WHEN Janet Archer announced her resignation earlier this week, I doubt anyone was surprised. Ever since Creative Scotland’s CEO went off on prolonged sick leave, her return seemed unlikely. After what is widely viewed as a disastrous appearance before a Holyrood panel to justify the most recent funding cuts, Ms Archer was on ice that was growing thinner by the day. Instead of defending the decisions of her colleagues, she apologised for errors of judgment and strategy. In so doing, she lost support on every side. She might as well have written her resignation letter on the spot.

At the time, it was hard to understand why she took such a cowed position. In light of what followed, though, that misstep suggests as clearly as Munch’s Scream the destabilising and devastating impact holding such a thankless and challenging position can have on even the most level-headed and thick-skinned. And whatever her many other admirable qualities, Ms Archer was not blessed with a rhino’s hide.

No wonder her post has been called a poisoned chalice. The departure in 2001 of Tessa Jackson, head of the Scottish Arts Council for a mere two years, was later mirrored by the turbulent tenure of Andrew Dixon, CEO of the newly formed Creative Scotland. He was forced to resign in 2012 after massive protests from the arts community about the direction the organisation had taken. Add the latest resignation to that roster, and it doesn’t take a doctor to diagnose a body in turmoil.

Ms Archer’s appointment five years ago seemed to promise a less combustible era, a time when common sense rather than sturm und drang would prevail. That her role has also come to a dramatic and painful end indicates just how demanding – you might say impossible – this job has become.

No doubt as I write, an advert for the vacant position is being drafted. Yet who would apply without first knotting a string of garlic around their necks? Comic book writer Mark Millar’s eagerness to tackle the job – 10 years hence – can be dismissed as braggadocio. His proposals for how better to finance the arts might be worth hearing, but the most pressing issue for Creative Scotland right now is not its funding model, but re-establishing confidence in the way decisions are made. And then defending its position.

As was evident after the most recent outcry over cuts, the arts community has realised that when it shouts, things happen. In general, that is a very good thing. The furore over the management of Creative Scotland under Mr Dixon and his cronies was a necessary intervention and corrective. From every quarter of the arts there was anger at major problems in the way it operated. As a result, a simpler and supposedly fairer system was put in place.

Noisy complaints about loss of funding by individual parties, however, are a different matter. Nobody would deny that those who are unhappy have a right to protest. It should not have reached a position, however, as it did under Ms Archer, where the crowd’s opinion completely undermines the experts. When the Culture Secretary took to Twitter to join the outcry over the axing of Scottish Youth Theatre’s funding, Creative Scotland’s chief was on borrowed time.

How misguided for the Government to turn on its own agency when it was stewarding its resources as responsibly and equitably as it could. Fiona Hyslop’s humiliating public intervention might have won her friends in the theatre world, but it diminished her professional standing. In a single Trump-like tweet, she destroyed the illusion – as we now recognise – of an arm’s length relationship between Holyrood and its arts funding body. It’s more of an arm lock. Meanwhile, Ms Archer’s apology to an inquisition at the Scottish Parliament effectively acknowledged that she and her staff are accountable primarily to it, rather than the arts community and the tax payer.

This debacle leaves serious issues to be resolved. Not least is the cruelly isolated position in which Ms Archer was left. No wonder she has decamped. As a result, who now would willingly step into her shoes? And who among CS’s advisors will feel secure in proposing difficult budget choices, knowing how far-reaching the backlash might prove?

The most fundamental question, however, is even more insidious. Following this unedifying episode, it appears that the Government wants funding to go to projects it approves of or which suit its notion of what the arts should be doing. If we’re not careful, state subsidy could gradually come to mean state sanction.

It should go without saying that if the arts are about anything, it is questioning those in power and challenging received opinion. Art is not a garnish for governments keen to parade their cultural credentials. Art is, or should be, fundamentally anti-establishment. It does not have to be anarchic but it must be free of political control or the authorities. The sorry tale of Ms Archer’s resignation points to a potentially worrying new direction. High on the list of tasks for her successor must be to deepen the moat between Creative Scotland and our political leaders.