The chief of one of Scotland’s largest arts organisations has claimed that the nation “is on the cliff-edge of a cultural recession”.

Karen Anderson, chair of Wasps – the country’s largest provider of studios for artists, makers and the creative industries – said that spiralling inflation and the hike in energy prices was forcing “talented artists to reconsider whether they can afford to continue their cultural careers”.

Ms Anderson, who was appointed chair in March this year, also said there was evidence of decline in Scottish Government’s four cultural indicators.

In an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with The Herald to be published tomorrow, Ms Anderson said that, to stay viable, Wasps was forced to increase the rents to its 1000 artists by up to 16% and levy an energy surcharge.

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She added: “As a not-for-profit charity, our rental income from tenants has to cover the costs of running and maintaining our buildings. A 400% electricity hike meant we had to reluctantly introduce a monthly electricity surcharge. And ongoing spiralling inflation, especially on costs of maintaining our buildings, resulted in significant rent rises.

“From our conversations with tenants and the Scottish Artists' Union, we know artists and creatives are experiencing crippling hardship. The very ethos of Wasps is to provide affordable studios, but that is becoming increasingly more difficult.”

Ms Anderson made her comments just a few days after more than 50 artists based at Wasps’ East Campbell Street studios in Glasgow staged a public demonstration calling for more transparency and better engagement from Wasps management board. The artists said that rent and energy increases had been imposed on them without consultation and that they lacked detail. The artists accused Wasps management of taking “the most simplistic solution possible by dumping the expense on the tenant, instead of devising complex, sophisticated, professional, intelligent solutions as befitting a substantial team of staff and board members on salaries beyond the reach of most artists.”

They added: “Our experience has been that there has been a lack of trust in Wasps for many years among tenants, and this has grown recently due to the lack of transparency and poor communication.”

Ms Anderson now says she intends to hold in-person and online meetings with the artists over the next few weeks to discuss their concerns. She acknowledged that there were ‘trust issues’ to address.

She cited Scottish Government performance indicators on arts and culture which showed a year-on-year decrease on GVA (value to the economy) of £79m (-1.8%) in real terms between 2019 and 2020, down from an estimated £4445m. This was £490m down from its 2017 peak, indicating cuts in events and spaces.

Meanwhile, employment numbers in Scotland’s arts, culture and creative industries sector were down by 10,000 (5.9%) on 2021.

Ms Anderson added: “A thriving and growing cultural sector creates a more successful country – contributing to the economy, creating a positive and unique identity for Scotland, providing more opportunities for people to grow and flourish, driving physical and mental health outcomes, bringing people together through a shared passion.

“Post Covid and in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis the evidence points to a decline, or at best, stagnation in the arts in Scotland. In other words, cultural recession.”

Ms Anderson said Wasps was not alone in making hard choices. She pointed to the temporary closure last year of The Modern Two art gallery in Edinburgh, described as the tip of the iceberg of the crisis facing many of Scotland’s cultural venues.

The Edinburgh International Film Festival, the Filmhouse and Aberdeen’s Belmont cinema closed with a loss of 102 jobs. Dance Base, an arts charity with a 30-year history, announced the closure of half their studio space and the loss of jobs, in response to reduced funding and increased energy bills of 350%.

Ms Anderson said she supported the Scottish Government’s culture strategy, citing its introduction, “that by investing in and strengthening culture, we are investing in the future cultural, social and economic success of Scotland”.

“However, it’s clear we’re not investing enough,” She said. She added that while Wasps received grant funding towards restoring historic buildings, there were no relief funds to mitigate increased maintenance costs or to support tenants in crisis. “While we recognise competing pressures on budgets, simple measures such as an arts energy cap will pay for themselves in the long run."

A spokesperson for Creative Scotland said: “A combination of rising costs, falling income from other sources, and the implementation of public policy developments, is placing unprecedented pressures on the creative and cultural sector.

“Many organisations we fund on a regular basis have received unchanged levels of funding for a number of years and this is increasingly unviable. Funding at a ‘standstill’ level, particularly with current and projected levels of inflation, represents an increasing year-on-year cut for organisations currently supported through our Regular Funding programme.

“The benefits of the Covid-19 emergency support are being more than overtaken by a ‘perfect storm’ of factors.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scotland’s culture sector is fundamental to our national identity and it receives significant annual funding from the Scottish Government. While Scotland’s screen sector recently posted record results, we know the recovery of other parts of the sector has been slower as a result of the ongoing cost of living crisis.

“Our work to support this recovery is ongoing and we will continue to do everything within our powers and resources to help those most affected by current economic challenges.

“We remain extremely concerned at the UK Government’s lack of recognition of the problem of rampant inflation on energy and the associated energy costs for the sector, never mind a plan to tackle these huge costs.”