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Arts chief admits problem

Published on 13 October 2012

The chairman of Scotland's national arts funding body admitted in a conciliatory letter it has a major problem in its dealing with artists.

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Sir Sandy Crombie, chairman of Creative Scotland also revealed two board meetings, on October 22 and December 6, will play a crucial role in the future of the arts funding body.

Sir Sandy, responding unexpectedly for the second time in a week to the damning letter from more than 100 artists asking for change at the body, struck a notably less combative tone than his letter earlier in the week, which was described as "inadequate" by artists, with a tone of "patrician emollience".

His first lengthy response to the artists had said that "in choosing to be concise, you have of course sacrificed the provision of detail at a level that my board colleagues and I can investigate" and also stated "they who provide the money have a right to ask what will result from that investment". Both phrases, among others, antagonised artists.

However, in his second letter, days after a brusque "sort it" message from Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop, Sir Sandy admitted: "A number of artists and representative groups are taking issue with how we at Creative Scotland do things and how we relate to them.

"The board and senior management team are hearing these concerns and right now are taking stock and absorbing what has been said. I want to give my personal reassurance that all matters brought to our attention will be thoroughly considered and, where possible and necessary, that improvements will be made."

Two inquiries, made up of board members, one led by journalist Ruth Wishart, a columnist for The Herald's Society page, and the other led by Barclay Price, chief executive of Arts and Business, will look into the funding body's operations and its lottery funding.

The two committees will report before Christmas and major changes at the organisation, including in personnel, are expected to be prompted by their work.

Creative Scotland's problems have been prompted by not only the removal of "flexible funding", or fixed-term funding, for more than 40 organisations, but also its use of business language, its commissioning role, and its structure.

Creative Scotland is now also considering establishing a new "consultative forum" to help inform on issues affecting artists and organisations.

Sir Sandy, former chief executive of Standard Life, said: "It is also my intention that we will take informal soundings from a range of those who care deeply about our role, and how we discharge it, about possible approaches to dealing with issues before final decisions are taken. I do not want to put pressure on those we consult by calling them representatives. However, I hope it will be possible to find approaches that give us confidence the feedback we receive is representative."

Last night, the leading playwright, David Greig, responded: "This is a very encouraging statement. I get that sense that the specific concerns have been heard at Waverley Gate [Creative Scotland's offices in Edinburgh] and a process of practical change is being put in place.

"Rebuilding trust with the sector will be a more difficult matter. It will take time but, for the moment, this statement feels like a step in the right direction."

Yesterday, Ms Hyslop told The Herald: "I strongly believe in direct communication, that there will be a resolution and a way forward.

"I have made it clear to the board what I expect. They are taking it very seriously and I expect to see results."

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