This blog is not solely about the Creative Scotland stramash/crisis/stooshie, but it's clearly too big a story to ignore (even if there are, as usual, other things worth writing about in the arts world, of which more later).
But to Creative Scotland first:
The two-sub committees of its board have now begun their work investigating and gathering evidence before major changes are wrought at the funding body. Let’s hope their reports are not shelved or ignored.
The committees will both provide reports to the full board before Christmas. The inquiries were, I understand, actually planned before the letter signed by 100 artists was sent to chairman Sir Sandy Crombie last week. But the impetus behind them is now even more urgent.
Each group has a small team of board members, with one being led by journalist Ruth Wishart and the other by Barclay Price, the experienced head of Arts and Business Scotland. Ms Wishart’s group are looking into a rather broad remit of ‘operations’ while Mr Price looks at the Lottery and how and where Creative Scotland can use it.
It is hard to see how major, lasting changes in the way Creative Scotland works will come without movement - albeit not wholesale - in personnel at the top. Maybe I am wrong. But it will be a difficult, perhaps expensive, process if it comes to that.
Andrew Dixon, chief executive, was adamant, when talking to me last week, that the use of Lottery funds to fund companies who used to be on Flexible Funding was legitimate and appropriate.
National Lottery money cannot be used to directly replace Government funds. Creative Scotland believe the end of Flexible Funding is a clear break, and the subsequent funding of more than 40 companies with lottery cash is therefore a new system and so doesn’t break any rules or guidelines. Why, then, is Mr Price looking into it?
Sir Sandy’s second statement to artists last week was notably more concise and diplomatic than his first. Within Creative Scotland there was a feeling, certainly earlier this year, that the rising discontent was somehow: the ‘background noise’ one might expect of a funder-fundee relationship (why that should be the ‘norm’ I don’t know); a ‘central belt issue’ (of course, many of us live in the central belt, and that’s where many companies and artists are based); or, as was expressed, ‘a conversation between a couple of journalists and a couple of artists’.
Well, that wasn’t the case was it? They were slow to react or even take some of the discontent seriously, and it took last week’s letter to bring the matter to a crisis point.
If the many issues are not seriously addressed or, in Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop’s brusque phrase ‘sorted’ in the next three months, the board, its chair and the Government will have failed. And failed at a time when Scottish artists, of all kinds, are enriching culture with vibrancy, imagination, diversity, eclectic power and domestic and international success.
Anne Bonnar’s idea, expressed again this weekend, to establish an Academy of Artists with annual stipends, rather like the Aosdana in Ireland, is not a new one, and the Literature Working Group of 2010 suggested the same, but it is a notion that has never seemed to impress Governments, either Labour or SNP.
It could be relatively cheap to run. The bureaucracy would be light. The stipends would not be enormous. It could also provide a powerful voice for artists and culture in Scotland, separate from Creative Scotland and the Government, as well as bestowing a certain honour on the artists within in.
The question ‘well who would choose the artists?’ is sometimes raised as a killer question. Surely within Scotland there is enough wit, wisdom, experience and knowledge to pick, say, 50 leading artists for its inaugural membership. It would not be too taxing. I’m sure we could all write our own list right now.
A powerful national independent voice for artists, and not tied to or funded by a quango - why would any Government be against such a thing?
ON TO matters more uplifting: the lovely new show at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, which opens on October 17, the work of Czech photographer Jitka Hanzlova.
I was shown around the exhibition by Hanzlova on Monday, and it's a beautiful collection of photographs from the early 1990s to the present day. The images are clear, concise, and bathed in glowing light. There is nothing difficult about them, and there is a power in that simplicity.
Hanzlova uses film, a kind of camera she wouldn’t disclose (a secret), no artificial light and produces the images herself.
The moonlight in her haunting images of forests and woods, snow and night time, is limpid and ghostly. There is something in the expectant ranks of black trees which is unnerving. Hanzlova said once she was taking a photograph, and she felt someone looking over her shoulder, down the lens. She turned around expecting to see her friend. There was no one there. You can feel the chill in her work.
The artist said her ‘head’ is in the portraits of people and the landscapes of her hometown of Rokytnik in eastern Bohemia, but her heart is in the remarkable images of horses. You can tell. They are wonderfully warm and intimate.
The large space given permanently to photography at the SNPG reminded me of the campaign, for many years, for there to be a national museum or gallery of photography.
There was an idea for its to be in on Calton Hill, appropriately close to where the brilliant Scottish photographic pioneers David Hill and Robert Adamson worked. This single room is not what many envisaged, but it is a decided improvement for aficionados of the art form.
I am not sure the Government can afford to fund an entirely new national museum and gallery. The room, the Robert Mapplethorpe Gallery, is the first purpose-built space in any major museum in Scotland.
Hanzlova’s exhibition, in Scotland after being shown in Madrid, runs until February 3 next year and is well worth a look.
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