De Facto De-Funding at Creative Scotland?

From Joyce McMillan’s blog:

“Creative Scotland have instead decided to withdraw their entire middle range of funding, known as flexible funding, which offered basic income security on a two or three year cycle to small- and medium- scale arts organisations with a strong creative record. The result is to throw some 49 Scottish arts organisations from a condition of modest security, into a condition of complete insecurity, in which they have to bargain from project to project for their continuing right to exist.”

It was when I read the names of some of the 49 companies now in jeopardy that I felt my mental jaw drop: Vanishing Point Theatre Company, Grid-Iron, and the CCA in Glasgow (their equivilent of New York City’s MoMA) were included on the list. For the record, Vanishing Point’s Lost Ones, which I reviewed seven years ago during the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, has stuck with me like few other productions over the years.

Why I’m Opening My Big Mouth

I lived in Edinburgh, Scotland, for four years, from 2003-2007. During that time, I attended Queen Margaret University College’s MFA program in Dramatic Writing; at the time, the theater department was run by Maggie Kinloch – who has since moved to RSAMD.

I dove headfirst into the arts scene. Edinburgh was where I started reviewing for The British Theatre Guide. It’s where my plays PLAYING IT COOL, STUCK UP A TREE, and MOUSEWINGS had their world premiers. I made numerous short films there, applied for and received funding for arts projects from my university, organized script development workshops and was an active member in the Traverse Theater’s Young Writer’s Group (I was lucky enough to have two plays workshopped as part of the program), plus traveled to INTERPLAY – EUROPE as one of their delegates. I’ve stayed in touch with many of you since leaving Edinburgh, and this this fall, my one-act play MILLENNIAL EX will be featured in a collection of short plays from around the world on the subject of marriage equality at a festival in Glasgow.

So I have something of an interest in what goes on within the Scottish theater scene, but rarely have the time to indulge that interest, and so was not aware of the current funding debate taking place until this morning. @MarkFisher was kind enough to point me towards information on the current debate, and that’s why I missed this morning’s sunshine and will now be spending the remainder of the afternoon inside as rain thunders down in Manhattan.

Theater Funding in Scotland vs. America – Where the Money Comes From

There are some things about arts funding in the UK, and in Scotland, which may be unfamiliar to some of my American readers. The main one, I think is:

In the UK, public funding bodies exist, geared toward distributing funding for (and thereby encouraging the development of) artistic forms of expression within a specific mission statement. They have the mission and responsibility to enrich citizens’ cultural lives and develop resources that showcase and develop both the country’s heritage and its future.

(My feeling is that in America, there is not a similar or analogous organization that answers to and is responsible for the funding of such a wide range of theaters and types of theatrical projects as is Creative Scotland. But that’s another discussion, and one I’m happy to have in the comments.)

These funding bodies and their missions, and the ways in which these obligations to fund are interpreted and fulfilled, are a point of contention between organization and practitioner. (Pardon the stealth edit as I try to make my point clearer.)

What the What?

Okay. Let’s say you have a theatre company in Scotland and want to apply for funding for this really fantastic idea you have. You go to Creative Scotland and fill out an application form. You pick the kind of funding that fits your project.

In the past, Creative Scotland had a category which funded on a project-only basis. Technically, these were grants that a theater company would receive, once per cycle (clarification stealth edit). They weren’t meant as funding that would keep the company running year round, but practically…

The Best-Laid Plans of Mice & Men…

…that doesn’t seem to be what happened. A number of companies, including, I would assume, those McMillan names in the above excerpt, have received grants from Creative Scotland to a degree where their project-to-project funding is sustaining their organization and where the loss of that funding puts those companies in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, it seems from the reading I’ve done this morning that Creative Scotland’s response is: we’re not defunding you, we’re just cancelling this form of funding. You shouldn’t have been depending on these funds in the first place.

Pardon the analogy, but to me that reads a bit like a drug dealer saying, “Well, it’s not withdrawal, because you weren’t supposed to get addicted to heroin in the first place.”

I’ll be interested to see how this situation develops.

For those who are interested, some additional reading


2 responses to “De Facto De-Funding at Creative Scotland?

  1. Pingback: Has the Auto Industry lost the Millennial generation? | | The One Stop Curiosity ShopThe One Stop Curiosity Shop

  2. Hi Rachel

    Thanks very much for name-checking us in the article, and thanks even more for taking the time to contribute to the debate.

    I’d just like to clarify a couple of points that you make in the last section of the article. The central problem isn’t that companies have become dependent on project funding in order to survive. Virtually every arts organisation in the UK relies on public funding in some form or another in order to be able to present any kind of work at all. If that funding was to be abolished then almost every theatre and art gallery in the country would close down overnight, so the situation’s a bit more complicated than that.

    In Scotland (and most of the rest of the UK) the term “project funding” is used to describe funds that are awarded to companies to present particular one-off, stand-alone pieces of work. This could be a production of a particular play, an art exhibition, a series of community workshops for young people etc. Project funding has always been available to all artistic organisations, and will continue to be available under the new system.

    The other type of funding that we have in the UK is known by a variety of different names depending on which part of the country you’re in, but the best catch-all term to describe it is probably “core funding”. This is where a funding body provides guaranteed long-term funding to a company for a fixed period of time, and which allows them to pay for both operating overheads and the costs of staging individual projects. This provides companies with both long term stability and the freedom to decide what work they want to present. It also enables them to plan ahead, enhancing their ability to raise funds from other sources (including private income).

    Creative Scotland are currently abolishing this form of long-term funding for many organisations. This means that the companies affected may well have to face writing several funding applications each year in order to keep their programmes going, whereas before they would only have had to apply once every two or three years for their entire programme.

    More worryingly Creative Scotland appear to by trying to act more like a commissioning body than a funding body. The risk here is that they choose to stop funding some artists or some styles of work altogether. The current perception in Scotland is that unless you have some kind of celebrity name attached to your project then Creative Scotland are unlikely to be interested in supporting it.

    I would say that money (and the way that it is distributed) is actually a secondary concern in this debate. The most important issues are to do with the kind of work that gets produced, and whether there is any kind of future at all in public funding for the arts in Scotland. In that sense I guess the closest comparison would be to the “Culture Wars” that we saw in the US throughout the 90s.

    Sorry for such a long post but I’m afraid that the situation is ridiculously complicated. It’s getting to the stage where you almost need a Degree in Arts Policy to be able to make head or tail of it.

    Let’s try and keep in touch – and thanks once again for taking notice of the whole thing.

    Peace & Love

    Stramash Arts

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