been made available but without reference to the art form they come under – a member of the group cited only 4 out of 158 grants had gone to dance.
Artists and others have picked up anecdotally about how some decisions are made.
We were told:
A Applications are looked at by CS Development Officers, Recommendations go to CS `Portfolio’ Managers and are then sent to the Director of Creative Development for signing off.
A The use of specialist advisers sometimes (capacity allowing??)
(Q Who are the specialist advisers? what are their credentials? what is the process of recruitment and turn around?)
Q Where are ARTISTS in Creative Scotland’s decision making process ?
Artists don’t appear to be anywhere in the decision making process
In addition to the above, another question was raised:
Q Who decides and develops the priorities (and policies) for the Funding Schemes?
The specific issues:
The decision making process on funding is not publicly transparent
The decision making process does not appear to include external expertise (those experts who deliver on the ground)
The decision making process does not include artists
The decision making process is not art form specific but `Scheme’ specific
The decision making process does not seem to include rigorous debate
The decision making process seems geared to a one size fits all approach – when the arts require a nuanced and bespoke understanding and application.
The funding schemes are confusing – Artists self exclude because they do not understand the schemes and find it difficult to access guidance and people in CS.
Artists do not have the information they need when they need it
Organisations and artists concerned those making the decisions may well never have seen the work or have an understanding of the context geographic/artistic/social etc in which it sits.
Artists can do more by self organising (as in Open Space) and connecting with networks to be a stronger voice.
The wider issues:
The lack of prioritisation of the developmental role of Creative Scotland – the need for funding support along the way, ie: the stages in the trajectory of the artist’s career or in growing an innovative and risk taking organisations.
All serious issues that affect artists and need to be addressed. The solutions are straight forward, however, are they in accord with the ethos and motivation of CS as an organisation?
Discussion attended by (if your name has been omitted or listed incorrectly please comment):
Brian Ferguson (Scotsman)
Hazel du Bourdiu
Iain Munro (CS)
The first Artists’ Open Space has happened. The venue was Waverley Gate, headquarters of Creative Scotland, and the theme was “Artists and Creative Scotland: Where Do We Go From Here?”
Discussions were called by several participants who then took notes on those discussions. As the notes and reports are fed back to me, I’ll copy them onto this site. This is not only for the purpose of keeping a record, but so that we can continue discussions via comments if necessary.
Please remember when reading that these are notes taken by an individual. If you were present and would like to add something that has been missed out or offer an alternative interpretation of the things that were said, please do so in comments or forward your own version of the notes to me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
I’ll also be reblogging and posting links to anything I find that has been written about the meeting, so if you come across anything that I haven’t yet put up please feel free to let me know.
The purpose of this blog is to keep a public record of the discussions that take place as part of Artists’ Open Space, starting with the meeting at Waverley Gate on 26 October 2012.
Anyone who goes to an Open Space meeting can call a discussion on whatever they wish. There’s a central theme, but beyond that it’s entirely guided by the participants. Whoever calls the discussion writes a report. All the reports that are sent to me will be posted here, allowing the discussion to continue in the comment sections.