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.

Creative Scotland in the news

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Arts chief admits problem

Published in The Herald, Saturday 13th October
Article by Phil Miller

Sir Sandy Crombie, chairman of Creative Scotland also revealed two board meetings, on October 22 and December 6, will play a crucial role in the future of the arts funding body.
Sir Sandy, responding unexpectedly for the second time in a week to the damning letter from more than 100 artists asking for change at the body, struck a notably less combative tone than his letter earlier in the week, which was described as "inadequate" by artists, with a tone of "patrician emollience".

His first lengthy response to the artists had said that "in choosing to be concise, you have of course sacrificed the provision of detail at a level that my board colleagues and I can investigate" and also stated "they who provide the money have a right to ask what will result from that investment". Both phrases, among others, antagonised artists.

However, in his second letter, days after a brusque "sort it" message from Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop, Sir Sandy admitted: "A number of artists and representative groups are taking issue with how we at Creative Scotland do things and how we relate to them.

"The board and senior management team are hearing these concerns and right now are taking stock and absorbing what has been 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."

Two inquiries, made up of board members, one led by journalist Ruth Wishart, a columnist for The Herald's Society page, and the other led by Barclay Price, chief executive of Arts and Business, will look into the funding body's operations and its lottery funding.

The two committees will report before Christmas and major changes at the organ
isation, including in personnel, are expected to be prompted by their work.
Creative Scotland's problems have been prompted by not only the removal of "flexible funding", or fixed-term funding, for more than 40 organisations, but also its use of business language, its commissioning role, and its structure.

Creative Scotland is now also considering establishing a new "consultative forum" to help inform on issues affecting artists and organisations.

Sir Sandy, former chief executive of Standard Life, said: "It is also my intention that we will take informal soundings from a range of those who care deeply about our role, and how we discharge it, about possible approaches to dealing with issues before final decisions are taken. I do not want to put pressure on those we consult by calling them representatives. However, I hope it will be possible to find approaches that give us confidence the feedback we receive is representative."

Last night, the leading playwright, David Greig, responded: "This is a very encouraging statement. I get that sense that the specific concerns have been heard at Waverley Gate [Creative Scotland's offices in Edinburgh] and a process of practical change is being put in place.

"Rebuilding trust with the sector will be a more difficult matter. It will take time but, for the moment, this statement feels like a step in the right direction."

Yesterday, Ms Hyslop told The Herald: "I strongly believe in direct communication, that there will be a resolution and a way forward.

"I have made it clear to the board what I expect. They are taking it very seriously and I expect to see results."

The chairman of Scotland's national arts funding body admitted in a conciliatory letter it has a major problem in its dealing with artists.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Summit to discuss Creative Scotland

Summit to discuss arts funding body

Artists from across the Capital have been invited to a summit to discuss recent criticism surrounding Creative Scotland – their main funding body.

The publicly-funded arts investor has been condemned for lacking transparency but a meeting is being held at its Edinburgh HQ to debate concerns.

Artists from all disciplines including theatre, music, storytelling, visual arts and film are invited to attend, and anyone can put forward a topic for discussion. The discussions will also be written up as reports and posted online so that conversation can continue.
It is hoped that other open meetings will be set up, creating a pool of artist-generated information across Scotland.

The meeting will be held on October 26 between 10am-7pm on the first floor of Creative Scotland’s offices at Waverley Gate. It is free to attend and interested parties should visit’%20Open%20Space

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Creative SCotland 'must be pulled apart' say campaigners

LEADING figures in the campaign against the management of Creative Scotland have urged culture secretary Fiona Hyslop to begin moves to “unpick” the flagship arts funding body.
A dramatic overhaul of the fledgling organisation led by former Standard Life chief ­executive Sir Sandy Crombie has been demanded by key cultural figures – with Ms Hyslop insisting she was taking the criticism levelled at it “very seriously”.

Despite Creative Scotland ­having “arm’s-length” status, Ms Hyslop was forced to make the latest in a series of interventions last night, declaring: “It is imperative that these issues get sorted.”

It has emerged an internal review was triggered last month after Ms Hyslop called for action to be taken to “strengthen relationships and build trust”.

But critics insist she needs to do much more to tackle unhappiness and distrust with Creative Scotland, which has an budget of more than £83 million. Sir Sandy, who has offered to meet leading figures in the campaign, has fuelled anger by insisting “they who provide the money have a right to ask what will result from that investment”.

Playwright David Greig condemned the official response to a letter of protest from 100 artists as “totally inadequate” and said artists were being treated like pupils being summoned to see the headmaster.

He said there was a growing clamour for Ms Hyslop to order a proper review into the running of the agency, saying it should be stripped of key responsibilities to focus on the funding of core arts.

Mr Greig accused Sir Sandy of using “emollient” and “patrician” language to dismiss the complaints from the 100 artists.

He added: “The key issue is that Creative Scotland is not the providers of this funding, they are merely the administrators of it. They are running it like it is a business when it is not.
“Creative Scotland is now completely bound up with the so-called creative industries and we have an industrial quango. It has got to the point where somebody within the Scottish Government needs to start to unpick Creative Scotland. Fiona Hyslop could ensure some good comes out of this crisis.”

Janice Galloway, winner of the Scottish Book of the Year award, said: “Sir Sandy’s response to our letter was a masterpiece of resentful condescension and showed how little Creative Scotland understand the concerns.

“Nobody is asking Fiona ­Hyslop to interfere in artistic decisions, this is purely about policy. This letter from Sir Sandy is an exemplar of the kind of change needed in Creative Scotland. It’s not their money they are demanding a return on, it is public money. And they still refusing to accept the scale of the problem by trying to use bigger words and insisting artists simply don’t understand them.”

Ms Hyslop said: “I am taking very seriously the criticism of Creative Scotland. That is why I have asked the board to engage directly with the sector, to ­address the point
s raised and communicate what action is already being taken.

“The concerns raised relate to internal workings and wider relationships that need to be dealt with. The government cannot and does not interfere in Creative Scotland’s artistic decisions.

“Sir Sandy and I have had constructive exchanges and I know he understands what I expect of the organisation.”

Meanwhile, Creative Scotland said it is producing a “plain English” guide for staff after being accused of using too much “business-speak and obfuscating jargon”. A spokesman said the guide had been in the pipeline for months following repeated criticism of official guidelines and application forms.

Creative Scotland 'must be pulled apart, say campaigners'

Fiona Hyslop tells Creative Scotland to sort out criticisms

By Brian Ferguson

SCOTLAND’S culture secretary has demanded her flagship arts quango sort out mounting criticisms of the way it is being run - the day after its chief executive vowed he would not be stepping down.

Fiona Hyslop, who has faced mounting criticism over her lack of action over the crisis engulfing Creative Scotland, insisted she was taking the criticisms levelled at it “very seriously.”

She insisted it was already taking action in response to her request last month for its board, led by former Standard Life chief executive Sir Sandy Crombie, to address concerns about the way funding decisions were taken and levels of transparency.

But Ms Hyslop insisted the Scottish Government could not “interfere” with artistic decisions taken by the body, which has an annual budget of more than £83 million.

Her latest statement, several weeks after the quango’s chief executive Andrew Dixon appeared before MSPs to respond to criticisms, has been sparked by the signing of a damning letter of protest about Creative Scotland by 100 of Scotland’s leading artists.

Mr Dixon has pledged to remain in the job but admitted ­mistakes had been made since Creative Scotland was set up two years ago, saying that the “pace of change” had been too swift and that those in charge had failed to get their message across.

Read the open letter from Sir Sandy Crombie

But he fiercely denied claims that his organisation was not listening to artists, pointing out that he and Sir Sandy were meeting a number of arts organisations when they were passed the letter of protest on Monday.

Creative Scotland was condemned for “ill-conceived decision-making, unclear language, and a lack of empathy and regard for Scottish culture” in a dramatic move by leading Scottish artists.

Sir Sandy and Mr Dixon have now offered to meet those behind the letter, including ­the ­national poet, Liz ­Lochhead, author Ian Rankin, artist Karla Black, playwright David Greig, actor Tam Dean Burn and film-maker Andrea Gibb.

Mr Dixon, former head of the north-east of England’s arts body, said: “We are already ­having discussions, we are in ­listening mode and I am travelling the length and breadth of the country speaking to artists. This is only the start and we know we need to listen more.
“I made a big commitment moving up here, I am very committed to Creative Scotland, and to delivering a first-class cultural infrastructure that the whole country can enjoy.”

Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop was criticised by a predecessor, Patricia Ferguson, who accused her of standing by as artists and companies expressed growing frustration with the running of Creative Scotland.

She said: “Something is seriously wrong in the culture at the arts body and the cry for help is clearly directed at her.”

But Ms Hyslop said: “I am taking very seriously the criticism of Creative Scotland.
“That is why I have asked the board to engage directly with the sector, to address the points raised and communicate what action is already being taken. This process is already under way including a review of operations by the board.

“The concerns raised relate to internal workings and wider relationships that need to be dealt with by the organisation. The Scottish Government cannot and does not interfere in Creative Scotland’s artistic decisions - as set out in legislation.

“Sir Sandy Crombie and I have had constructive exchanges about the concerns of the sector and I know he understands what I expect of the organisation.

“I recognise that developing new ways of cultural provision and funding alongside such a wide range of artists and other partners will inevitably bring challenges. It is now for Creative Scotland to work with the sector to address these challenges. I have made it clear it is imperative that these issues get sorted.”

Ms Lochhead yesterday of a “universal feeling of absolute dismay” about Creative Scotland. “There is a feeling something has to be said and something has to be done because a potentially catastrophic set of initiatives are being put in place all the time that really threaten how people in Scotland work.”

Meanwhile Creative Scotland said it is producing a “plain English” guide for staff after being accused of using too much “business-speak and obfuscating jargon.” A spokesman said the guide had been in the pipeline for several months following repeated criticism of official guidelines and application forms.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

How to Break Through Your Creative Block

I discovered these useful tips on

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How to Break Through Your Creative Block: Strategies from 90 of Today’s Most Exciting Creators

Refining the machinery of creativity, or what heartbreak and hydraulics have to do with coaxing the muse.

What extraordinary energy we expend, as a culture and a civilization, on trying to understand where good ideas come from, how creativity works, its secrets, its origins, its mechanisms, and the five-step action plan for coaxing it into manifestation. And little compares to the anguish that comes with the blockage of creative flow.

In 2010, designer and musician Alex Cornell found himself stumped by a creative block while trying to write an article about creative block. Deterred neither by the block nor by the irony, he reached out to some of his favorite artists and asked them for their coping strategies in such an event. The response was overwhelming in both volume and depth, inspiring Cornell to put together a collection on the subject. The result is Breakthrough!: 90 Proven Strategies to Overcome Creative Block and Spark Your Imagination (public library) — a small but potent compendium of field-tested, life-approved insight on optimizing the creative process from some of today’s most exciting artists, designers, illustrators, writers, and thinkers.

Writer Michael Erard teases apart “creative block” and debunks its very premise with an emphasis on creativity as transformation:
First of all, being creative is not summoning stuff ex nihilo. It’s work, plain and simple — adding something to some other thing or transforming something. In the work that I do, as a writer and a metaphor designer, there’s always a way to get something to do something to do something else. No one talks about work block.
Also, block implies a hydraulic metaphor of thinking. Thoughts flow. Difficulty thinking represents impeded flow. This interoperation also suggests a single channel for that flow. A stopped pipe. A dammed river. If you only have one channel, one conduit, then you’re vulnerable to blockage. Trying to solve creative block, I imagine a kind of psyching Roto-Rootering.
My conceptual scheme is more about the temperature of things: I try to find out what’s hot and start there, even if it may be unrelated to what I need to be working on, and most of the time, that heats up other areas too. You can solve a lot with a new conceptual frame.
Designer Sam Potts suggests that heartbreak isn’t merely evolutionary adaptive strategy, it’s a creative one:
Have your heart broken. It worked for Rei Kawakubo. You’ll realize the work you’d been doing wasn’t anywhere near your potential.
From the inimitable Debbie Millman, who has kindly offered this hand-lettered version of the typeset list in the book:

  1. Get enough sleep! Sleep is the best (and easiest) creative aphrodisiac.
  2. Read as much as you can, particularly classics. If a master of words can’t inspire you, see number 3.
  3. Color code your library. That is fun, and you will realize how many great books you have that you haven’t read yet.
  4. More sleep! You can never get enough.
  5. Force yourself to procrastinate. Works every time!
  6. Look at the work of Tibor Kalman, Marian Bantjes, Jessica Hische, Christoph Niemann, and Paul Sahre.
  7. Weep. And then week some more.
  8. Surf the Web. Write inane tweets. Check out your high school friends on Facebook. Feel smug.
  9. Watch Law & Order: SVU marathons. Revel in the ferocious beauty of Olivia Benson.
  10. Remember how L-U-C-K-Y you are to be a creative person to begin with and quit your bellyaching. Get to work now!
Illustrator Marc Johns offers:
Pretend. Stop thinking like a designer or writer or whatever you are for a minute. Pretend you’re a pastry chef. Pretend you’re an elevator repair contractor. A pilot. A hot dog vendor. How do these people look at the world?
Musician Alexi Murdoch, extends an infinitely important, infinitely timely contrarian critique of creativity-culture:
Beethoven drank buckets of strong, black coffee. Beethoven was creatively prodigious. (He also went deaf and, perhaps, mad.) Sound syllogism here? I’d like to think so.
The idea that creativity is some abundantly available resource waiting simply for the right application of ingenuity to extract, refine, and pipe it into the grid seems so axiomatic at this cultural juncture that the very distinction between creativity and productivity has been effectively erased.
And so it is that, when faced with a decreased flow in productivity, we ask not what it might be that’s interfering with our creative process, but rather what device might be quickly employed to raise production levels. This is standard, myopic, symptomatology-over-pathology response, typical of a pressurized environment of dislocated self-entitlement.
At the risk of going off brief here, can I just ask: What’s wrong with creative block? Might it not just be that periods — even extended ones — of productive hiatus are essential mechanisms of gestation designed to help us attain higher standards in our pursuit of creative excellence?
Writer Douglas Rushkoff rebels:
I don’t believe in writer’s block.
Yes, there may have been days or even weeks at a time when I have not written — even when I may have wanted to — but that doesn’t mean I was blocked. It simply means I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or, as I’d like to argue, exactly the right place at the right time.
The creative process has more than one kind of expression. There’s the part you could show in a movie montage — the furious typing or painting or equation solving where the writer, artist, or mathematician accomplishes the output of the creative task. But then there’s also the part that happens invisibly, under the surface. That’s when the senses are perceiving the world, the mind and heart are thrown into some sort of dissonance, and the soul chooses to respond.
That response doesn’t just come out like vomit after a bad meal. There’s not such thing as pure expression. Rather, because we live in a social world with other people whose perceptual apparatus needs to be penetrated with our ideas, we must formulate, strategize, order, and then articulate. It is that last part that is visible as output or progress, but it only represents, at best, 25 percent of the process.
Real creativity transcends time. If you are not producing work, then chances are you have fallen into the infinite space between the ticks of the clock where reality is created. Don’t let some capitalist taskmaster tell you otherwise — even if he happens to be in your own head.
Musician Jamie Lidell echoes Tchaikovsky:
Cheers. Watcha gonna do with a blocked toilet? I mean, that’s all it is, right? A bung that needs pulling to let the clear waters of inspiration flow.
Maybe. Or maybe it just takes showing up. Going back again and again to write or paint or sing or cook.
Some days the genius will be in you, and you will sail. Other days the lead will line the slippers, and you’ll be staring into the void of your so-called creative mind, feeling like a fraud. It’s all part of the big ole cycle of creativity, and it’s a healthy cycle at that.
Digital-media artist and data viz wunderkind Aaron Koblin, head of the Data Arts Team in Google’s Creative Lab says:
They say an elephant never forgets. Well, you are not an elephant. Take notes, constantly. Save interesting thoughts, quotations, films, technologies…the medium doesn’t matter, so long as it inspires you. When you’re stumped, go to your notes like a wizard to his spellbook. Mash those thoughts together. Extend them in every direction until they meet.
Philosopher Daniel Dennett has a special term for his method:
My strategy for getting myself out of a rut is to sit at my desk reminding myself of what the problem is, reviewing my notes, generally filling my head with the issues and terms, and then I just get up and go do something relatively mindless and repetitive. At our farm in the summer, I paint the barn or mow the hayfield or pick berries or cute fire wood to length…. I don’t even try to think about the problem, but more often than not, at some point in the middle of the not very challenging activity, I’ll find myself mulling it over and coming up with a new slant, a new way of tackling the issue, maybe just a new term to use. Engaging my brain with something else to control and think about helps melt down the blockades that have been preventing me from making progress, freeing up the circuits for some new paths. My strategy could hardly be cruder, but it works so well so often that I have come to rely on it.
One summer, many years ago, my friend Doug Hofstadter was visiting me at my farm, and somebody asked him where I was. He gestured out to the big hayfield behind the house, which I was harrowing for a reseeding. ‘He’s out there on his tractor, doing his tillosophy,’ Doug said. Ever since then, tillosophy has been my term for this process. Try it; if it doesn’t work, at least you’ll end up with a painted room, a mowed lawn, a clean basement.
Jessica Hagy suggests
How can you defeat the snarling goblins of creative block? With books, of course. Just grab one. It doesn’t matter what sort: science fiction, science fact, pornography (soft, hard, or merely squishy), comic books, textbooks, diaries (of people known or unknown), novels, telephone directories, religious texts — anything and everything will work.
Now, open it to a random page. Stare at a random sentence.
Every book holds the seed of a thousand stories. Every sentence can trigger an avalanche of ideas. Mix ideas across books: one thought from Aesop and one line from Chomsky, or a fragment from the IKEA catalog melded with a scrap of dialog from Kerouac.
By forcing your mind to connect disparate bits of information, you’ll jump-start your thinking, and you’ll fill in blank after blank with thought after thought. The goblins of creative block have stopped snarling and have been shooed away, you’re dashing down thoughts, and your synapses are clanging away in a symphonic burst of ideas. And if you’re not, whip open another book. Pluck out another sentence. And ponder mash-ups of out-of-context ideas until your mind wanders and you end up in a new place, a place that no one else ever visited.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

‘Damaged at the heart’: artists pull no punches over Creative Scotland

In The Scotsman

A HUNDRED of Scotland’s leading artists have launched an out-spoken attack against the government agency in charge of the cultural sector.

In full: The letter to Creative Scotland

Creative Scotland, which has an annual budget of more than £83 million, is facing open rebellion after being accused of “ill-conceived decision-making and a lack of empathy and regard for Scottish culture”.

A stinging letter of protest to its chairman, Sir Sandy Crombie, will increase the pressure on chief executive Andrew Dixon to quit following months of criticism over his stewardship. Neither was available for comment last night.

However, composers James Macmillan and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, playwright and artist John Byrne, film-maker Andrea Gibb, actor Tam Dean Burn, singer-songwriter Karine Polwart and Scotland’s national poet, Liz Lochhead, are among those artists demanding “a fresh start” for the body. They have put their names to the letter claiming trust between Scotland’s artists and those who fund it was “low and receding daily”.

The artists behind the letter issued an accompanying statement saying they believe Creative Scotland was now “damaged at the heart” – but stopped short of calls for sackings or resignations.

Their dramatic move will also pile pressure on culture secretary Fiona Hyslop for failing to get a grip of a crisis which has dragged on for months. Last night, she insisted she still supported the super-quango for the arts, which was set up just months after she took over the culture brief.
Despite Creative Scotland’s “arms-length” status, she was forced to intervene last month to urge the agency to be more open and responsive to the concerns of artists.

The letter said Creative Scotland had “a confused and intrusive management style married to a corporate ethos that seems designed to set artist against artist and company against company in the search for resources”.

It makes seven demands, including ending “business speak and obfuscating jargon” in official communications, redesigning overcomplicated application forms and ensuring complaints are dealt with quickly.

Writers Ian Rankin, AL Kennedy, James Kelman and Janice Galloway are among the others to put their names to the letter, along with Turner Prize winner Karla Black, and Luke Fowler, who is a finalist in this year’s competition.

The letter has also been backed by a number of artists who have previously spoken out against Creative Scotland, including playwright David Greig and poet Don Paterson.
Creative Scotland was forced into a climbdown in June following a revolt after 49 groups and organisations were told they would lose regular funding.

The body later agreed to keep grants running for longer to give groups and organisations more time to discuss future grant schemes, and also allow the agency to publish detailed strategies for the dance, theatre, music and visual arts sectors.

However, it has faced mounting criticism over the way funding decisions are made, the level of bureaucracy artists and organisations face and a move by Creative Scotland to set up its own awards scheme in the face of such criticism.

David Greig, writer of hit plays Midsummer, Dunsinane and Monster in the Hall, said a mixture of “concern, disquiet and disbelief” from artists lay behind the letter.

He told The Scotsman: “We are looking for a clear acknowledgement of the problems within Creative Scotland and evidence of a clear change of direction. We have not seen that so far. There is simply no trust at the moment.”

Creative Scotland last night said it was “working hard” to restore trust and improve working practices with the arts and culture sector.

A spokesman said: “We recognise that we need to build positive, collaborative working relationships with organisations and artists.

“We are totally committed to working collaboratively with the arts and culture sector, we are listening very closely to what that sector is telling us and we are taking positive action as a result across a number of operational and strategic areas.”

Open letter to Creative Scotland

In the Scotsman 

Published on Tuesday 9 October 2012 00:56

THIS is the full letter sent to Creative Scotland, and signed by 100 Scottish artists

Dear Sir Sandy,
We write to express our dismay at the ongoing crisis in Creative Scotland. A series of high-profile stories in various media are only one sign of a deepening malaise within the organisation, the fall-out from which confronts those of us who work in the arts in Scotland every day.

Routinely, we see ill-conceived decision-making; unclear language, lack of empathy and regard for Scottish culture. We observe an organisation with a confused and intrusive management style married to a corporate ethos that seems designed to set artist against artist and company against company in the search for resources.

This letter is not about money. This letter is about management. The arts are one of Scotland’s proudest assets and most successful exports. We believe existing resources are best managed in an atmosphere of trust between those who make art and those who fund it. At present, this trust is low and receding daily.

In his address to Holyrood, Mr Dixon asked why more artists do not address their concerns to him directly: the answer is straightforward; they have. Letters of concern have been sent by representative groups from theatre, dance, the games industry, visual arts and literature. Individual voices have also been raised from many quarters both privately and in public. These concerns have gone unanswered or been met with defensiveness, outright denial, or been ascribed to problems with “communication”.

It is time for a fresh start. We ask that the board of Creative Scotland considers the following requests with the utmost urgency. We ask that you:
1. genuinely acknowledge the scale of the problem;
2. affirm the value of stable two to three year funding for small arts organisations;
3. end the use of business-speak and obfuscating jargon in official communication;
4. revisit CS policies with an eye to social and cultural as well as commercial values;
5. collaborate with artists to re-design over-complicated funding forms and processes;
6. ensure that funding decisions are taken by people with artform expertise;
7. establish an effective system of dealing with complaints as swiftly as possible.

We do not sign this letter lightly but we feel we are in an unprecedented situation. We call on you to act swiftly to make what changes are necessary to the organisation to repair trust and restore communication before any further damage is done to Scotland’s cultural landscape and international reputation.

Yours sincerely,

Sam Ainsley, Davey Anderson, Peter Arnott, Clare Barclay, Anne Bevan, Karla Black, Martin Boyce, Katrina Brown (Dr), Tam Dean Burn, Roddy Buchanan, John Byrne, Lorne Campbell, Richard Campbell, Jo Clifford, Nathan Coley, Deborah Crewe, Jeannie Davies, Peter Maxwell Davies (Sir), Chloe Dear, Finn den Hertog, Ella Hickson, Roanne Dods, Jude Doherty, Jaqueline Donachie, Joe Douglas, Rob Drummond, Oliver Emmanuel, Catrin Evans, Rob Evans, Graham Fagen, Andy Field, Pat Fisher, Luke Fowler, Fiona Fraser, Vivian French, Janice Galloway, Andrea Gibb, Suzy Glass, Douglas Gordon (Prof), Mickey Graham, Alasdair Gray, Stephen Greenhorn, David Greig, Kris Haddow, David Harding OBE, John Harris, Zinnie Harris, Ben Harrison, David Harrower, Lewis Hetherington, Corrina Hewat, Mark Hope, Philip Howard, Kieran Hurley, Chris Hunn, Callum Innes, Kathleen Jamie, David Paul Jones, James Kelman, AL Kennedy, Laura Cameron Lewis, Liz Lochhead, Ali Maclaurin, Linda Maclean, James Macmillan, Caoihin MacNeill, Aonghas MacNicol, Willy Maley (Prof), Andy Manley, Michael John McCarthy, Nicola McCartney, Francis McKee, Bernard McLaverty, Alan McKendrick, Linda Mclaughlin, Becky Minto, Alexander Moffat OBE, Gerry Mulgrew, Rona Munro, Andrew O’Hagan, Janice Parker, Don Paterson, Toby Paterson, Mary Paulson Ellis, Aonghas Phadraig Caimpbeul, Philip Pinsky, Karine Polwart, Lynda Radley, Ian Rankin, Robin Robertson, Fiona Robson, Muriel Romanes, Lesley Anne Rose, Lisa Sangster, David Shrigley, Ross Sinclair, Gerda Stevenson, Pete Stollery (Prof), Richard Wright