Given a cosmic delete button, I would erase the word culture.
I'd scrub any reference to "creative", too. Given half a chance, I'd do for "heritage", "strategy", "discourse", "potential" and all the hideous compounds that can be formed from these and other once-innocent bits of language. They're debauched, dead and therefore dangerous.
It sounds harsh, but I have my reasons. One is that less is more. Any half-decent society with an interest in its interior life can get by with a couple of simple words. One is art, the other is work. Together, those two cover anything liable to be accomplished by poets, painters, novelists, sculptors, musicians, playwrights and the rest. The words say all that needs to be said.
There is a second, better reason to edit out all the chatter, all the verbiage spreading like greasy moss over every conversation about art. Deprived of "culture", "creative", "strategy" and the like, administrators, politicians and "policy-makers" would have nothing left to say about works of the imagination. Or rather, they would be deprived of the chance to say nothing at all at pitiless length.
The Creative Scotland website would suffer a bit. There would be a lot of interesting white space where the Organisation with No Name used to be. Better that than "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..."
I have no idea what that means. It is supposed to advertise Year of Creative Scotland. Dump the weasel words and it could be a puff for whisky, timeshares, or anything else on which a metaphorical kilt can be hung. I understand the strategy, however. That has been hatched within minds given to thinking of the arts as branding opportunities. Specifically, the strategy has been born of brains capable of regarding art as a branch economy of the tourism industry.
This is embarrassing. It makes me wince. It proves that those who are paid to look after the interests of people working in the arts have no idea of what they are doing, or why they are doing it. It's tartanry, utterly unabashed, for the 21st century. It is also an extraordinary waste of scarce money.
This Year of Creative Scotland – what do you mean, you missed it? – will alone consume £6.5 million in its effort to "celebrate our world-class events, festivals, artistic and cultural heritage" as a PR adjunct, for no reason named, to the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games. Enabling artists to make art, while budgets are clobbered on all sides, is secondary. If that.
Better minds than mine have been harbouring such thoughts. Anyone liable to wonder why there could be a problem involving Creative Scotland need only ask those whose work is art. They are, variously, mortified, exasperated, insulted, outraged and disgusted. This year's funding review, the Lottery-driven work of genius that eradicated flexible funding and left 49 of 74 arts organisations to compete on a "project-by-project" basis, was for many, if not most, the last straw.
It's not the whole story, however. Funding is always good for a row, especially when governments in tight financial spots demonstrate what they really think of art. This problem goes deeper. In terms of apparatchik gibberish, it is a problem of "ethos". To put it another way: if a poet as distinguished as Don Paterson says the emperor is naked and obnoxious, something is far wrong. If Creative Scotland is not serving the makers of art – and such is the charge – what is it doing, exactly?
"Promoting" would be the glib and empty answer; manically, mindlessly promoting for the sake of promotion. In an essay contributed to Unstated: Writers on Scottish Independence, a collection due out in November, Paterson describes Creative Scotland as a "dysfunctional ant-heap", a bureaucracy devoted to "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". He is not too keen on the Year of Creating Aimlessly, it is fair to say.
The poet has some complaints specific to literature. These are not new, but somehow that only makes matters worse. After setting up a Literature Working Group to which Paterson and others devoted a good deal of time and thought, Scotland's Government ignored every recommendation. It then offered not a single alternative – the fact is well attested – save more vacuous promotion of a meaningless "brand". Creative Scotland, established while the group was at work, seems to have been born for that very purpose.
Paterson has the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, the TS Eliot Prize and a bundle of other honours besides: what would he know? What would assorted writers, publishers and editors know about the needs of literature, a field in which Scotland has a certain repute? But the scribblers are not alone in their outrage: since the funding review, every branch of the arts has been up in arms. And it is not, I repeat, just a question of money. Scottish literature, for one, has existed on buttons for decades.
Poverty might be tolerated were the paupers not insulted. Perhaps Creative Scotland is in desperate need of a corporate knowledge and planning manager and a media relations and PR manager. I only say that salaries from £36,000, as advertised, surpass the dreams of the average Scottish author. But how did it happen that art in Scotland became reduced – courtesy of VisitScotland – to a Year of Creative Scotland Toolkit, one "designed to help you promote and capitalise on the opportunities this theme year offers your business"?
It's risible. Worse, it has nothing to do with the arts – or do I mean cultural offerings? – that attract precious tourists to the country. Does someone seriously believe that devotees of RL Stevenson, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, or Irvine Welsh would head for Scotland because 2012 got nominated as an Olympics PR overspill? Someone does.
This would be the someone who can declare seriously that it is Creative Scotland's ambition "to see Scotland as one of the world's most creative nations by 2020". Would that be before or after they win us a World Cup or two? The ignorance of art is profound and chilling. Such individuals really do think that the life's work of a Don Paterson amounts to no more than a marketing tool. You can see why he might be unimpressed.
We have on our hands an arts body that has lost the trust of those who make art. That's not a triumph to boast of in 2012, 2020, or any other year. The old problem of arts funding remains – who decides who gets whatever cash is available? – but the debacle that is Creative Scotland represents a different, as some might say, challenge. The organisation's behaviour amounts to a statement. It says this: what the workers in art think doesn't matter. They can be exploited or ignored: it's their choice.
As Paterson observes: "This is medieval patronage, not support", born of a Nationalist "policy vacuum" and "a New Labour neo-managerialism incapable of understanding the difference between art and business". Precisely so.
Find a way to give art and control back to the artists, then. The alternative is a national humiliation.
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