Friday, 28 December 2012

Anger is an energy - by Andrew Eaton-Lewis

“WHAT we’re trying to do is inject some energy into the ecology,” said Creative Scotland’s Venu Dhupa back in May this year, announcing a radical restructuring of funding that would see large numbers of arts organisations competing for pots of one-off project money.

Well, it worked, although probably not in the way Dhupa, the organisation’s senior director of creative development, had imagined. The rebellion against Creative Scotland – which peaked with 100 Scottish artists writing an open letter condemning its “ill-conceived decision-making; unclear language, lack of empathy and regard for Scottish culture” and culminated in this month’s resignation of chief executive Andrew Dixon – can largely be traced back to this single decision.

Instead of energising artists to become more entrepeneurial, the funding shake-up energised its critics to voice long-held doubts about what the organisation was doing. (First up was this newspaper’s Joyce McMillan, who immediately and memorably condemned the move as embodying “a kind of undead Thatcherism, a 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, and imposes a crude ethic of sado-competition on areas of society where co-operation and mutual respect matter more.”

So it’s appropriate that Dhupa, credited as the architect of the changes, resigned last week. Like Dixon, her statement is entirely unapologetic (it is not remotely clear, reading it, why she is actually leaving). But at least it was more dignified than that of Dixon, who petulantly lashed out at the critics who didn’t “respect and support” him.

Where does this leave Creative Scotland? In limbo. Dixon will remain in his job until January, Dhupa will leave a month later. It remains to be seen whether the organisation’s chairman, Sir Sandy Crombie, can follow up on the recent promise of change in a way that will win back the trust of the people the organisation alienated this year. Here’s hoping.

Thursday, 27 December 2012


When walking in some woodland in Yorkshire, I came across loads of ceramic pipes which made me think about some possible ways of displaying work.

Sculptural paintings

Friday, 14 December 2012

Artists forced to survive on £100 a week - Scotsman newspaper article

Thursday 13 December 2012

THREE-quarters of visual artists in Scotland are earning less than £5,000 a year, according to a new report.

Just five per cent of artists surveyed for the study said they were earning more than £15,000 after tax and expenses.

When it came to actual turnover, 70 per cent of those who took part in the study for the Scottish Artists Union (SAU) were generating less than £10,000 a year.

The SAU, which has been campaigning for a fairer deal for self-employed artists, said the figures present a “stark and 
worrying depiction” of their earnings across Scotland.
It has collected more than 500 signatures on a petition demanding the setting up of a “reliable, accessible and effective infrastructure” for artists.

The union also wants to see a minimum-pay rate for artists enforced via all publicly funded bodies and organisations.

The SAU, which has more than 900 members, has been one of the most vocal critics of arts body Creative Scotland, calling for greater transparency in its work and claiming there was “no confidence” in the agency across the visual arts sector.

It said it had carried out the study over the last few months because it was concerned at a lack of evidence “in the public domain” about working conditions and professional circumstances of artists.

More than half – 57 per cent – of those surveyed by the SAU had either never applied for nor received public funding for their work, while 43 per cent were having to support their practice through part-time work.

Two-thirds of artists were having to work from home, which the union says raised questions about the affordability of rented studio space and the financial security of having a professional practice.

Only seven per cent of artists who took part in the anonymous poll said their turnover was more than £25,000. However, this does not take into account the likes of hiring studio space and the cost of materials.

President Rowena Comrie said: “The turnover most artists bring in is scarily low and it’s hard to imagine how they would survive without tax credits. A lot of people have partners that support them and some have part-time jobs, but these figures are very worrying.”
Earlier this month, award-winning writer James Kelman revealed he made just £15,000 last year. After collecting his latest honour, the Saltire Society’s Scottish Book of the Year prize, he said: “And that after being a writer for about 40 years.”

There has been anger from artists after it emerged Creative Scotland’s chief executive Andrew Dixon will get six months’ salary – about £60,000 – after he leaves his post in January.

Mr Dixon has borne the brunt of criticism over the running of the agency, which has a budget of more than £83 million.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Market Gallery visit

Tonight I went to the Market Gallery Committee meeting to discuss my forthcoming residency. It was good to meet with Kirsty and Emmie, two of the committee members I had not previously met.

Kirsty informed me that she organises the volunteers to help the artists in residence, and I explained the kind of work that I will be needing assistance with. One of my aims for the residency is to work on a larger scale, and this will not be possible without help from others.

When we went to look at the gallery that I will be using, the space appeared completely different to how I had seen it before. I think that is because I was looking at it for different reasons - usually I go to visit the exhibitions, but this time i was thinking about how I could use the space.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Screenprint experiments

I really enjoy the unpredictable nature of the outcome when doing a blended screenprint.

 Each print really is unique.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Statement from the board of Creative Scotland 07/12/2012

This statement details the commitments for change as agreed by the Creative Scotland Board at the meeting on the 5 and 6 December.

The statement follows earlier announcements and the work carried out by the Board sub-groups over the past few weeks.

The commitments outlined in this statement recognise the issues raised in recent months by external commentators, through open sessions with artists and creative practitioners and also, importantly, by Creative Scotland staff.

Central to many of the concerns communicated recently to Creative Scotland has been an inconsistency in our dealings with external partners, and there is clearly a need to create a culture and ethos where trust and mutual respect can thrive.

This has meant that, despite a range of welcome and successful initiatives throughout Scotland in the first two years of operation, many important relationships have deteriorated.
The Creative Scotland Board acknowledges its own share of responsibility for this.
Both the board and the senior management team recognise the need for substantial changes which will address the principal concerns made evident in our internal reviews, extensive external feedback, and the submissions sent to us by a range of organisations and individuals, including our own staff.

We are very conscious that future success depends on us functioning as a team with shared goals, operating in an environment of mutual respect.

One cause of friction which has affected both competence and delivery has been the lack of effective use of expertise available to the organisation internally and externally.
This will change in two ways:
  • We will change Creative Scotland’s operational structure to give staff the freedom to use their specialist knowledge more effectively.
  • We will set up internal and external forums that allow artists, creative practitioners and staff to feed into policy development.
We reiterate one of our core values: that artists and creative practitioners should be at the heart of our thinking.

Changes to make the language and tone of Creative Scotland more accessible are already underway, and we accept that the nature and number of our funding streams and programmes has led to confusion.

This will also change. Work has begun on simplifying the routes through which individuals and organisations can access advice and funding.

Stability is a core concern of many companies, not least in this difficult financial climate. We intend to offer that stability in a number of key ways:
  • As soon as is practicable, we will offer long term funding to organisations over a number of years. This will be subject to a review of progress, but relieve them of the need to submit fresh applications annually.
  • We will work towards changing what has come to be viewed as a funding hierarchy. Instead we will offer the security of multi-year funding to organisations, project funding for specific time limited work, and funding to individuals which may include partnerships.
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.

Crucial to re-building trust and confidence in the organisation is the commitment of our staff who have been operating under the most difficult circumstances.

We greatly admire, value and respect the skills and talents of our staff and intend to create an atmosphere in which these can flourish. They will be involved at every stage of this period of essential change.

There has been good practice in many of the things Creative Scotland has achieved but that has to become the norm in all areas of activity. We recognise that imaginative and successful initiatives have been undermined by failures in other areas.

It is time that Creative Scotland stopped being the story. We think the best way to achieve this is to focus on making our core operation effective, and affording those we support due care and attention.

We will also moderate the pace of change to enable better planning and consultation internally and externally.

These changes are the product of a period of painful but essential re-examination. We are individually and collectively signed up to restoring confidence in Creative Scotland’s work.
We ask for time to be allowed to do this, and to be judged on the results of the changes announced today.

The Board of Creative Scotland

Summary of Commitments
Commitments for change agreed by the Board of Creative Scotland on 6 December 2012 and to be delivered by the Senior Management Team and staff:
  • Underlining our commitment to putting artists, creative practitioners, cultural organisations and our staff at the heart of everything we do.
  • Enabling more effective use of staff specialist knowledge and expertise, increasing autonomy of decision-making and increasing the visibility of, and access to, this expertise.
  • Creating effective regular consultative forums with artists and creative practitioners and staff to inform policy development and increase transparency. Working with the sector to design the specific nature of these forums with the aim of a first open session in early 2013.
  • Reviewing current funding models to enable as many organisations as possible and appropriate to benefit from stable, multi-year arrangements. This will include an end to the plans for ‘strategic commissioning’.
  • Changing the perceived funding hierarchy of Foundation, Flexibly Funded and Annual Organisations and creating clear funding routes for individuals and specific time limited projects.
  • Changing the content and tone of our language to increase clarity and accessibility with a re-design of our application forms, guidance and other communications.
  • Emphasising the language of “support” rather than “investment” in both our values and operations.
  • Reducing efforts on activity that could be construed as promoting Creative Scotland ahead of artists, creative practitioners or cultural organisations.  
Work on these commitments will be a collaborative process with staff, artists, creative practitioners and organisations.
We continue our commitment to supporting arts, culture and creative industries across Scotland and to increasing public engagement and participation, working in partnership with others to achieve this.

Next Steps

Some of these changes are underway, others will involve a significant level of future work. The support and active involvement of people and organisations in the arts, culture and creative industries through this period will be essential.
The following date should be noted:
  • Friday 14 December: Publication of Board sub-group reports and update on actions.
Early in 2013 we will publish more detailed plans for implementing these significant changes, including anticipated timescales. This is to allow staff and the senior management team time to consider the activity and people required to deliver the commitments being made.

The Board will also begin the process of recruiting a new Chief Executive in the New Year and interim organisational arrangements are currently being put in place.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Statement from Creative Scotland: 03/12/12

Creative Scotland today announces that Andrew Dixon has taken the decision to stand down from the post of Chief Executive at Creative Scotland and make way for a new Chief Executive to lead the organisation through an important period of change.

Sir Sandy Crombie, Chair of Creative Scotland said:

“On behalf of the Board, I would like to thank Andrew for his stewardship of Creative Scotland since its inception. As a new organisation with an extensive remit, there have been inevitable challenges during this period and Andrew has consistently led the organisation with energy, passion and enthusiasm. He has also taken every opportunity to be a vociferous champion and advocate for Scottish arts and culture.”

Andrew Dixon, in a statement about his departure said:

“It has been a privilege to have been involved in the early years of Creative Scotland and to have worked with such talented and dedicated staff, but I now feel the time is right for a change of direction for both myself and the organisation.

“I am proud of what has been achieved since the merger. We have delivered new resources for the arts and established strong partnerships with local authorities, broadcasters and many other agencies. The Year of Creative Scotland, The Guide to Scotland’s Festivals, a new capital programme, the Creative Place Awards and the recent Luminate festival have shown the potential for all parts of Scotland to play a part in the creativity of the nation. I have been disappointed, given my track record, not to gain the respect and support of some of the more established voices in Scottish culture and I hope that my resignation will clear the way for a new phase of collaboration between artists and Creative Scotland.”

I have, however, also received much support and generosity of spirit from people in the arts and culture community across Scotland. I have been grateful for the tireless support of Fiona Hyslop and many others in Government. I would also like to thank Sir Sandy Crombie and the rest of the Board who volunteer their time and expertise so willingly. The staff team at Creative Scotland is exceptional and, despite recent strains, they continue to demonstrate professionalism and a true passion for the artistic and creative life of Scotland. I wish them all the very best.”

The Board will now begin the process of finding a new Chief Executive and setting up interim arrangements. In the immediate future, the Senior Management Team will report directly to Sir Sandy Crombie as Chair of the Board.

Andrew Dixon will leave Creative Scotland at the end of January 2013 after completing a programme of handover and transition support to the Chair and the Board.

Further information:
As detailed in previous statements, Creative Scotland is currently undertaking two internal reviews with the aim of improving its operations and relationship with artists, cultural organisations and other stakeholders.
Andrew Dixon was appointed in February 2010 as acting Director of Creative Scotland and has been full time since May 2010 overseeing the merger of Scottish Screen and the Scottish Arts Council.
Further announcements will be made as appropriate.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Four weeks on from Tramway World Cafe

The Tramway World Cafe event on 31 October 2012 at Tramway, Glasgow was an open opportunity for artists, practitioners and people who care about the arts and cultural sector in Scotland to come together for a discussion about the future of our community in the next 10 years.

It was stimulated by the public and private discussions that have been happening about our main public funding body, Creative Scotland. It was set up to be artist and practitioner focused.

The link below is to a blog post that reflects on the Creative Scotland activity in the 4 weeks since the Tramway World Cafe event.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Labelling artists - Eleanor Turney article

Another application to fill in raises another dilemma - how do I describe what stage of my career I am at?
early career, emerging, young?

Do I want to be pigeonholed into such a category? Who is this classification useful for? What do these terms mean? How will the description affect what people think of my work and of my practice?

Eleanor Turney  writes about these topics in her article, written for the Guardian:

Young, emerging or ready? For early career artists, it's all in the labelling

The clash between creative work and bureaucracy is always going to present problems, but it's easy to see why those handing out money need systems with transparent criteria. This is a perennial issue in the arts world, and more acute now as everyone scraps for less and less money. One recent focus for argument had been schemes that support 'young' or 'emerging' talent. But are these criteria useful, and if so, for whom? And are labels that might be useful to funders and marketers also useful for the artists to whom they are applied?

Age limits pose particular problems: when Arts Council England (ACE) announced its Creative Employment Programme, led by the National Skills Academy, to support up to 6,500 new apprenticeships and paid internships, instead of universal approbation there were numerous complaints that it had an age cut-off (24 years old).

For myriad reasons (family pressure, the need to pay the rent, changing interests) many people don't get their first job in the arts until they're older. They are then competing with younger graduates and those who can afford to take up internships, but are ineligible for some streams of support, including ACE's Creative Employment Programme and some of the opportunities offered by another big supporter of young people in the arts, IdeasTap. So is this unfair?

Peter de Haan, chairman of IdeasTap spells it out clearly enough: "If you look at the unemployment stats, it's clearly young people, especially aged 16-25, who are in the most need of support. My experience as a philanthropist has taught me that if you want to make a real difference you need to focus that support."

Stephen Fewell, chair of JMK Trust (which bestows the £25,000 JMK Young Directors' Award, available to under-30s) also says: "In the current financial climate, looking at the employment prospects for young people leaving education, I lose no sleep over youth being an appropriate criterion for support."

However, de Haan explains that although IdeasTap initially focused on 16-25 year-olds, "we saw a big increase in members aged 25-30 who needed support to kick off their careers". John Garfield-Roberts, an actor/director, worries that graduates of schemes for young artists find themselves "at the bottom of a very big pile, with little or no support to guide them through the next stage of their career".

Since those starting out can be of any age, maybe it makes sense to replace 'young' with 'emerging' – there are a number of schemes run by ACE alone that cater to emerging talent, including the Artists International Development Fund, Music Industry Talent Development Fund (which will announce its first recipients in early 2013), and, of course, Grants for the Arts.

Unfortunately, 'emerging' is even more nebulous a term than 'young', which can be confirmed by a date of birth on an application form. It means different things in different artforms and to different funding bodies. Old Vic New Voices artistic director Steve Winter explains that they "prefer to use the term 'emerging' because the connection between the artists we work with is the stage they are at in their careers within this industry, rather than their age".

Freelance journalist and theatre critic Andrew Haydon says, half-jokingly, that "the definition of 'emerging' is anyone who still has to apply for funding themselves," which applies to individual artists and to those organisations or companies that have not achieved regular funding. Becoming an NPO (National Portfolio Organisation) is not, of course, the only definition of success, but it does suggest a recognition that your work is ready for an audience. Jake Orr, artistic director of A Younger Theatre, is more equivocal: "Emerging can be anyone, but is currently thought to be young, and this is something that needs to shift. They're two very different ideas that need to be kept separate."

Even ACE does not have a singular definition of 'emerging'. However, the commonalities are that "the artist will have reached a critical moment in their career development, and will require a particular kind of support in order to maximise their potential and to propel them into the next phase of their development." ACE gives the following examples of what might define an emerging artist: recently being taken on by an agent, label, publisher, dealer or offered development opportunities by an NPO or sector agency; beginning to perform or have work performed or exhibited professionally; working in entry level roles in museums or galleries.

The labels 'young' and 'emerging' can also be problematic for artists themselves. 'Young' emphasises our fetishisation of youth and precocity. Calling someone 'emerging' suggests something unformed – something in-process but not yet producing work to which we should be paying attention. It highlights inexperience. Freelance producer Rowan Rutter makes sense when she says that "the word I personally use is 'ready' – am I READY for this project, for this responsibility, for this story, for these artists, for this money?"

Other people don't like either terms, especially from a marketing point of view. Tim Wood, communications manager of The Place explains: "Almost all the work we promote is by young and/or emerging artists. But these are utterly unhelpful labels for audiences. Arts marketing seems to be fighting a losing battle against vaguely applied adjectives."
John Garfield-Roberts agrees: "Tags and labels have always been dangerous. Perfect for box ticking and graphs but they provide very little actual life value." One tweeter suggested that 'emerging' begs to be followed with 'turd' – they would prefer 'early career'. Again, this can be problematic because it suggests that careers are linear and that everyone who wants to work in the arts wants to make it their career.

Ultimately, let's hope that the people with the money (funders or audiences) are intelligent and clued-up enough to make decisions about the kind of work they want to support, regardless of the age or career stage of the artist. These terms can be helpful in some ways, but what we should really care about is the quality of the work. As Rutter says: "Every time I hear 'emerging' I think about an ugly caterpillar-butterfly scenario. And let's face it, there are plenty of 'emerged' caterpillars in this business."

Eleanor Turney is a freelance journalist, editor and copywriter, currently working part-time for the Poetry Society – follow her on Twitter @eleanorturney

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Start the Week - BBC Radio 4 - Art and Design with Antony Gormley, Christopher Frayling, Sarah Teasley and Ron Arad

Andrew Marr explores how Britain trains the artists and designers of the future.

Christopher Frayling and Sarah Teasley celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Royal College of Art, the world's oldest art and design school.

But one of its former teachers, the industrial designer Ron Arad argues for a broader arts education which doesn't split sculpture from painting, architecture from design.

And the artist Antony Gormley redefines the limits of sculpture and building.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Work not Play campaign by Musicians Union

In light of the recent campaign by artists for fair rates of pay (exhibition fees) and the general lack of confidence in Creative Scotland, it is worth reminding ourselves that we are not operating in isolation, and that other creative fields are being effected.

The Musicians Union have an interesting campaign going called 'Work not Play'.

  Musicians' Union Work Not Play

The Musicians Union are reminding people that 'this is not a hobby - it's a profession' and support fair pay for professional musicians.

For more information please visit

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Southblock Artists Open Studios - 1st and 2nd of December 2012

Once again I will be opening the doors of my studio (312) to the public as I am participating in the Southblock Artists Open Studios event at the beginning of December. A wide range of artists based at Southblock (64 Osborne Street, Glasgow) are taking part, selling work to suit all tastes and budgets.

Please come along and see what I have been creating / am working on!

Stuck for ideas for Christmas presents? How about buying some art from local artists?

Wednesday, 14 November 2012


“Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.”
- Leo Burnett

Saturday, 10 November 2012

'Changin' Scotland

Unfortunately I was unable to attend the latest event organised by AHM, namely, 'Changin' Scotland – The Role of the Arts, Culture and Identity in Scotland' in Ullapool, 2-4 November 2012. Thankfully Richard Taylor has written a comprehensive report on the conference.

'Changin' Scotland – The Role of the Arts, Culture and Identity in Scotland' looked at how artists and others can influence public policy.
By: Richard Taylor

Introduced by writer and commentator Gerry Hassan and Highlands and Islands MSP Jean Urquhart, 'Changin' Scotland – The Role of the Arts, Culture and Identity in Scotland' took a 'Yes' campaign slant on how Scottish cultural identity could help educate public opinion on Scotland’s independence referendum in 2014.

The conference was organised by artists and facilitators AHM (Sam Ainsley, David Harding and Sandy Moffat), who in 2011 produced the State of Play – Art and Culture in Scotland Today symposia. In their opening session, and in light of having attended the open public meeting at Glasgow's Tramway on October 31 which addressed the need for change at funding body Creative Scotland, AHM asked: "How do artists and those involved in the arts change public policy?"

Further sessions followed over a full day on the Saturday, with a screening of 'Brigadoon' in the evening, and two morning sessions on the Sunday. Representatives of Scotland’s cultural sector presented their ideas, followed by open discussion facilitated by AHM. The role of cultural action as a stimulus for social transformation and political change was discussed in terms of national institutions, such as the Royal Scottish Academy, the role of Creative Scotland, and events in recent Scottish arts history such as 'Windfall 91', a seminal artist-led exhibition in Glasgow involving Scottish and European artists. All sessions were visually recorded through drawing by artist Emily Wilkinson.

There was strong support for Scottish independence throughout the three days. Artists such as Jim Mooney and Roderick Buchanan, art historians, politicians, poets and literary figures such as Janet Paisley and Alan Bissett, as well as former representatives of what was the Scottish Arts Council, including Sam Ainsley and Lindsay Gordon, put forward arguments that harkened to late '70s Scottish nationalism and its influence in the arts in the '80s and '90s. Creative Scotland was also scrutinised on its dismantling of the specialist voice of artists at board level.

Speakers from the visual arts sector included Malcolm Maclean, former CEO of Proiseact nan Ealan (the Gaelic Arts Agency); Will Maclean (RSA), former Senior Research Fellow and tutor at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design; Craig Richardson, Professor of Fine Art, Northumbria University; novelist, journalist and filmmaker Ewan Morrision; and Tom Normand from School of Art History, St Andrews University.

A strong argument came from Malcolm Maclean’s Saturday morning session 'Out of the Invisible: The role of the visual-arts in re-imagining Gaelic Scotland'. In presenting historical events that dealt with the promotion of Gaelic language through visual art, Maclean put forward ideas on how artists can project change through media coverage and a public voice.
He commented: "The blank canvas of giving artists full license to realise their ideas whilst working with the Gaelic language – Proiseact nan Ealan’s foremost ethos – in turn allows an effective politicisation of ideas… a slow-burner effect of instilling social and political movement." Foundation funding was this year withdrawn from Proiseact nan Ealan by Creative Scotland.

The importance of history
Craig Richardson’s Saturday afternoon talk, ‘Scottish Art since 1960’ discussed historical definitions of Scottish contemporary art in light of post-modernism, Thatcherism and devolution – all reference points that were brought together in the conference to promote 2014’s independence vote, and to politicise the creative act.

Anchoring social change to artists' responses, Richardson stated: "An insurance policy for Scottish artists is the knowledge of their recent art history, a record of which has been difficult to trace in a British sense… to look at the topology of Scottish visual art since 1960 unearths either exclusion or inclusion – a predicament the artists’ national confidence will face in upcoming political shifts."

Ewan Morrison’s later talk, 'The role of great art and art education in social transformation', questioned whether social change is indeed possible through the work of artists. He instead suggested that such tasks should be left to politicians. He said: "Artists feel the need to symptomatically respond to politics, yet successful practitioners have responded instead with entrepreneurship in order to survive."

With many artists now avoiding the art market to pursue alternative ways to make a living, context-specific work is realisable, as are socially engaged projects that look to the community. Yet this type of work is clearly dependent on funding.

Much focus was brought back to Creative Scotland’s role. It was characterised as a product of decisions made by governmental shifts ignorant of Scotland’s international cultural standing and overly focused on activity in the central belt (Edinburgh and Glasgow). The overiding message of Changin' Scotland was that the change brought about by being an independent nation would allow for inclusivity, rather than exclusivity.

'Changin’ Scotland – The Role of the Arts, Culture and Identity in Scotland' took place 2-4 November, in Ullapool, Scotland.

Images from the event can be viewed on the AHM blog:

Tramway World Cafe event

The Tramway World Cafe event on 31 October 2012 at Tramway, Glasgow was an open opportunity for artists, practitioners and people who care about the arts and cultural sector in Scotland to come together for a discussion about the future of our community in the next 10 years.

It was stimulated by the public and private discussions that have been happening about our main public funding body, Creative Scotland.

It was set up to be artist and practitioner focused. Questions were posed, and answers sought. Recommendations were made, and a constructive approach was adopted so as to offer possibilities rather than purely making complaints.

The papers presented and presentations made can be viewed online at the following blog:

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

An Ode to Creative Work

Although I don't agree fully with all that is said, there are some real truths that deserve to be told.

Behind every great advancement, in every industry, there is a creative mind. 

Creativity may come easy, but creation is hard. 

The late nights spent trying, and failing, and trying again. 

All the while, holding onto our vision.

Pushing what we see in our mind's eye into the world. 

But our brilliance is being held captive by forces around us and within us. 

Middle men who play us down while marking us up.

Not giving us credit. Getting us to work for free. 

And worse, we get in the way of our own success.

We rely on chance encounters. We’re disorganized and isolated, liable to go unnoticed. 

We can do better. 

When creative minds come together, the sum exceeds all expectations.

We connect, we learn, we critique, and we prosper. 

It's not about money or fame, it's about doing what we love.

It's about creating our greatest work on our own terms.

It’s about realizing that creativity is not just an opportunity - it's a responsibility. 

Here's to unleashing our full potential.

For us, and for the world that awaits what we will do next; Take creative control.

Monday, 29 October 2012

GiftED: The Edinburgh Book Sculptures on Tour 2012

GiftED: The Edinburgh Book Sculptures on Tour 2012
The Mitchell Library, Glasgow

The story behind these artworks makes them all the more magical. Over the course of 9 months in 2011, 10 altered books were discovered in 10 of Edinburgh's libraries and museums.

Left by an anonymous individual, each artwork was meticulously crafted from a book, and each artwork referenced the book from which it was made.

The creator was obviously familiar with Twitter as a gift tag attached to the first book read

"It started with your name @byleaveswelive and became a tree...we know that a library is so much more than a building full of books...a book is so much more than pages of words...This is for you in support of books, libraries, words, ideas..."

Each subsequent book was given a tag, the second of which read "...and against their exit." This refers to the debate about cuts to library funding that were happening at the time.

Just as a good book can transport the reader to unfamiliar places and bring excitement, these artworks draw on this sense of discovery and take the audience on a different type of journey. The mystery of not knowing who is the creator allows our imaginations to run wild.

The artist writes

"In making sculptures from books I saw a pale shadow of the wonder that is reading, where black marks can become scientific theories, romantic poems...gruesome stories.This raises the question 'does a book on being read remain a book? And so I chose to transform the books into other things..."

For more information and other blog posts please visit:

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Explosion! The Legacy of Jackson Pollock at Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona

I received the following information about an exhibition in an email from e-flux. It sounds brilliant!

Explosion! The Legacy of Jackson Pollock 

Fundació Joan Miró

 Curator: Magnus af Petersens

Kazuo Shiraga painted with his feet, suspended by ropes above the canvas; Andy Warhol or his assistants urinated on the canvas; Shozo Shimamoto hurled paint-filled glass bottles at his paintings, and Niki de Saint Phalle fired a rifle at her panels that she had prepared with balloons of paint under layers of plaster. Explosion! The Legacy of Jackson Pollock features works by some 35 artists from the 1940s on.

After the Second World War, many artists wanted to start from scratch by attacking painting, which was seen to represent artistic conventionality. Explosion! takes off where modernism ends, when it was so ripe that it was on the verge of exploding. Which it did, in the form of a variety of new ways of making art. Practically every door was opened with an aggressive kick, and a new generation of artists began seeing themselves not as painters or sculptors but simply as artists, who regarded all materials and subjects as potential art. That is how the American artist and writer Allan Kaprow, the man who invented the word "happening," described the situation in 1956 in his now legendary essay "The Legacy of Jackson Pollock." Even if doors were opened to all techniques, much of the new art—happenings, performance and conceptualism—sprang from new approaches to painting. There was a development, a shift of focus from painting as an art object and as representation to the process behind the work, to the ideas that generate art, and to performative aspects.

"In Explosion! we want to explore the performative and conceptual elements in painting, and the painterly elements in conceptualism and performance," says exhibition curator Magnus af Petersens, curator at Moderna Museet in Stockholm.

The exhibition follows a theme that runs from Jackson Pollock's drip paintings, via a Cageian fascination for chance as a method for creating art, to performance and conceptual approaches. It also presents the Japanese artist group Gutai (1954–1972), which operated in radical ways in the borderland between painting and performance, anticipating many later artistic practices and strategies such as conceptualism, land art and installation. In Europe they exhibited together with artists from the nebulous artist group Zero, also featured in Explosion! with works by Günther Uecker and Otto Piene.

The geographical scope of the artists featured in Explosion! is an attempt to put the American-European art canon in a broader context. The exhibition comprises paintings, photos, videos, performance, dance and sound works, instructions and pieces that invite audience participation. Since the exhibition includes action rather than focusing exclusively on painting, performance and documentations of performance are an important part of the material that is presented, not least early footage of Jackson Pollock and Yves Klein in their performance-like painting acts, which have provoked many artistic comments, including works by Lynda Benglis and Janine Antoni, who are also featured in Explosion! Although this group exhibition is historical, it adheres to no particular style or ism, and is not confined to a geographically limited art scene; rather, it reveals the kinship between apparently unrelated artistic approaches.

Explosion! The Legacy of Jackson Pollock was produced by Moderna Museet and adapted by Fundació Joan Miró.

Sunday, 21 October 2012


I am looking forward to seeing the work of Shio Kusaka at the Modern Institute next week.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Words to live by

Do what you love, love what you do

Ugmonk discusses the joys of doing what you love as a career.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

SAU Petition to Creative Scotland

SAU Petition to Creative Scotland

As part of the Scottish Artists Union's business, at the recent AGM a proposal was made by the executive committee to approach Creative Scotland with a set of demands. 
We are initiating a petition aiming to gather evidence of support for the following proposals.
The Scottish Artists Union demands that Creative Scotland
· Adopts transparent decision-making processes, involving artists in all decision-making that affects artists and providing clear feedback on all decisions. 

· Provides a reliable, accessible and effective infrastructure for artists and makers focused on the long term sustainability of the sector and its organisations.

·  Ensures through Grant Offers that all organisations in receipt of CS investment use appropriate Contracts.

·  Endorses and adopts all Union Recommended Rates of Pay for artists as minimum levels, and ensure through Grant Offers that all organisations in receipt of Creative Scotland grants and investments at a minimum implement these rates.

·  Makes the payment of exhibition fees (in addition to any other relevant commissions, fees and expenses) mandatory for all organisations in receipt of grants and investments.

· Monitors the implementation of all of these measures through grant and investment reporting requirements.

It is very important that as many people as possible sign this petition.

Please support this action by signing the petition. Offering evidence to Government and Creative Scotland that there is support for these changes, can influence positively the outcome of recent events.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Creative differences cause for real concern - The Scotsman

By Brian Ferguson

Published on Monday 15 October 2012 00:18


I know I wasn’t the only one tripping off down memory lane last week as the artistic rebellion against Creative Scotland went up by more than a few notches.

If the quango thought it had taken the sting out of months of discontent by pledging to take part in a couple of “open session” events in Edinburgh and Glasgow later this month, it had a rude awakening by the starkness of the language used in various diatribes against the organisation.

But what was also striking about the “100-artists letter” and subsequent tirades were the echoes of previous revolts.

I couldn’t help but notice some of the names attached to last week’s protest letter had been involved in earlier sabre-rattling at the way the arts were being handled by Holyrood.
Therein lies the nub of the pickle Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government have found themselves in. We have been here several times since the idea of a new arts super-quango was first floated in 2005. In fact, the previous year then First Minister Jack McConnell was targeted in a letter warning that the nation’s creative spirit was being allowed to “wither” by his administration’s handling of the arts.

No-one can say the alarm bells about Creative Scotland are being sounded belatedly. Its creation was a tortuous process and even once approved, the gestation period was long and laborious.

At regular intervals, there were calls for the whole process to be scrapped and widespread concerns about the loss of the level of independence which the oft-maligned Scottish Arts Council had enjoyed. Bodies like the National Galleries and National Museums had to battle hard to retain direct funding from the Scottish Government, fearing the worst if they were lumped in.

There appears little doubt much of the ill-feeling from substantial parts of the cultural sector is directed at those at, or very near the top, of Creative Scotland. The initial defences of Andrew Dixon, the chief executive, earlier this year and Sir Sandy Crombie, the chairman, last week – to the effect of our “PR strategy has been poor” and “you just don’t understand us” – have since crumbled away.

When Liz Lochhead, the national poet, an ambassador for the “Year of Creative Scotland” and one of the “celebrity” supporters of the Yes Scotland independence campaign took to the airwaves, the whole affair seemed elevated to another level.

The following day the entire tone of Scotland’s culture minister, Fiona Hyslop, had altered dramatically. And little wonder. The creation, remit, priorities and funding of Creative Scotland are mainly down to the Scottish Government.

Hyslop may have inherited the shape of the quango from two SNP predecessors, Linda Fabiani and Mike Russell, but it was her party’s decision to retain the hugely-controversial plans instigated by the previous Labour-led administration.

Much of the criticism washing over Creative Scotland is not about the personalities involved, but the bureaucratic nature of the organisation, the sheer breadth of the sector it is trying to cover and the whole concept of providing “a return on investment”.

Creative Scotland was not a blank slate when Dixon arrived at the helm just over two years ago. If he and/or Sir Sandy are removed from the picture – and the media has been repeatedly informed they have no intention of going – where will that leave the sector?
Right back at the beginning? I doubt it. The same organisation, with its £83 million budget, will still be there. So will its fiendishly complex funding programmes that seem to lie at the heart of the discontent. I suspect many artists will not rest easy until the entire bureaucratic organisation is dismantled. And any major changes will almost certainly end up at the culture secretary’s door.

Creative Scotland was most certainly not her idea. It was not even her party’s. But her parliamentary profile reminds visitors that she was the minister who got it approved.
On that day in March 2010, she proudly declared: “I expect Creative Scotland to help realise the potential contribution of art and creativity to every part of our society and economy.”
Sir Sandy’s ill-advised “letter of response” has been pulled apart by critics and artists. But when he made the point that “they who provide the money have a right to ask what will result from that investment,” was he not singing from a hymn sheet provided by the Scottish Government? The same government that appointed him in the first place.

Caterina Fake suggests how to create time

Once again I am sitting at my computer after midnight trying to catch up on the emails of the day, and do some work. If only I could survive without sleep, if only I could clone myself, if only I could create more time. But how?

Caterina Fake suggests:
  1. Eliminate or reduce media. TV, for starters. That's easy. Computers, since I work in tech, and love the internet, is less easy. Smartphones, also not easy. For a while I had my email retrieve messages from the server only at 10AM and at 4PM. That was brilliant. I should do that again. And at another time I spent roughly an hour online in the morning and another hour in the afternoon. Super! I was up to date on all my social media and yet I suddenly felt as if I had cloned myself, I had so much time.
  2. Work offline. A blog post like this one can be written using a paper and pencil, and you're significantly less likely to find yourself, five hours after you started writing it, editing a Wikipedia entry on Even-toed Ungulates. I speak of what I know, friend. Paper, yes. Pencil, yes. Some of my favorite tools are listed on Lifehacker. 
  3. Do less. Eliminate activites that are prestigious. Eliminate activities that require you to be around people you can't stand. Eliminate activities that you know are a waste of time that you keep on doing out of habit. Do things that add meaning to your life. Fulfill your responsibilities. Don't do things for people who should be doing them for themselves.
  4. Don't make appointments or schedule meetings. This is difficulty level 8 or 9, but not impossible. One way around this one is the "come by Thursday afternoon" strategy -- that is, not setting a specific time to meet, but being flexible about that time the meeting starts. This is significantly less stressful for everyone and not even less efficient. Well, let's just say it is less stressful for me. I imagine it would drive more OCD or Aspergersy type people around the bend. 
  5. Sleep in two shifts. Researchers have discovered that in pre-industrial times, people slept in two shifts, waking in the middle of the night for some solitude, conversations with another person, wondering, or wandering. Then they'd go back to sleep for another stretch. I have been doing this lately, and have been able to get 2-3 hours of uninterrupted creative work done in the middle of the night. 
  6. Make time less precious. We are way too efficient, making use of every hour, every minute. When you were a kid, didn't you just spend hours poking sticks in the mud, climbing trees and sitting in them, looking at shells and seaweed that washed up on the shoreline? Time was not precious then, we weren't trying to stuff an accomplishment into every minute every day, we had time for thoughts and feelings. That was good! Any day spent that way was a day of joy and order. There was so much time.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Creative Tensions

Russell Leadbetter
In The Herald, Sunday 14th October

A culture of materialism. Trapped in a Gulag of their own making. Scottish artists and writers have levelled a fierce volley of complaints at Creative Scotland, after more than 200 signed an open letter protesting at what they view as the "deepening malaise" within the national funding body.

Among the leading names who signed the letter last week criticising the quango's "ill-conceived decision-making and unclear language" and "lack of empathy and regard" for Scottish culture were playwright David Greig, authors Ian Rankin and Alasdair Gray and poet Liz Lochhead.

Yesterday hundreds more Scottish artists added their voices to the chorus of criticism after the Scottish Artists Union – which has nearly 1,000 members – called for more transparency in Creative Scotland's work. The union claimed there was a feeling of "no confidence" in the arts body, which has the task of spending more than £83 million of public and lottery money on supporting the arts annually.

A key point of contention among many artists has been a change from fixed-term funding to a more project-based approa
ch, while the commissioning role and structure of the arts body have also been criticised.
On Friday, Sir Sandy Crombie, chairman of Creative Scotland, admitted that the body has a major problem in its dealings with artists. Two inquiries, which will report before Christmas, have been set up to examine the organisation's operations and its lottery funding.
In a statement, Crombie said: "I want to give my personal reassurance that all matters brought to our attention will be thoroughly considered and, where possible and necessary, that improvements will be made."

However, some prominent figures have lent support to Creative Scotland. Among them is Michael Elliott, chief executive of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO), who said the "continuing relentless public barrage of criticism" was unjustified and damaging to the long-term interests of the arts in Scotland.

He said Creative Scotland had supported RSNO initiatives such as the Astar project, which will offer a classical CD to babies born over the next year in Scotland to inspire a love of music.

"I have found Creative Scotland to be responsive to creativity, innovation and achievement, and to have a passion for enabling the arts and culture across the whole of Scotland to flourish," Elliott said. "The organisation has admitted mistakes, is learning from them, and is taking action to improve."

Andrew Dixon, chief executive of Creative Scotland, acknowledged that more needs to be done to listen to some of the concerns of artists.

However, he added: "We should point out that we have devolved funding to bodies that work directly with artists across various disciplines, including the Scottish Book Trust, Playwrights' Studio and Transmission Gallery.

"While we're keen for artist-led organisations to take decisions closer to the coal face, we also accept that we need to talk to artists directly ourselves. Some artists who have voiced concerns are people who we perhaps have not reached - We have to find lots of formats in which we can talk to artists."

Dixon said the body had been in talks since June with agencies including the Federation of Scottish Theatres and the Literature Forum on how best to engage on policy issues with artists.

He said: "We have cut £1.5 million from our running costs and have 30% less staff in order to put more money into the cultural sector.
"So there are fewer of us, but we are out and about across Scotland."
Tam Dean Burn, actor:

IT was the strength of feeling from the artistic community that made me sign the letter. I understand that a lot of people declined to sign because they were understandably reluctant to jeopardise any funding, even though they felt strongly about CS.
Personally, I've had a growing sense of disbelief and irritation about the way CS has been operating. I see no need for it, because we have a very successful Scottish arts community, whereas Andrew Dixon has come in acting as if there's some big problem that he can solve, and insisting that we have to learn to operate on a much more business-like basis.
Some people have suggested this attitude is a Thatcherite or Blairite hangover, but it is definitely from the era when the market was seen as the answer to everything. Combine this with CS's dumbing-down approach, which you can see most clearly in their awards. It's not the job of the funding body to initiate awards ceremonies – especially when they charge £110 for tickets. CS seem to think their job also involves advoca
cy for the arts. That is not how artists see it.

Prof Willy Maley, author, professor of Renaissance Studies at the University of Glasgow:
EVER since CS came into being, I have heard nothing but bad stories. There have been stories about people who wanted to speak out and complain but couldn't, or were not listened to, or were met with a brick wall.

The situation is remarkably similar to what is happening in our universities, where there is a tier of management that will not listen, consult or communicate.

Artists and academics are in a similar, related position. There is something profoundly un-Scottish about it; I like to think we have a democratic ethos or principle. For a small, poor country we have an extremely rich artistic and literary culture. To try to turn this into something we are going to lose face, and faith, over is absolutely disastrous.
It has something to do with a culture of managerialism, of railroading things through, of using business-speak. In terms of the signatories to the letter, I am something of an outlier: I was asked to sign, but, from everything I have heard [about CS] I felt that, whatever its original intentions, it is not working out.

David Harding, former head of sculpture at Glasgow School of Art, now part of AHM collaborative group:

I HAVE no personal grievance with Creative Scotland but am opposed to its very being because of the neo-liberal policies and attitudes it is attempting to impose.
So this is not about its competencies, of trying to make it better, but one of conflict with the whole ethos. Neither is it about personalities. Andrew Dixon and Venu Dhupa [CS director of creative development] may not be the best appointments that could have been made to carry out the Scottish Government's wishes, but changing them will not change what CS is being charged to do.

Creative Scotland is a New Labour construct supinely embraced by the SNP. It should have been fought at the Bill stage, but artists have little enough time and security to make work, let alone to be able to take time to fight a Bill going through Parliament. However, since CS has now shown its teeth, and the cuts bite, artists can react. CS is damaged goods. As Ian Bell wrote: there are only two words needed – "art" and "work".

Fiona Robertson, administrator of Sound Festival, Aberdeen:
Following the changes in the funding to Flexibly Funded Organisations, Sound has been awarded £177,000 by CS over two years. Under the present circumstances, we're happy to have been awarded that grant for our projects, and it is slightly more than we had been awarded for the two previous years.

However, during the review process we were encouraged to articulate a vision for our development by CS, and this new funding level doesn't invest enough to achieve that vision. We would have liked to have had a fuller discussion with CS about our strategy and how their investment would help us achieve this. We believe this lack of discussion is part of the current problem, and there needs to be a re-think on how CS engages with cultural organisations and artists. Creative Scotland has also developed a business ethos, reflected in the language they use, including within the application forms. Whilst this may be appropriate for the creative industries, it feels at odds with the way arts organisations and artists operate.

Corrina Hewat, harp player, principal Scottish harp tutor at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland:
I HAVEN'T had many dealings with CS since it changed from the Scottish Arts Council, purely because it was becoming bad for my health. Why? I don't understand the forms, and start to shrivel inside when I think about having to do any forms. I'm more into writing, collaborating with other musicians, taking the music to far-flung places, and teaching.
I seem to be in a never-ending loop – must work to pay the bills, need someone to help me, can't afford that, but if I just keep working to raise enough money to get someone to help me ... and so it goes.

I also don't want to complain about CS. I am not a complainer by nature and the whole ethos of supporting the arts is one I live by. I want to see the good in everything, and art in all forms is essential for life. So I'm happier stepping away from the forms and the business speak.

I have received funding through many ventures – touring and recording, many albums and many collaborations, none of which would have happened had it not been for the support we received. The funding enables us to tour larger groups to outlying areas, in venues that would not normally have such gigs going on. It enables collaborations, and enables workshops to be given to kids who are then inspired to keep listening and learning music
Also I don't want to have to cut down on band members, take less time rehearsing, or to change the show so it ticks all the boxes. Why should my art be undermined, and why should I change the way I think to fit? Shouldn't it fit with me?

I'm co-musical director of the Unusual Suspects. We started as a 32-piece, having to slim down to 22 for the tour as stages weren't big enough. Getting the band on the road was always an expensive thing and I was grateful the SAC supported us in those first years. There was a feeling of trust within the community that the folk working in the organisation had direct knowledge and interest in the field of expertise they were funding. But each time we asked for help, it had to be bigger and better, which was near impossible to do through lack of money.

Surely small arts organisations can be given some kind of assurance for a two- or three-year funding plan? How can the arts survive if we are in this constant short-term thinking mode? Art is not just for Christmas, it's for life.
John Byrne, artist:

I simply signed the letter because I'd heard so many gripes from people who run small theatre companies. You just pick up the vibe and think, for God's sake. I have never had any truck with Creative Scotland; I've no idea what Andrew Dixon or anyone else from the organisation looks like. I'm self-sufficient, and self-financing, and have been for many moons. I've no need to go cap-in-hand to them, but it sounds as if others do. You almost get the impression that it's like approaching the KGB – you have to queue up, and sign forms in triplicate. CS don't get out and about much, do they? They almost seem to be in a Gulag of their own making.
'We need to put artists in charge of the resources'

By Anne Bonnar, who helped to set up Creative Scotland
The current furore over Creative Scotland (CS) is the latest battle in a long war between the arts community and cultural bodies. Well-trammelled struggles over ideology and the control and management of funds have taken on particularly Scottish characteristics since devolution, with artists challenging funding bodies on fairness, trust, respect and ethics. The current public intervention by leading artists about the apparent lack of empathy from those who control the arts resources has tipped the discontent expressed about changes to funding streams over into a crisis.

Co-ordinated public intervention by eminent artists has been a game-changer in every recent battle. Protests from artists when I was Transition Director for CS influenced changes to the way that body was set up. CS has had a difficult birth and many of the factors influencing that have now been addressed. But the lack of a structure which recognises eminent artists and their contribution to the cultural leadership of Scotland means that many will continue to feel marginalised and to limit their contributions to a public attack when things go wrong.

State support for the arts and culture in Scotland has strengthened during the last few years after a period of uncertainty. There has been the appointment of a respected Culture Minister staying the course after nine short-term predecessors, the legal establishment of Creative Scotland through the Public Sector Reform Bill, and the appointment of a board and an experienced and committed CEO.

CS has invested in the arts. The merging of Scottish Screen and the Scottish Arts Council has reduced annual operating costs by more than £1m and provided some protection from deeper cuts during this time of reduced public expenditure.

However, board members of CS are appointed by Ministers and not remunerated, in contrast with Scottish Enterprise or NHS. Not only does this signal that culture is less important than enterprise but it precludes applications from those artists who must prioritise work which generates income. There is an artist on the board, musician Gary West, and others who practice art in their spare time but in selecting a chair closely associated with Scotland's financial services, Fiona Hyslop has prioritised financial stewardship. Alternative structures involving artists would signal government recognition of their importance and reduce the singular focus on what is just one part of the cultural landscape.

As Makar, Liz Lochhead occupies the sole official position for a leading Scottish artist. Establishing a national artists' academy with a role in national cultural leadership could bring artists in from the cold and allow more balanced and considered setting of cultural policy. In addition, increased fiscal autonomy could be used to provide a time-limited allowance for artists and creative workers to develop their work, either in tax incentives or a creative enterprise allowance. This would loosen the singular dependence on CS and create a more balanced system for artistic and cultural leadership in Scotland.

Anne Bonnar was Transition Director of Creative Scotland for the Joint Board of the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen, and is now a director of Bonnar Keenlyside, an international arts-management consultancy.