Creative Scotland
Or: The Lottery, the Funders and the People

Sarah Lowndes

Contexts / 09.01.2013

Ruth Ewan, The Glasgow Schools, 2012. Installation view, ‘Magic for Socialism’, Sunday 22 April 2012, with Charlotte Brown and the choir of former Socialist Sunday School students at Scotland Street School Museum, Glasgow, during Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art, 20 April to 7 May 2012. Photograph: Alan Dimmick. Courtesy the artist and The Common Guild

To say that the relationship between artists in Scotland and Creative Scotland – the national body for the arts, screen and creative industries –has ‘deteriorated’ in recent months is an understatement.1 This deterioration was presaged by a significant shift in Creative Scotland’s funding approach, which can be seen as indicative of a wider shift in funding practices towards mergers and innovation as a response to austerity budgets. As a result, austerity is doubly affecting the arts sector.

Since the spring of 2012 the organisation has been described by leading arts figures as ‘half-baked’,2 ‘damaged at the core’,3 ‘a bulldozer’4 and, perhaps most memorably of all, as ‘a dysfunctional ant-heap’.5 By the end of the first week in December 2012, following eight months of fervent debate on social media sites, letters of protest, broadsheet newspaper coverage and packed public meetings,6 executive director Andrew Dixon had tendered his resignation and the contrite board had pledged major reforms.

In November 2003, Creative Scotland was just a twinkle in the eye of then-first minister Jack McConnell, who pledged that the Labour Scottish Government7 would overhaul the existing funding arrangements to put creativity at the heart of their agenda.8 Moving forward to 2010, the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition has taken power at Westminster, while the Scottish National Party preside over the Scottish Parliament, with Alex Salmond as first minister. It is at this moment that Creative Scotland is born, of the merger of Scottish Screen, the film funding body, with the Scottish Arts Council (which also controlled lottery money for the arts). Crucially, the Coalition decide that lottery funds should be used to replace direct government funding for the arts – in a reversal of the position taken by every government since the establishment of the National Lottery in 19939 – a decision endorsed quickly by Salmond. As Ian Bell later noted in The Herald, ‘Creative Scotland was the victim, like everyone else, of public spending cuts and austerity.’10

From 2013, a much smaller proportion of Creative Scotland’s budget came from a government grant and a much larger proportion from lottery funds, which could only be used for one-off projects.11 Using lottery funds meant that Creative Scotland commanded a larger overall budget than the old Scottish Arts Council, but that the funds had to be dispersed differently. The process was overseen by Dixon, who had previously directed the NewcastleGateshead Initiative, under which he repositioned that Northeast English region from post-industrial to cultural with developments including the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, the Norman Foster-designed concert venue Sage Gateshead and Antony Gormley’s twenty-metre high steel sculpture The Angel of the North (1998) overlooking the A1 motorway.

Creative Scotland then, from the outset, was less an arts funding body than a hybrid organisation: part funder, part cultural enterprise agency.

Dixon set to work – together with his chairman, former chief executive of the pensions, insurance, savings and investments firm Standard Life, Sandy Crombie, and their director of creative development, Venu Dhupa – to lay out plans for the distribution of Creative Scotland’s annual £83 million budget. The plan stated that Creative Scotland would be ‘a new model for cultural investment and advocacy’.12 Creative Scotland then, from the outset, was less an arts funding body than a hybrid organisation: part funder, part cultural enterprise agency. The first faint alarm bells began to sound in response to the language their plan was couched in, such as references to ‘delivering services’, ‘franchises’ and ‘outcomes’.

Marked opposition to Creative Scotland did not arise until the spring of 2012, when the body announced they were withdrawing their flexible funding scheme, which had offered basic income security on a two- or three-year cycle to small- and medium- scale arts organisations. This meant that from 2013 onwards, 49 arts organisations, including CCA, NVA, Transmission Gallery and the Common Guild, and theatre companies Vanishing Point and Grid Iron, would have to re-apply for project funding every six months. Dhupa, the architect of the restructuring, was quoted as saying that this would force companies to become more entrepreneurial and commercially orientated. She added there would also be a greater emphasis on finding and cultivating celebrities who could be trained to promote Scotland and Scottish arts and abroad.13 Under the new arrangements, some feared Creative Scotland would have power of veto over exhibitions or performances deemed not innovative or commercially-orientated enough.

Anger at the direction of Creative Scotland gathered pace through social media networks but was first put in print by The Scotsman theatre critic Joyce McMillan on 25 May 2012, when she lambasted their ‘half-baked, hollowed-out, public-sector version of market theory that reduces the language of creativity to a series of flat-footed business-school slogans’.14 On 4 June, seven of Scotland’s leading playwrights (Peter Arnott, Ian Brown, David Greig, David Harrower, Zinnie Harris, Linda McLean and Douglas Maxwell) echoed McMillan’s sentiments in a public letter addressed to Crombie, urging the organisation to reconsider the proposed funding changes. ‘Project funding is a state of constant uncertainty,’ they wrote, and is ‘utterly unsuited to the flourishing of established artists and mature organisations.’15

At the end of August, Creative Scotland attracted further negative publicity by granting £15,000 to a new BBC2 commission for STV Productions, titled The Country Show Cook Off. On 14 September, Scottish poet Don Paterson issued a stinging attack, questioning Creative Scotland’s decision to ‘invest their precious and shrinking resources ... in third-rate cookery programmes’.16 In response to the ongoing criticism, Creative Scotland released a statement trumpeting the 2012 Year of Creative Scotland, the 2014 Year of Homecoming and 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, and to point out that they had made an additional £8m of Lottery funding available in 2011/12 for more than 100 new projects across Scotland. Their statement finished by drawing attention to the activities of the newly appointed national poet, or Makar, Liz Lochhead.

Embarrassingly, the following month Lochhead was one of the 100 leading arts figures who put their names to a damning letter sent to Crombie, alongside the Master of the Queen’s Music, Peter Maxwell Davies, writers James Kelman, AL Kennedy, Andrew O’Hagan, Don Paterson, Ian Rankin and Alasdair Gray and Turner Prize winners Martin Boyce, Douglas Gordon and Richard Wright, and a further 444 creative practitioners.17 The letter, published in The Herald on 9 October, condemned Creative Scotland’s ‘ill-conceived decision-making; unclear language, lack of empathy and regard for Scottish culture’ and stated that trust between artists and the funder was ‘low and receding daily’. Matters worsened in November when news broke of the all-male jury recruited for the Creative Scotland Awards – an unusual approach for an organisation committed to equal opportunities.

On 4 December, Dixon resigned. Three days later, the board of Creative Scotland released a conciliatory statement, pledging to rectify the key areas of concern raised in the preceding months, notably, that of consulting with artists and staff, an end to ‘strategic commissioning’ and a review to enable as many organisations as possible to receive stable, multi-year funding – which was seen as a major U-turn.18 On the 20th December Venu Dhupa also resigned. Welcome though the proposed changes are, one of the most interesting parts of the statement must be this:

It is essential in our view that lottery funding should never be regarded as a substitute for government sourced grant in aid, but we are working on ways in which we can use both to ensure the creative community thrives.19

The social benefits of the arts are unquantifiable, and the creative community is a small one within the country as a whole. However, in my view, the work carried out by creative practitioners must be allowed to remain unquantifiable and not tied to outcomes and returns. This approach is wholly justifiable from a financial point of view, as the ‘creative industries’ currently support 60,000 jobs and contribute £5billion to the Scottish economy.20

Finally, we must regard the Creative Scotland fracas within the wider political picture, and specifically in relationship to UK Chancellor George Osborne’s proposed ‘fiscal consolidation’.21 The trouble with Creative Scotland really began when the Coalition and SNP agreed to start using lottery money to fund culture, a decision that carries with it a heavy irony. Six out of ten people who will be affected by the cuts proposed by Osborne are those22 carrying out ‘semi-routine’ occupations’23 such as manual work, cleaning, temping in offices, bar and shop work, often on a temporary or part-time basis. Often these so-called ‘shirkers and scroungers’ need to claim housing benefit, working tax credits and other benefits to make up for the fact that their wages are so low they can’t afford to heat their homes24 or to eat properly.25 And, every weekend more of these people than any other socio-economic group buy lottery tickets.26

Yet, most artists in Scotland are even worse off than the people buying the lottery tickets. A recent survey conducted by the Scottish Artist Union (SAU) confirmed that three-quarters of visual artists in Scotland earn less than £5,000 a year, putting them in the lowest socioeconomic group of income earners, alongside pensioners, casual or lowest grade workers, benefit claimants and students.27 For many, protesting against the direction of Creative Scotland forms part of a larger opposition towards the Coalition’s punitive and unfair public spending cuts. The possibility of change affected through their campaign leads therefore to the hope of further protest and wider change.

  1. Statement from the Board of Creative Scotland (07/12/2012)

  2. Joyce McMillan, ‘Start again, there’s plenty of talent around’, The Scotsman, 25th May, 2012.

  3. ‘In Full: Leading Artists' Letter to Creative Scotland Chairman’, The Herald, 9th October, 2012.

  4. Luke Fowler, quoted in Charlotte Higgins, ‘Arts body accused of “bulldozing” Scottish culture’, The Guardian, July 9th, 2012.

  5. Don Paterson, ‘A Post-Creative Scotland’, Unstated: Writers on Scottish Independence, Scott Hames, ed. (Edinburgh: WordPower Books, 2012).

  6. At the end of October, two public meetings were called to create a wider forum for debate.   In Edinburgh, Open Space, was organized by writer and director Jen McGregor, while arts consultant Roanne Dods (vice-chair of Scottish Ballet) organized an event at Tramway, Glasgow called World Café.

  7. The Scottish Government is the executive branch of the Scottish Parliament, which was formed in 1999, following the 1997 Scottish referendum on devolution. The Parliament of the United Kingdom at Westminster continues to constitute the supreme legislature of Scotland, but the devolved legislature of the Scottish Parliament was granted the power to pass laws, given limited tax-varying powers and assumed responsibility for education, health, agriculture and justice. There are have been four elections to the Parliament (1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011), the first two were won by Labour.  In 2007 SNP emerged as the largest single party, with Alex Salmond being elected First Minister in May that year, a post he still retains.  In 2011 SNP won with an overall majority.

  8. Robert Dawson Scott, ‘Andrew Dixon and Creative Scotland: what went wrong?’, STV Entertainment, 3 December 2012,

  9. The National Lottery is the state-franchised national lottery in the United Kingdom, established in 1993 under John Major’s Conservative government. Of every pound sterling (£) spent on National Lottery games, 28 pence goes to ‘good causes’ administered by The National Lottery Distribution Fund (NLDF), part of the government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport.  Last year, 8% was given to arts, sports and heritage via government agencies and the remaining 46% was given to charitable, health, education and environment causes.  Source: National Lottery Distribution Fund Account 2010-11 (Report), House of Commons, 15th December, 2011.

  10. Ian Bell, “Creative Scotland was a Project Doomed to Failure”, The Herald, 5th December, 2012,

  11. J. McMillan, ‘Start Again’, op. cit. See also Phil Miller, ‘Writers Express Concern over Arts Funding’, The Herald, 4 June 2012, in which Miller reports ‘Lottery funds, which are increasing substantially to £32m by 2014, and the body’s core grant from the Scottish Government, which is to decline to £33.4m’. Available at

  12. “Investing in Scotland’s Future”, Corporate Plan 2011-2014,

  13. Severin Carrell, ‘Scottish arts shakeup to concentrate funding on one-off projects’, The Guardian, May 17th 2012.

  14. J. McMillan, ‘Start again’, op. cit.

  15. P. Miller, ‘Writers express concern’, op. cit.

  16. Don Paterson, ‘A Post-Creative Scotland”, op. cit.

  17.  ‘In full: leading artists' letter’, op. cit. Richard Wright is the author’s husband.

  18. Statement from the Board of Creative Scotland (07/12/2012)

  19. Ibid.

  20. See:

  21. Shuvo Loha, ‘Britain’s Real Shirkers and Ccroungers, 7 December 2012, available at

  22. Ibid.

  23. British Gas made £397.5m in profits between March and September 2012, but announced in November that gas and electricity prices would rise by 6% in December, adding £80 to an average bill.

  24. In 2009 26,000 people in total relied on food aid. In 2012, food charity FareShare alone is helping to feed 36,500 people every day.

  25. A survey for ComRes for the thinktank Theos in 2008 found that 67 per cent of working class skilled manual workers (earning less than £25,000 per annum) were regular participants in draw-based games, against 47 per cent of upper middle class and middle class managers, administrators or professionals (earning above £35,000 per annum). Participants in Scotland and Wales tended to spend more each month (£7.20 and £8.25 respectively) than the national average.

  26. ‘Artists forced to survive on £100 a week’, The Scotsman, 13 December 2012, available at