Summing up the Sessions

By Pat Kane

It was quite a tour, travelling to eight widely distant towns and cities of Scotland, setting up in grand venues and low ceilings, new build and old town, nestled in housing schemes and perched on island promontories – to meet, in a concentrated burst, the kind of people I’ve mostly ever wanted to spend my time with: artists, creatives, troublemakers and mark-makers, and those who enable, support and enjoy them.

And once there, to find myself facilitating a genuinely open space of reform in an important public institution – with all attending bearing the responsibility to seize the moment, under the most public and freely-mediated of conditions. From all sides, we heard concrete plans, evocative language, instructive tales, critical concepts, undervalued histories and experiences.

What we did is all up here, on the bountiful Net: a considerable mentation on the purpose and direction of the support of cultural and creative activity in Scotland – something to be mined and utilised in the future, as we all have the time to spare. I hope the process we started builds and builds. And that “open” is a door that never, to be honest, needs to be locked shut again.

However, I would like to take the blogger’s and facilitator’s right to attempt a summary of the CSOpen process. This will be shaped and selected no doubt by my own predilections and commitments – though I will try to feel the whole of the material. Regard this as one final, showboating riff at the end of a long, furrow-browed but rewarding session.

For me, one of the obvious findings from the CSOpen sessions is that the language, and thus the policy, around the distribution and usage of Creative Scotland’s resources must change. The greatest and most common anxiety was that a “financialised” and “corporatised” language – “investment”, “value/outcome” and “strategic commissioning”, rather than, say, “funding”, “quality/excellence” and “artistic support” – had become too dominant in the operations of Creative Scotland.

Independently and separately from several of the speakers, with a considerable positive response from the hundreds attending the sessions, the analysis was offered that an ill-considered (or lazily adopted) “creative industries” paradigm had gripped both the preparation stages for, and the early years of, Creative Scotland.

The absurdity that CS, in exercising its responsibility for “arts, screen and creative industries”, might be responsible for every one of the activities in that third term, was regularly and widely noted. (The standard 1997 DCMS definition includes advertising, art and antiques, design, designer fashion, software/electronic publishing, digital/entertainment media and architecture – areas hardly or ever touched by CS, which mostly deals with the CI categories of publishing, film/video/photography and music/visual/performing arts).

There was one consistently expressed worry from most participants. How could the classic DCMS definition of creative industries – “those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property” – ever happily sit within the same decision-process that deals with “non-public-facing”, “experimental” or tradition-based artists in fine arts, literature, film or music?

Let alone accept and support, in good faith, the “creative disloyalty”, (Richard Holloway’s still-resonant words) which might motivate artworks that question or trouble the basic goals of “wealth”, “job creation”, and the “exploitation of intellectual property” in the first place?

David Hume

“Truth springs from argument amongst friends” – David Hume

Yet what might have threatened to be an all-too-predictable gulf between “art for art’s sake, money for god’s sake” – and one that several voices from the floor warned about – turned out to be, in retrospect, a much more constructive and fertile discussion. “Truth springs from arguments amongst friends”, as Dumfries-based sculptor Matt Baker inspiringly quoted from David Hume. Some fascinating ideas emerged from exchanges in a room over a few hours between those self-identifying as “arts”, and those as “creative industries”.

But before outlining them, what should be briefly noted is the way the process and experience of the “sessions” themselves are themselves a model for the kind of organisational changes Creative Scotland needs to consider for itself (and maybe other public organisations too).

These were properly resourced, yet freely-attended conversations (within the limits of each venue); conducted widely across the country’s geography, with the content and value of each sessions properly honored, recorded and disseminated. For friends to argue (and the truth to spring forth), “friendly” conditions – meaning convivial spaces, evident mutual respect, and open-ended dialogue – must exist to begin with.

I am a commercial musician and writer, whose creative life has always involved grappling with technology, aesthetics/values and market conditions. So for me, one of the most fascinating strains in the CSOpen dialogue between “arts”, “screen” and “creative industries” was how the impact of “the digital and internet revolution” pointed to new ways of thinking about old cultural-policy conundrums.

  • The massive “convergence” of media across screens, devices and networks was a huge commercial opportunity – but in order to be original, interactive content creators needed the kinds of zones for non-market experimentation that the more conventional arts get from their public support. How could we build those?
  • Those alive to the contributory nature of much networked culture and behaviour – whether crowd-creation, or crowd-funding – reached out to traditional companies and artists, hoping to share tips about community or motivation. What new kinds of collective art could be made?
  • Films were now being viewed everywhere – mobile device, HDTV, laptop, on pay-per-view and open web – and not just in commercial “theatrical release” (its commercial strictures too high a bar for most Scottish filmmakers to get over). Could a new justification for an “arts” approach to film-funding be derived from this new “convergent” age. Where (in May Miles Thomas’ words) “all films are equal”, on a myriad of screens? And where supporting a film culture for variety and impact would produce more fertile results, in terms of films made, than a hard-nosed “return-on-investment” model?

These ideas resonated in the rooms of CSOpen, bringing forth their own refinements and responses (in the best Humean spirit). There were, both from attendees and speakers, some strong voices in favour of CS’s strategy around the promotion of arts and culture to audiences – for example, its ability to curate and sponsor events and competitions which provide a public platform for Scottish artists, creators and creative communities (Tartan Week, Creative Scots awards, Creative Places, the SAY Awards, the various Fèis or Gaelic Arts organisations).

Yet in my assessment, these voices were surpassed by a deep and consistent scepticism about Creative Scotland itself becoming too much the “news” in these kinds of activities, rather than the news being the artists and creatives they should be supporting. Connected to this was another charge; that the often arcane funding categories of CS’s recent years, and the even more labyrinthine and jargon-laden forms that came with them, were in some degree driven by pressure from the Scottish Government, wanting to demonstrate that arts and culture could produce “outcomes” contributory to national indicators of progress or prosperity.

This bureaucratic anxiety bespoke a corrosion of Creative Scotland’s “trust” (a huge word in the lexicon of these events) in what artists might decide for themselves was a proper “outcome” or “impact” of their art – which itself might be universal, inimitable or unmeasurable by the usual “indicators”.

So a regular call was for simplicity in the organisation’s discourse around funding and support: a clear recognition of, and respect for, what artists wanted to do with their artforms and institutions, by their own lights and energies. And an official language which recognised that reality – the autonomy and ultimate self-direction of artists and creatives.

So yes, CSOpen expresses a strong majority resistance (though not total, and with many subtleties) to a market-friendly language for arts – indeed, the polar opposite to the Coalition minister Maria Miller’s injunction that “art is a commodity”. But I would claim, on another register, that there was a broad, rich and sophisticated yearning for a new framework and vocabulary, by which the “social” and “civic” value of arts could be developed and extended.

Maria Miller

Maria Miller – Secretary of State for Culture,
Media and Sport.

Certainly, terms like “networks”, “local” and “ecology” were used as readily as terms like “project” or “sector” or “organisation”. David Greig the playwright tweeted eloquently during the process that “permaculture” might well be the best metaphor for how a national arts organisation related to its artists: “Work with what you’ve got, minimal intervention, encourage interlinked systems, create conditions where the whole begins to look after itself.”

David Greig's tweet

David Greig’s tweet

From as far afield as Eigg and Dumfries, and given voice from Inverness to Edinburgh, the importance of respecting and fostering peer-to-peer structures of artists and creatives, and finding some way for their expertise and experience to have an increased input into funding decisions, was stressed in every session. This took various forms – from as lofty as a few paid positions for working artists on the Creative Scotland board, to as local as CS semi-voluntary representatives in most counties in Scotland.

But it certainly seemed from these sessions as if many artists and creatives were willing to countenance an increase in their involvement in the administration and strategy of arts policy and resources – if that policy and resource was truly responsive to actual and existing arts practice.

An element of this desire for participation in the structures of arts funding and support was expressed in a frustrated way, as a regular railing against the Creative Scotland Board. It was clear to many that the secretive, corporate process involved in selecting a new CEO for Creative Scotland was in a different universe to the discursive, exploratory space of the Open Sessions. And a regularly expressed worry was that the messages and mood captured by CSOpen might not be properly taken into account by either the selection process, or the new Chief Executive her- or himself.

Macro-level strains on public budgets of all kinds, and the shadow of Moray Council’s cancellation of all arts funding, hung over many conversations in CSOpen. Another regular call was for a new and distinct public role of Creative Scotland. It should become an informed and confident national advocate for the value and worth of the arts, on their own terms; and taking that argument to politicians and managers who might regard it as an “easy” or “soft” target for cuts.

This is a quite different role from a Creative Scotland that, as many noted, seemed at times confused about the idea of the “arms-length principle” between government and arts policy. The organisation got caught up in all manner of thematised Scottish Government “celebrations” of national culture. This confused curation with nation-branding; the self-confidence and diverse strength of Scottish arts should not be regarded as an automatic resource for cultural diplomacy and “brand Scotland”.

Related to this was another regular call for CS to up its research game, and help provide strong intellectual, historical and factual arguments for the value of the arts to society. Yet as many of those bloggers, tweeters and salon organisers whose activism impelled the Creative Scotland “stushie” in the first place regularly said – often speaking within the sessions themselves – this research had to be diverse, supporting critical perspectives as well as more conventional social-economic accounts.

On a personal note, one of the glories of the last year, and something leant on heavily by CSOpen, is the strong, internet-enabled “democratic intellect” around cultural policy (and beyond) that clearly thrives in our artistic communities. How these thinker-practitioners feed their insight and wisdom into CS’s operations requires some complex considerations.

Perhaps we could reimagine the “civic” dimension of support for publishing. There are arguments abroad (and I’ve made them) that journalism – a safeguard of democracy under threat, as its business model collapses – is a “public good” that may need new kinds of public support. Couldn’t independent cultural critique also fall within that argument? Or, would it necessarily then lose its real independence?

And in this pre-Independence-referendum moment, it was inevitable that an open discussion about the purpose, operation and direction of a major public institution in Scotland would touch on wider, more political and structural issues. Our debates encompassed more, much more, than “just knowing what to do and getting on with it”, as one Edinburgh attendee bluntly requested.

Yet while there was one plebiscite taken during CSOpen – a majority decision that Open Sessions should happen again, next year! – it would be accurate to say that most of the political energies expressed here fell short of any explicit constitutional position, and occupied a more fruitful ground around core issues. The troubling deficiencies in our practice of democracy in Scotland; the legacy (and out-datedness) of “neo-liberal” language and analysis, particularly as it relates to the value of culture and the arts; the need to nurture local traditions, grass-roots activity and non-urban communities; and finally, the ambition for artists and creatives to participate in our great societal debates about “sustainability”, “prosperity”, “success”, “wellbeing”, even a “living wage”, drawing on the particularity of their own practice & experience.

No matter what happens at the more momentous levels of self-determination and autonomy, for me CSOpen was a heartening experience. This is what it might be like to live in a small country where power amends and corrects itself when it’s gone in the wrong direction – and does so according to the strength and persistence of an informed, committed discussion between peers and equals. The political theorists call it, rather beautifully, “concertation”. It’s the great promise of living here: that we can face each other open, argue as friends, and then take the next well-founded, collective step.

Of course, let’s see – and please, in any case, keep watching in the meantime. But I now declare the Creative Scotland Open Sessions closed…for necessary repairs, as it were. The doors should be open again, though, soon enough.

**Addendum: this blog was written days before Fiona Hyslop MSP, the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, made her speech at the annual David Talbot Rice Memorial Lecture on 5 June, 2013. So much to say about it – and more than happy to, in the comment box below. But suffice to say for now, that it’s nice to see that a minister and her team reads widely, deeply – and openly – in the Scottish blogosphere… Let the conversation continue, and deepen!**

13 thoughts on “Summing up the Sessions

  1. Edward Harkins

    As one of the “not total, with many subtleties” resistance to a market-friendly language for arts, I heard something in Fiona Hyslop’s speech that was of great significance:

    “… For me, culture’s economic value is not its primary purpose but a secondary benefit… [and]… I said at the outset that I don’t expect the cultural sector to have to make and re-make the case for culture in an economic context.”

    That is not only different from the philistine policy carnage been wrought in England – just as importantly, it marks out unique public policy territory for the arts in Scotland that is distinct from, for example, ‘regeneration’.

    The Scottish Executive and Scottish Government policy makers’ have long insisted that regeneration of our deprived neighbourhoods and communities must contribute to national economic growth (rather than vice versa). This, arguably been one of the signal features of the commonplace failure of regeneration, especially community regeneration, in Scotland over many decades and despite huge expenditures. To expect deprived and disabled communities to somehow and measurably contribute to national economic growth because of a happenstance government project or even programme was almost risible. Conversely, that is not to deny that within many such communities there is great potential enterprise. The key to success might have been for government to more coherently and competently address how it enabled and facilitated those communities themselves to lead their own regeneration wherever possible.

    For now the arts in Scotland again have a significantly promising position (albeit in unpromising economic circumstances). The sector has a high profile, public commitment at Ministerial level to ‘culture first; economics secondary’. Can the non-government players in the sector now, therefore, re-address with more confidence what some of them can do for themselves and together to be even more enterprising, entrepreneurial and innovative in contributing to their own economic sustainability? That in turn would better ‘protect’, or provide for, those parts of art and culture that we might know can never even begin to approach notions of sustainability in any business or commercially ‘enterprising’ way.

    1. pat kane

      Great to see such substantive comment, and happy to keep the door “open” in terms of discussion, as least in my role as the faciltator and blogger of the whole process.

      Edward, thanks for your persistent and detailed contributions over the whole CSOpen process. I think you do flag up a tricky issue around the degree to which cultural initiatives from an entity like Creative Scotland can feed into an agenda on “local regeneration leading to contribution to national economic growth”. As one of the judges over the two years of the Creative Places awards, there’s much food for thought here. I do think there is a problem of places that already have enough cultural capital making the best case for an investment in their creativity.

      The second year of the awards was better I believe – a real diversity of urban and rural, artist-led and municipal projects (Huntly, Pathhead and Kilmarnock). But certainly the sums involved are more about allowing some development time for each existing place of creativity to get to a new level of effectiveness in what they’re already doing – rather than pushing them to conform to some model of “national economic growth”. I have written twice about this process http://www.thoughtland.info/2013/01/creative-places-awards-pat-kane-closing-speech.html, http://www.thoughtland.info/2012/02/sundayherald-creativeplaces.html – and in both pieces, I have said that the challenge of a “creative place” is perhaps most importantly to what we regard as counting for “prosperity” or “sustainable growth”, as Clive Gilman so eloquently put it in the opening Dundee session. This is one of the horizons, as an interested citizen, I would like to see explored, in the coming year of strategic thought about the broader direction of arts and culture in Scotland.

      1. Edward Harkins

        Much appreciate your observations there Pat. I’m going to give some more substantial thought around this (especially following on from Johnny’s comments on avoiding the rigidity of ‘you can’t be this if you’re that’).

        It seems to me that there is a lot we can garner from other fields of interest and activity (cross-sector-learning in the jargon). In the community-based housing association and social enterprise fields, for example, there are very similar tensions around the very-local and the small scale of great intrinsic value, versus the big national priorities and the big guys when it comes to funding. That’s probably best summed up in another bit of jargon on evaluation and ‘soft’ versus ‘hard’ outcomes.

        Just over the past two days I found ground for hope in the Scottish health and well-being field. This was because at the #NHSScot2013 event there was a lot of evidence on significant and sustained moves towards notions of patient and service users autonomy and control, ‘co-production’, self and preventative health at community level etc. Yet more jargon, but I mention it because it all carries with it significant cultural imperatives – and I’m beginning to hope that the decision-makers and influencers are now ‘getting it’ on that. During the event, I posted that those in that field might want to take at look at Fiona Hyslop’s speech, the #csopen papers etc.

        Onwards and upwards!
        P.S. Totally add my appreciation on the stance taken by Kenneth Fowler – it has entered into my case book of examples of how to perhaps go about something when your organisation hits a crisis. Maybe Mr Zuckerbergh at Facebook could take note.

        1. pat kane

          Hi Edward, I’m personally very interested in what lies beneath, around and beyond the jargon on “autonomy and control”, “coproduction”, “preventative spend” that’s abroad in areas like health, housing, community development in Scotland (and beyond). In my advocacy and research around play, not just for kids but in the adult world too, I have come to the conclusion that there has to be a “social joy” that motivates behaviour in these areas – but that, like healthy play, it has to strike a healthy balance between risk and security. It usually comes down to an answer to Oscar Wilde’s quote about the problem with socialism is that “it takes too many evenings”. So give us some afternoons to be active, creative citizens… as an aspect of shorter working week and labour-market regulation across the society. NEF, Rob Hopkins’ Transition Towns and Skidelsky’s have brought this back to the fore – I wrote on it here in 2011 http://www.theplayethic.com/2011/03/bigsociety-noplayground.html. Of course, the role of arts, creativity, self-expression, craft-learning, sensibility-developing, as the content of free time wrested from the business-as-usual economy, is utterly key… But it would be nice to see some arts-and-culture awareness in Scotland of how they can make a vital input into these big macro-level issues. Be good to meet up I think! best, pk

          1. Edward Harkins

            Pat I cando a (very) short ‘quick & dirty’ note on some of the more seminal references to where these kind of approaches round the jargon of ‘autonomy’ etc. are being taken forward in some of the fields I mentioned. That would give us something to then maybe talk around.

  2. Clive Gillman

    Hi Pat,

    Not necessarily a substantive reply, more a note to say thanks for your commitment in bringing this all together and generating a coherent and engaging set of texts from these events.

    All the things that were said at these sessions feel important now, but the important thing is to sustain the analysis of the important things so that we can turn them into things that will actually happen. I don’t think this will be easy as (I hope) the crisis has now passed and people will go back to their day jobs and be less inclined or energised to focus on a bigger picture – especially as it may involve actively confronting some difficult topics that may bring the challenge back to their own interests. I certainly doubt there will be the energy to do this every year unless an equally powerful common cause can be identified, but perhaps we need an artist to set out a way in which we can do this that is both celebratory and challenging ?

    I also wanted to publicly thank Kenneth Fowler – it can’t have been easy to be the neck of Creative Scotland offering itself up to the axe of the Scottish art world – it was a brave thing to do and deserves much respect. We need a Creative Scotland that sustains that kind of attitude in the future.

    So, what next ?

    Clive

    1. Kenneth Fowler

      Thanks Clive. Your contribution, along with all 24 speakers and everyone who attended was also invaluable.

      Everything won’t change overnight, but there’s lots to be done, and lots of vital insight and ideas to work with.

      Collectively.

      Thanks again.

    2. pat kane

      Agree with all of the above, Clive (and particularly on your kudos to Ken Fowler). But as I said in my piece, it feels like a little bit of mental and emotional space is opening up to consider the structural and strategic direction of Scottish cultural policy among – as you say – otherwise bustling and hustling artists. “Nothing about us, without us, is for us”, was Ken’s opening quote at Dundee. But “with” might imply just a bit more responsibility for the structural outcome over the next year yet.

  3. Angus Farquhar

    I’ve been thinking about an architectural analogy to understand where we now are. Imagine Creative Scotland as a new build that was constructed near an ancient fault line. A seismic event occurred and it turned out the building was badly put together and suffered some damage injuring some of the residents.

    The residents got together and lobbied government hard until it was agreed that new legislation would be put in place to ensure that a more robust structure would replace the old one. It was stipulated that the new design would directly reflect observations and feedback from the people who lived in the original and would be inhabiting the new space.

    They then helped to choose the builders and kept an eye right through the build period to ensure that the standards they had negotiated were adhered to.

    1. pat kane

      … And Angus has provided a fantastic metaphor that might structure how, and with what motivation, artists and creatives will contribute and shape the next year of structural change of Creative Scotland.

  4. Johnny Gailey

    Hi Pat

    Thanks for this – an interesting summation of a very rich, fertile process with many strands of enquiry, which can’t have been easy to bring together. I’m glad that you’ve resisted the temptation to try to tie things up and sign off. Rather it feels like further thoughts, further momentum to an ongoing open process.

    One thought in response to Clive’s question – where next? Not in direct reference to your blog, but in general: I think we have to be very careful of binary thinking – thinking that suggested for every idea there is an opposite. You mention the gulf between ‘arts for arts sake’ (those artists just want to be indulged!) and ‘economic investment’ emphasis (those technocrats don’t understand us!) . Too often, it seems that people interpret that if you’re not for one, then you must be for the other… See also the Scotland vs Westminster rhethoric surrounding Fiona Hyslop’s speech… see also the referendum debate…

    Dialogic debate means of course that many different positions can and do exist, and rather than trying to win, it’s more fruitful to listen and co-operate towards something that might start to satisfy once competing agenda’s. (see Richard Sennet’s recent book on co-operation, “Together”:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/feb/03/together-politics-cooperation-richard-sennett-review)

    It seems to me that the #CSopen process is a mapping out of the further possibility beyond these two positions.

    At the start of the CSOpen process I asked “why do we publicly fund the arts?” For myself personally, it is to ensure a open democratic space within society, that is free to debate, present and sometimes check our society, free from the determining agendas of the funder (whether that be private or public)

    I think this process is doing that. I think this process has moved the dialogue on, and I think that Angus’ is the perfect analogy for looking forwards beyond reductive positions and building a future unknown

    Cheers
    Johnny

    1. Edward Harkins

      Johnny I thought I had had my tuppenceworth, but I felt I had to now add a strong welcome and support for your observation:

      “… in general: I think we have to be very careful of binary thinking – thinking that suggested for every idea there is an opposite. You mention the gulf between ‘arts for arts sake’ (those artists just want to be indulged!) and ‘economic investment’ emphasis (those technocrats don’t understand us!) . Too often, it seems that people interpret that if you’re not for one, then you must be for the other…”

      (My personal locus is around the potential contribution to Scottish culture activities of the social enterprise ‘for more than profit’ motive and ethics)

      We can all bring diverse and maybe even divergent contribution to the table in a spirit of benefit for the commonweal.

  5. pat kane

    Again, agreed Johnny. I personally love the idea of publicly-supported arts activity as the energy field in which, and from which, a genuinely democratic society can maintain its true vigour and diversity. I don’t think, as you say, this means tilting against the need to seek markets, or paying audiences, or copyright returns, etc. As a commercial artist, I’ve always found it possible to make music within its genre format, but also be able to engage widely with issues, struggles, voices beyond the usual “sellable” topics – as many Scottish musicians featured in the SAY awards this year (supported by Creative Scotland!) clearly do.

    It may seem abstract, but the struggle over concepts of what the value of arts and culture is – and what it means for what we collectively value in general – is another theme which I think those who wish to stay active in this process, over the next period of time, should avidly pursue. Here, and in their own spaces that have opened up across the web and other civic spaces. Open doors, with sunlight streaming through them, are good.

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