State of The Arts

I gather that many artists read this blog-by that I mean anybody involved in the creative arts. Fat Buddha, I consider to be a great supporter of local artists, be it selling graffiti supplies, books on every aspect of art or supporting the arts night Cargo which I run, Leslie has done a lot to help out the local scene.

Which is more than can be said for the Scottish Arts Council or Creative Scotland as it will soon be known. To begin this blog (rant) I want to ask a simple question-do you know anybody who has received a grant from the Arts Council?


Was just waiting for that tumbleweed to roll past there. My answer is no, no I don't. I know a vast amount of artists from all walks and all disciplines. Many of them are exceptionally talented and have applied several times. None have ever received anything other than a slap in the face.

This lot is going to be very Scotland specific but it does apply to England, Wales and Northern Ireland to some extent too. However, it is safe to say that the Scottish Arts Council is like an asylum. Not one run by lunatics, but run by a bunch of doctors who don't really understand their patients, so just give anything to the ones that display 'talent' by throwing their own sh*** at the walls. Or the ones that are their friends, ahem.

That analogy was so good I think I'll apply for about £10 of funding...

Which is the amount roughly spent per head on arts in Wales, the country in the UK that receives the highest arts spending. England receives the lowest, for the record. Scotland spends roughly about £9.87 a head on arts. How does this figure break down?

The honest answer is that despite the 'transparency' of the Scottish Arts Council, it's quite hard to get an overall picture. The English breakdown, to give you an idea of the balance there, looked like this in 2004:
Drama £34.2m
Dance £19.5m
Literature £1.6m
Music £32.9m
Visual arts £5.5m

The Scottish Arts Council strikes a similar balance of spending and in addition, with the National Lottery, has spent £142 million on infrastructure for arts in Scotland since 1995.

So, criticism. 

Dance-really deserves such a high proportion of funding? A playwright mate of mine was shocked to discover that an appalling Dutch dance group he saw was completely funded by the Scottish Arts to come to Scotland. They were not the only ones. Why are we funding foreign companies to come teach us ignorant Scots how to vault about in spandex to make statements about the struggle of living in the postmodern age? While they reject funding for Scottish Dance projects, a Scots Language dictionary and Scottish playwrights-do they know our own culture?

Literature-my department and the budget is £3.01 million of which a million is already spent on 6 foundations reliant on the budget. The average earnings of a writer in the UK is £3000 annually, making it the lowest paid artistic profession (other than mimes who can be paid in derision.) No think the budget could be swapped with dance for a country with such a revered history of writing?

Music-Nearly all of Scotland's music budget every few years goes on bailing out Scottish Opera. Not because it's not popular-because of bureaucracy. Scottish Opera are not allowed to hire individuals musicians when and where they need them, this is unfair on the Musician's Union apparently. So the Opera maintains an entire orchestra year round for just a few productions a year. The result is scandalously high ticket prices, no audience, no growth and bankruptcy every couple of year. 

Infrastructure-There's a difference between building a venue in Uist and building one in Glasgow with public money. Local acts will constantly play small town venues and therefore the purpose of the building to support Scottish talent is vindicated. The City Halls in Glasgow was built on public money and is host to an endless stream of touring bands. People in Glasgow spend all their entertainment budget on non-Scottish bands and acts: we are effectively funding spots for bands with no loyalty to our scenes. I can tell you first hand how hard it is to get people out to see talented acts from Glasgow.

And finally, my personal favourite, the personal application process.

My ex-girlfriend's job for a while was to simply fix the application process for artist's applying. By that, I mean to sit through the endless streams of red tape and sort the application to resemble the sort of thing the Arts Council liked. That meant lying a lot.

Like many people, I don't care about people's race, sex, sexuality, political persuasion etc. I actually find it offensive that someone's application can be considered more worthy because they're definable by certain demographics. Why should my application to the Scottish Arts Council consist of three odd pages of race and representation quizzes? Why should I be more or less privileged than someone from an ethnic minority?

And notably, while all the budgets are viewable by the public, the individual grants debating process is not. Hmm, I wonder why? Could it be that this process is bursting at the seams with corruption and wasting money? I've got anecdotal evidence (anecdotal I know, but it's apparently true) that someone was give £250,000 for a touring 'light' installation because they knew someone on the board. That's a quarter of a million for a room of lights. That's your money.

Overall, I just find the Scottish Arts Council or Creative Scotland or whatever name they want to call corruption in arts funding, a total embarrassment. The processes of funding are out of touch and laughably compromised; the emphasis is on representation of minority and not of talent; it's run by people with no understanding nor appreciation for Scottish culture. It's bureaucratic and inefficient with no direction nor creative thinking of its own. 

And incidentally, no, they didn't reject my application. Because I've never applied. So I'm making an application for £200million as a Ugandan touring dance group featuring paraplegic, gay dancers to perform the Worther's Originals advert as a symbol of malaise in our times, with a note on the form saying "Dear so and so, I knew you in art school, let's lunch some time sweetie." Wish me luck. 



PS. I know I'm incredibly innappropriate. Sorry.


Anonymous said…
Yo go mark, i reckon i need $90,000 to complete my works on the Glen Michael Xmas Special, rock on
Mark Buckland said…
I'll remember when accepting the Booker prize to be introduced as Glen Michael's grandson.
smithsan said…
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Anonymous said…

You should really check your facts before you post!

'Scottish' dance gets funded incredibly well - and not just Scottish Ballet, tiny dance projects that tour Scottish venues, dancehouse in Glasgow that runs classes for people, people to help freelance dancers and individuals create and show their work... It's much better than it used to be.

Also, Scottish Opera are not even funded through the Arts Council, they're funded through the Scottish Government. I went to see one of their shows recently and I paid less for my ticket than I did to see Bill Bailey at the Fringe this year and less than half of what I paid to see Buddy Guy at Carling Academy a few months ago.
^^Well, I did check my facts. Actually my point about dance was that it is OVERFUNDED, not lacking in any funds there at all.

Scottish Opera are now funded through the Scottish Government but there's now a protective quango around it, but it still has all the issues it had before with funding. What production did you see? Were there many people there?

Always happy to get criticised-only about things I've actually said though.

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