Creative Scotland chief apologises for funding backlash—though questions remain

Arts funder grilled by Scottish parliament over controversial cuts in £99m grants programme

Kameelah Janan Rasheed, How To Suffer Politely (And Other Etiquette) at Transmission Gallery in 2017 Transmission Gallery

Scotland's arts funding body, Creative Scotland, has pledged to undertake a “root and branch review” of its decision-making process after a backlash over cuts. Last month, it announced divisive 100% funding cuts to 20 Scottish cultural organisations, including Glasgow’s pioneering Transmission Gallery, during its next three-year grants cycle. Called to give evidence to the culture committee of Scottish Parliament last week, Creative Scotland’s chief executive, Janet Archer, said she was “profoundly sorry that the delivery of this process has been such a negative one for many”.

The body drew a storm of criticism for its decision to drop 20 organisations from the 2018-21 regular funding stream, despite an unexpected boost of £6.6m from the Scottish government to maintain the overall budget at £99m. It rejected applications from the artist-run Glasgow space Transmission Gallery (£210,000), the Edinburgh-based contemporary tapestry centre Dovecot Studios (£300,000) and NVA, a public art producer working to transform St Peter’s Seminary, a derelict Brutalist complex near Cardross, into an international arts venue (£450,000).

Many other regularly funded organisations received “standstill” handouts—effectively a reduction on the 2015-18 grants programme when adjusted for inflation—such as the Edinburgh Art Festival (£300,000) and Fruitmarket Gallery (£2m) in the capital, and Tramway (more than £1m) and Centre for Contemporary Arts (£1.9m) in Glasgow. Nineteen new beneficiaries were added to the list, however, including Edinburgh’s Stills photography centre (£441,000) and the Scottish Contemporary Art Network (£387,000).

Archer and the former interim chairman of the Creative Scotland board, Ben Thomson, faced questions from the parliamentary committee following what it called “unprecedented” concerns from the culture sector. MSPs disputed the body’s claim that it had undertaken a “careful and thorough” decision-making process and said its credibility was “severely damaged”.

They noted that Creative Scotland proceeded with planned cuts to theatre companies working with children and disabled artists, despite objections from board members, and that it only reinstated funding to five companies after vocal public opposition. The furore saw two board members resign with immediate effect, with one, the broadcaster Ruth Wishart, describing the funder in a blogpost as “a family at war with many of those it seeks to serve”. The committee also criticised inaccuracies in bid assessments and a lack of communication with applicants.

In a statement, Archer said Creative Scotland was conducting “daily” follow-up meetings with the organisations that have lost funding to explain its decisions and discuss alternative sources of funding. In the meantime, she said, it will provide them with “transition funding of between six and 12 months”. The body is also planning a “more straightforward” system of project funding for individual artists and artist-led organisations. “We are committed to a root and branch review of how we fund,” Archer said. “We will do this in full collaboration with the people and organisations we support.”

• For more on the importance of Transmission Gallery and the impact of the Scottish funding crisis, please listen to: Podcast episode 20: Yes to Picasso, no to Van Gogh—inside the Rockefellers’ collection