Posts Tagged 'culture'

Parties get creative with their manifestos

As its the end of the week (Again, as we’ve now been able to include the Greens and the SSP) time for an updated light-hearted look at how the arts, culture and creativity fare in the Scottish party manifestos.  No metric is ever perfect and we make no claims to the significance of the following nor should you let it sway your voting intention (too much) but if the number of occurences of ‘creativity’ ‘culture’ (* Although in the Green and SSP manifestos one use of ‘culture’ is in context of ‘alcohol …’ which is perhaps not quite comparable) and ‘arts’ in the manifestos published so far  is anything to go by there’s a clear front-runner in the cultural champions’ league:

Let’s not pit TV against film

A couple of years back in a contribution to the book Scottish Cinema Now I wrote

Over the past twenty-five years filmmakers in Scotland have benefited from a protected support system which has privileged their claims to both cultural subsidy and direct financial investment in screen content. That situation is changing rapidly, as television, games and new media producers demand equal status in the subsidy game, basing their claims on economic, cultural and democratic grounds.

Today’s Sunday Herald article on television in Scotland highlights the sector’s growing case for greater public investment to underwrite the domestic production sector’s capacity to secure a greater share of network commissions.  The BBC is the key objective, as it rolls out its promise to up Scotland’s share of network spend, but Channel 4 and, to a lesser extent, ITV are additional prizes on the horizon.

The suggestion that film in Scotland has enjoyed a ‘privileged’ status akin (STV’s Alan Clements is quoted as saying) to ‘snobbery’ in the eyes of Creative Scotland’s predecessor Scottish Screen echoes the comments made in evidence to the Scottish Broadcasting Commission in 2007 by PACT CEO John McVay “The obsession with film was a big mistake. “ and well as former Scottish Enterprise CEO Jack Perry who claimed films supported by the Glasgow Film Fund had ‘negative value to the economy’.

Now public investment in talent, skills (both creative and business), development resources, infrastructure and professional support services are all perfectly legitimate claims for any industry – creative or otherwise – to make on the public purse but in a period of swingeing cuts to public sector spending its even more vital that legitimate and important conditions are met by any investment regime.

Firstly public funding mustn’t be used to substitute for or ‘crowd out’ rather than ‘crowd in’ investment that could (and indeed should in the case of public service broadcasters) be made by the central industry players in the market. Where public funds leverage new additional investment either from end-users (broadcasters, distributors etc) or from private finance that’s undoubtedly a good thing. There is certainly a case for additional investment in the development capacity of independent producers but if this simply leads to a transfer of risk e.g. from broadcasters to public funds without a significant net increase in overall investment nothing will really been achieved. 

Secondly we need to be careful that public funds raised and designated for one purpose e.g. Lottery Funding explicitly designated to support ‘The Arts’, amongst other ‘good causes’, are not used to substitute for the lack of appropriate and necessary investment from other branches of Government. 

The perfectly legitimate case for pump-priming investment in television production companies producing revenue generating, employment creating, profit-maximising product in a context where they have been at a historical and structural disadvantage in the market place shouldn’t be confused with mechanisms to address a wider cultural, social and industrial deficit in the production, distribution and appreciation of indigenous screen content.  They are, of course, intimately intertwined but they remain separate policy objectives in need of co-ordinated but nonetheless in some respects distinct forms and criteria of intervention.

Thirdly we need to be wary of what economists call ‘regulatory capture’ – “the process by whereby beneficiaries of government decisions gain control over the relevant decision-making machinery.” – a charge usually leveled at cultural rather than economic players (see David Throsby, 2010. The Economics of Cultural Policy,  Cambridge University Press).  

Consultation, participation in deliberation, expert advice and opinion are all vital to the formation of policy but we always have to ask if any one interest group is exercising undue prominence or obscuring the wider picture and if the evidence, analyses and option appraisals they offer up are as objective and robust as the public have a legitimate right to expect when scarce public funds are at stake. 

As the Sunday Herald article rightly notes, there is in prospect a much more joined up approach to growing the economic (and indeed the cultural and democratic) contribution of television in Scotland. Likewise the television production sector has an absolutely legitimate place in the debate over public intervention in the screen sector, but so do filmmakers, the audience(s) and a host of interests from Gaelic speakers to community cinemas.  That said we need  to avoid setting television (or games or any other screen based creative content) against cinema and confusing the criteria by which each has a claim on public support. 

As I suggested in that Scottish Cinema Now essay, some in the film community were a little too eager in the 1990s to obscure the cultural case for film in order to make somewhat inflated claims for the (currently achievable) economic impact of indigenous production.  By the same token those now pressing, quite understandably, for a more serious approach to growing the broadcast sector shouldn’t see film as a competitor for attention and funds.  In reality television drama for example (a must for the long term health of television in Scotland) and film-making for the cinema are mutually inter-dependent.  Amongst their shared interests both rely on the same talent base from writers and directors (look at Paul McQuigan) to post-production SFX specialists and commissioners (think Andrea Calderwood) and there are important synergies to be found at a business level as a recent report on the corporate finance of SMEs in the UK film industry for the UK Film Council found.

When it comes to film and television, as in so many other walks of life, united we stand, divided we fall.

Cinema ‘a far-reaching influence in the life of the community’

As your ‘blog-espondent’  is going to be away for the next wee while we leave you with a flashback to the cold, dark days of February 1941 when Scottish Cinema was but a gleam in the eye of the far-sighted.  Judge for yourself just how much things have changed…

No extravagant picture of the part cinema might play in post-war Scotland was drawn at the Saltire Society’s conference in Edinburgh on Saturday.  While it was claimed for the drama that it was quite simply the greatest of all the arts, and that one did not begin to live until one had studied the value of the cinema was estimated in a more modest and realistic manner, Mr Norman Wilson, chairman of the Edinburgh film guild, discussed the cinema as a medium of expression and persuasion which might serve the reformers, the teachers and the builders of the Scotland of tomorrow.  He spoke of the film’s powers of persuasion, illustration, and condensation, and said that whatever we might feel about the cinema as an art or an entertainment, there was no doubting its far-reaching influence in the life of the community.

This is a realistic point of view and there was realism too in Mr Wilson’s recommendation that film production in Scotland at present is practically non-existent.  The opportunity presented by the Empire Exhibition was seized, a Films of Scotland Committee was set up and about half a dozen films were produced.  These were on the right lines – stimulating, forward-looking surveys of education , agriculture, fishing, housing, and the heavy industries.  But, unfortunately, they have not marked the beginning of a film policy for Scotland, and under war conditions the effort has petered out.

… Mr Wilson held that the successful establishment of film production in Scotland after the war would depend on the support of large public organisations.  It was essential, he said, that there should be a constant flow of work which would enable units to exist and expand..”

“The Cinema. Films in Post-War Scotland”, The Scotsman, Tuesday February 18th, 1941

Putting Creative Scotland in its place

Andrew Dixon’s first tour of Scotland arrived in Glasgow today for the latest in Creative Scotland’s open forum series, the first to feature the newly installed CEO.  Developing themes which he has in the past few weeks aired in a variety of settings from Ullapool’s Ceilidh Place to an RSA event held in the offices of solicitors Anderson Strathearn, Dixon gave pride of place to, well, ‘place’.

The importance he attaches to the development of places (alongside branding and a culture of investment rather than subsidy)  is perhaps not all that surprising given Dixon’s previous role leading the Gateshead initiative. It might also be seen as an effective way to balance the emphasis we’ve seen to date on Creative Scotland being an artist and practitioner-led organisation with a broader sense of community benefit and participation in arts and culture.   Beyond that laudable aim however, one can also see a certain tactical and rhetorical shrewdness in emphasising how particular communities, localities or regions engage with arts and creative industries.  It immediately brings into focus the critical importance of partnership with local authorities, Scottish and Highlands and Island Enterprise, and all the other national bodies that spend the 70% of the Scottish Government’s cultural budget that CS doesn’t control.  

Clearly Creative Scotland isn’t responsible for supporting the totality of cultural production, arts access or creative industries development from the Borders to Shetland.  Given its assigned leadership role in the Scottish Cultural Industries Partnership though, staking a claim to improving the cultural life of Scotland as a whole by marshalling the disparate players in the culture and creativity game into a cohesive team could translate into material benefit if it leads to clear visions, suitably resourced and managed, of how places as diverse as Kilmarnock and Killin can join equally in the benefits of a Creative Scotland.  But as Dixon noted, in these strained fiscal times, CS will require clearer priorities and ways of measuring success than we have seen before.

Creative Scotland is born but Scottish Screen may still bark

Reading the debate that finally ushered into being Creative Scotland is only marginally more entertaining than watching paint dry, if only because its possible to skip the most tedious parts to get to the slightly less tedious.  One can’t help wondering who nobbled the tories to try and secure an ammendment to the Bill to give CS the title “lead body” which, if you believe its opponents, would have set it above the national companies, Museums Scotland etc.  Pauline McNeill (Glasgow Kelvin) (Lab) bemoaned the non-transfer of Scottish Enterprise’s creative industries budget (something SE bods like to deny exists) to the new body and the potential loss of the Scottish Screen brand so  doggedly built over the past decade.  Culture minister Fiona Hyslop didn’t comment on the SE issue but she did hold open the prospect of the Scottish Screen scottie dog continuing to wag its tail if Andrew Dixon and his soon to be appointed board feel so inclined:

” I say to Pauline McNeill that the use of the Scottish Screen brand will be an operational matter for creative Scotland, and I will pass on her remarks to the body.”

So good news for the (‘when we thought we might lose it we realised how much we loved it’) film-making community not to mention dog lovers.  Speaking of the latter Scottish Terrier lovers can get a further film-related fix with an account of how a Coraline Animator got 200 Scottie dogs doing their thing. 

Have a good weekend.

Creative Scotland inspires our friends across the sea

Hardly out of its nappies and Creative Scotland is already being cited as a model for others to follow.  Making the case in the Irish Times for a joined up department of culture and creative industries, Gráinne Millar (head of Temple Bar Cultural Trust) offers a refreshingly upbeat description of our almost-there-now agency as “a radical, innovative new statutory non-departmental public body responsible for developing and promoting culture.”    If nothing else this counts as a belated vindication of whichever nameless civil servant had the brilliant idea of replacing QUANGO with NDBP thus coining a much more melodious acronym for arms-length bodies (if you don’t believe me just try replacing ‘non-departmental public body’ with ‘Quasi autonomous non-governmental organisation’ – see?).

Millar is keen to see a single new department audit, streamline and centralise  not two but five Government departments and no less than eight organs of the arts, crafts and creative industries (the Irish Arts Council, the Irish Film Board, the Heritage Council, the Crafts Council, the Libraries Council, the Council of National Cultural Institutions, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and Culture Ireland).   Makes our synthesis of the Arts Council and Scottish Screen look like a walk in the (sculpture) park.

Knowledge resistance unmasked

My former research supervisor Prof. Philip Schlesinger scores another direct hit with his observations on resistance to evidence by policy makers, judging by his lecture remarks reported recently in the Times Higher Education Supplement.  His comments on how Creative Scotland’s board was apparently disinclined to accept his team’s analysis of the tensions inherent between the culture/industry value systems echo that wonderful, pithy remark of John Maynard Keynes:

“There is nothing a government hates more than to be well informed; for it makes the process of arriving at decisions much more complicated and difficult.”

The evidence base for Scottish cultural/creative industries policy is, to say the least, impoverished and the role of disinterested analysis of how policy is formulated and applied (not the same thing!) and whether it produces the intended outcomes (or indeed if the outcomes we get are a result of policies or despite them) is poorly understood and valued even less.  You will find scant evidence thus far of a commitment to engaging with policy research expertise in Creative Scotland’s plans or pronouncements, nor in the advisory groups/board composition.  Expect a continuous flow of convenient consultants’ reports saying what is expected of them and finding out that ‘by gosh, overall everything we do does what we thought it would and all is right with the world – keep up the good work’.

Well perhaps that’s a little jaundiced – let’s give CS the benefit of the doubt and look forward with anticipation to a healthy and long overdue engagement with the idea of evidence-based policy which, while now almost old hat in many sectors, is very much a new kid on the block when it comes to Scotland’s cultural and creative industries NDPBs.  So lets end on a more positive note with another Kenyes quote:

“It would not be foolish to contemplate the possibility of a far greater progress still.”

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