The sad news that Ginnie Atkinson is leaving Edinburgh International Film Festival after fifteen years was followed quickly by the announcement that Sir John Tusa is to play a key role in selecting the first CEO of Creative Scotland. The first is a big blow to EIFF/Filmhouse as Ginnie has played an enormously important role in shepherding succesive festival directors and overseeing the delicate process of bringing EIFF and Filmouse together into one organisation, a process not unfamiliar to Richard Holloway and the SAC/Scottish Screen staff pursuing a similar objective.
John Tusa’s appointment as an external assessor in the CS CEO jobsearch is, in my view, a positive development. I recently took part in a seminar he led on arts leadership and found his comments and analysis to be intelligent, balanced, pragmatic but still principled – not a combination you always find at the top of the culture tree. Leadership is a tricky business, a delicate balance between doing the right thing and doing things right.
However much Creative Scotland is the sum of its parts and a crucible for the creativity of the whole sector, at the risk of sounding vacuous the appointment of the woman or man charged with bringing its disparate elements together and charting a clear trajectory in policy and practice is a critical appointment. Get it right and our great expectations of something genuinely refreshing and dynamic being added to the policy and administration of public culture funding might actually materialise, get it wrong and the whole exercise could come to be seen as an exercise in futility. Of course whomever is appointed will quickly have to embark on an expectation-limitation exercise – a difficult task as lower them too much and people will rightly question what the point of the change is, raise them too much and the gap between expectation and reality becomes readily apparent.
Inevitably there will be a lot of talk of ‘bedding in’ ‘dont expect short term results’ and ‘the real wins will be three/five/seven years down the line’. But artists, companies, pundits and analysts will be looking for some early symbols of meaningful change (they will also be looking for signs of continuity, particularly when it comes to their funding) and if these are not forthcoming the new CEO’s honeymoon period (if they get one at all) may be uncomfortably short. The journey from room at the top to blood on the floor may be a short one…