More Works

Response to Andrew Dixon — ,

Andrew Dixon is positioned as a figurehead for Creative Scotland, when there was none in such a way before. So we must deal with what he represents as his opinions. He appears careful to say appropriately inclusive things but he displays the qualities of a politician and therein lies the spin. Once the image fades there are many issues and contradictions that become apparent, specifically the gap between the rhetoric and the examples he uses. There is little room here to analyse his proposed exemplary culture(s) but I can present the immediate issues as I see them and talk of what I would delve further into.

The language used by Creative Scotland (CS), which Dixon is the mouthpiece for, seems to have changed from that of the Scottish Arts Council (SAC) with a number of distinctions being made about the value of culture. I would like to point to a number of assumptions that have been made and how his/ its position is symptomatic of a general neo-liberal turn in the meaning of the word ‘value’ from social to economic worth.

A personal example I could give is my experience in the last couple of years as a committee member of an artist run space. One which had survived on SAC funding for several years but, being outside of the flexi-funded loop, completely ignored strategically since CS took over. Why is that? Quality? No, that doesn’t seem a consideration. Reduction of budget? No, following his/ its new logic those whom you would think CS get most value from, a wealth of production on a minuscule budget and voluntary ‘CV-building’ labour, have been confusingly missed out. Or is it more to do with surface visibility and an old fashioned ideals system that is not profit making or cannot be presented as such. The message is that you were lucky to receive it in the first place and if you want to do it you should be self-sustaining because it is self-indulgent, only of relevance to yourselves. But this seemingly ignores the symbolic: you take away that level of activity and you are left with a gap, no space outwith the commercial or the instrumentalised for contemporary practice(s).

There is also the problem of the concoction of ‘partnership’ working as innately positive, and in general of culture as a positive force, for if everything has to be wonderful then the space for critical discourse is narrowed, the assumption being that critique is of detriment to…something. The use of the words ‘creative’ and ‘talent’ have connotations which cannot be ignored as they reduce the work of artists to hobby and innate ability, placing less emphasis on the work put into the practices of artists and groups, reducing its potential for agency, and demanding usefulness as a ‘value’. The language used is important not because he might mean what he says, but rather as an important signifier because it normalises a rhetoric that submits culture to singularly economic purposes. For example, the deeply problematic, if also totally vague, idea of the ‘franchise’, which seems to centralise power in organisations with their own non-neutral agendas, is something that needs analysis.
Also, as an artist who had moved back North, holding a naïve view of the values of public funding and believing I could better survive within the Scottish environment, I did receive one of the last SAC grants and I would like to reflect on that process as it was and how it has changed. Since, I have not heard of one person who has actually applied as an individual artist, most sighting option paralysis – a difficulty in categorising themselves from what’s discernible. I would like to look into it further to see what the facts are, who has been able to apply in the last year.

I have joked with people about the ultimate CS ‘commission’. It is easy to be cynical about it. But I would not propose that we regress into or reminisce about a former system, one in which over the past decade neo-liberal pragmatics were more hidden but nevertheless in evidence, but that we don’t close off the options either; don’t reject that there might be a possible space outside ‘entrepreneurialism’ for anything other than ‘Traditional Arts’.

I would like to be able to write a response which was thoroughly researched, in depth and was able to reach a wider audience, but unfortunately there are few spaces left for dissenting, questioning voices and little time.

Originally published here