THE LAST thing Creative Scotland needs is another crisis of its own making. So it is regrettable that analysis of any strategy behind the Burns day announcement of recipients of regular three-year funding has come from seasoned commenters on the arts rather than from the organisation itself. Inevitably attention is focussing on the losers – those organisations previously in receipt of regular funding which have been dropped from the list this time. It can only look like the quango was courting opposition when these include theatre companies producing acclaimed work for children and with disabled people. There has been pretty robust condemnation of the treatment meted out to musical groups like the Dunedin Consort and Hebrides Ensemble as well, while Stirling’s Macrobert Arts Centre suffers a substantial reduction in funding at the same time as the local council is proposing to cut its support for the Big Noise music education project and the Smith Art Gallery and Museum.

If there is a direction of travel in the announcement of grants it appears to be away from the regular funding of artists – sending them in the direction of the project-by-project open application process – and towards the support of umbrella organisations that take care of certain sectors of the arts or promote activity in particular geographical areas. The lessons of Scottish arts funding history are that this is a strategy fraught with danger.

One of the organisations on which Creative Scotland has smiled, at least in terms of maintaining its funds at the current level (effectively a cut in inflationary times, of course), is Enterprise Music Scotland (EMS), on whose board I served for many years. As well as creating innovative projects in partnership with composers and ensembles, and assisting the career development of chamber musicians, EMS disburses funds to the dozens of music clubs and societies putting on concerts all over Scotland. That big task was successfully delegated to it by the Scottish Arts Council, but is unique in the cultural infrastructure of Scotland because of the vast amount of unpaid time put into making the concerts happen by the volunteers who run those local promoting organisations.

Immediately below EMS on the spreadsheet of regular funding awards is another umbrella body, the Federation of Scottish Theatre, which has an entirely different function in representing and providing shared resources – in areas like health and safety training for example – for the many professional theatre companies and receiving venues in Scotland. Like most “umbrella” bodies it was brought into being by the sector itself (it celebrated its 40th birthday in 2016), out of a perceived need to speak with a collective voice and share best practice. Other umbrella organisations, like North East Arts Touring in Aberdeenshire, were brought into existence by the requirement for an administrative structure to take productions to a network of venues in a specific area.

The better way for these organisations to be funded is on a subscription model where those who need their services have the resources to pay for membership, and the body is then accountable to them. What appears to be happening under current thinking at Creative Scotland is that the umbrella body is beholden in the other direction. There is plenty of historical evidence that this is a bad idea. The other area in which I have had a long term involvement in a non-journalistic capacity is jazz music in Scotland, and that is strewn with the corpses of short-lived “national” initiatives, while the track record of the Scottish Arts Council and Creative Scotland in meddling over-enthusiastically in the administration side of the arts runs from troubled times at the Third Eye Centre/CCA venue on Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street to the more recent debacle with the creation of Comar as a pan-arts organisation on Mull.

Creative Scotland, like the Scottish Arts Council, must be absolutely free to operate at arm’s length from government, but the current thinking at Waverley Gate seems to extend that arm’s length principle to its own relationship with artists by filtering more of its largesse through intermediaries. That is simply not the job of our arts funding body. Its job is to fund the making of art for everyone.