Theatre in Wales

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“Advocacy, social strategy...none of its business”

Theatre of Scotland

Practitioners & Critics Versus Funding Body , Scotland , January 3, 2013
Theatre of Scotland by Practitioners & Critics Versus Funding Body Scotland’s 2012 may have been good for politics but it was not a good year for the arts. The winter was thick with corporate bodies hurtling through the arts funder’s exit door. All situations are more complicated than is apparent to the outsider, but there is one factor that did not help Creative Scotland. (There is an illuminating PhD waiting to be done on what happens to public bodies when they abandon their descriptive title for a snazzy title put forward by an Identity Consultancy- see examination boards, Whitehall departments and a host of others.)

It is not just that a cultural figure like David Greig and a critic like Joyce McMillan can articulate their stance by virtue of their craft. But they have earned the right over decades to be heard in a way that no manager, however gifted- and there is both skill and gift to management- has not. The protest of the artists is in the public domain (front-step.co.uk and Joyce McMillan wordpress 7th December). It uses language that boils over. “A blather of mind-numbing policy-speak… mutton-headed bureaucrats” may or may not be objectionable in its own terms but it is language that is not being used to serve the purpose at hand.

The rancour in Scotland does, however, contain a couple of serious points. The first is the mission of an arts quango. That mission is quite clear: “the agency charged with supporting and promoting Scotland’s cultural and creative life.” The critique was stinging: “the organisation finds itself in the hands of a leadership which refers to the allocation of funds as the “boring bit” of its job.”

That allocation of capital is tough enough on its own account for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the supply of capital can never meet demand, but then that is true for all organisations. The developmental psychologist D W Winnicott devised the concept of the “good enough” parent. Arts funding can be good but never perfect; better to aspire just to be a “good enough” funding body.

But the second factor is that it is in the nature of artistic endeavour to be complex and ambiguous, hence not susceptible to easy standards of judgement. Spartacus Chetwynd’s inclusion in the Turner Prize met with a reaction from an art critic, for whom I have great respect, that was wholly at odds with my own response. That is all the more reason for the capital-allocators to focus on the task at hand.

The managers, ran the claim of Scotland’s artists, wanted to do “advocacy, social strategy and business development… demonstrably none of its business.” This last has to do with the seductive notion of the “creative industries.” I have never been convinced by this concept. Write a jingle for a seasonal advertising campaign and it’s creative; write some code for a CNC-machine tool and it’s somehow not. I have always suspected the notion was a very Anglo-American post hoc facto justification for an out-of-kilter economy weak in capital-intensive sectors.

The other critical point is artistically serious. The nudge to project funding has obvious managerial attractions. But all projects are filled with contingency, serendipity and the unexpected, a factory no less than a work of theatre. At the Critics Round Table in Cardiff in November Tim Price spoke of his work for National Theatre of Wales. John McGrath stated that it was the kind of collaboration that could not, would not, have come about in a project-funded environment.

And the message for other funding bodies? From a consumer point of view ACW did an exemplary job in 2012. A greater array of performance happens in my county of seventy thousand population, by far, than in the two-million-population cities in England and Europe where I have lived. But that kind of vitality depends on several things; a fearless inquisition as to quality, a fine balance between revenue and project support. Reshaping and culling, irrespective of location, form or language, is miserable for the artists but essential for the overall art landscape. But then no-one ever went into the arts for security.

Unpleasant things happen, just like the collective turning to flat screens doomed the staff at the Bridgend television plant. None of this is easy in a community where all know all. But then no-one ever went into arts management for a simple life. And, ACW, never change your name.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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