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Search begins for new head of troubled Creative Scotland

WHO will take over as the head of Creative Scotland?

Bridget McConnell tops the list of candidates for the Creative Scotland top job
Bridget McConnell tops the list of candidates for the Creative Scotland top job

That's the question on the lips of everyone in the Scottish arts world.

Whoever it is, they will be faced with not just one of the most influential, but also one of the toughest jobs in the arts. Not only did the last head of Creative Scotland, Andrew Dixon, end up resigning earlier this month after a feud with some of the biggest names in theatre and writing, but also an internal report out on Friday by the body severely criticised its own senior management.

So who are the names in the frame? Front and centre is Bridget McConnell, chief executive at Glasgow Life, and wife of former Labour first minister Jack McConnell – now Lord McConnell. Seona Reid, currently the director of Glasgow School of Art, is also hotly tipped.

News of Dixon's departure came two months after the publication of a devastating letter of criticism signed by more than 400 artists, writers, playwrights and musicians. It lambasted Creative Scotland's "ill-conceived decision-making; unclear language, lack of empathy and regard for Scottish culture".

Among the signatories was writer AL Kennedy. She said yesterday: "You need somebody who isn't going to do empty business-speak, who'll actually talk about things and engage with the issues and who understands the economic importance of the arts."

For playwright David Greig, the most necessary skills are vision and the ability to listen. He also thinks the nationality of the new chief executive is not of paramount importance. "What is important is approaching Scotland as a culture – not as a region or a haphazard collection of artists, but as a living contemporary culture," he said.

Should she decide to throw her hat into the ring, it seems there would be almost unanimous support for McConnell's candidacy.

She played a key role in bringing the 2014 Commonwealth Games to Glasgow and is used to handling an annual budget of around £100 million and commanding 3100 staff. During her 12 years in charge of Glasgow's cultural sector she oversaw the £35 million refurbishment of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, a revamp of the Mitchell Library, and an overhaul of the city's sports and leisure facilities.

Reid spent nine years as head of the Scottish Arts Council, one of the bodies dissolved to make way for Creative Scotland in 2010. She has been director of Glasgow School of Art since 1999, but she is set to retire in August 2013 and if, as some commentators suggest, the board of Creative Scotland decides an interim chief executive is the way to go, she may be the ideal solution.

Also mentioned as prospective candidates are Mary Miller, currently living in Norway where she oversaw Stavanger's reign as the European Capital of Culture in 2008; former director of Scottish Opera Ruth Mackenzie, who saw success this year as artistic director of the Cultural Olympiad; Karen Cunningham, who is the director of the Aye Write literature festival and head of libraries and cultural venues in the city; and Sir Michael Boyd, outgoing artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company who spent a decade as artistic director of Glasgow's Tron Theatre.

Other individuals who may consider applying include Joanna Baker, the managing director of the Edinburgh International Festival; Faith Liddell, director of Festivals Edinburgh; and – a dark horse, perhaps – media and entertainment lawyer Murray Buchanan, who was until last year the chairman of Glasgow's Citizens Theatre.

The recruitment process will begin in the new year.

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