Balancing Acts

These are my own personal reflections on the RFO news from Creative Scotland. Forgive me as I try to put my thoughts in order.

For many artists in Scotland, yesterday was a hard day. In April, artistic companies throughout Scotland had submitted detailed business plans and application forms to be considered for 3 years of sustained funding provided from Creative Scotland. Creative Scotland is a publically funded organisation with the primary focus of promoting and funding arts in Scotland.

The funding is the lifeblood for many organisations and it has been a long drawn out process to get to this announcement of funding. As government budgets were moved to the autumn this affected Creative Scotland budgets and pushed decisions into December and then into January.

If you are funded, you are placed in Creative Scotland’s Regular Funding Portfolio of organisations. Therefore, funding doesn’t just come down to the quality and provision it provides, the portfolio needs to balance. Balance is a tricky thing when there are many weights on the scale. How does the portfolio address people throughout the geographic spread of Scotland, meet different demands for differing artforms, balance the access across a socio-economic spectrum and ensure there is an equality and diversity provided?

This is of course not an easy task and I’m sure the decision to award funding when demand outstrips the resources available makes the process much tougher. However, it is a primary function of Creative Scotland. It receives public subsidy to do this.

Today, I can only reflect and say I believe they have got the balance severely wrong. This is in no way a criticism of those who received funding and who will serve Scotland in the future years as cultural and artistic beacons. But the whole task is about achieving a balance, with so many great companies out there and a plethora of companies that could have been funded but didn’t then the whole task it seems to me seems to me to be picking from a spoil of riches. It isn’t about finding companies good enough – the task is ensuring t there is a balance.

When you cut the two funded children’s theatre companies – you deprive almost 20% of the Scottish population of theatre that is made specifically for them.  It could be argued, that other companies could pick this up. The producing theatres do shows for families every Christmas and there are great companies in the portfolio that can and do make work for children bit this is missing the point. The point of children’s theatre companies is to ensure that children have access to high quality theatre that they can enjoy and be enriched by all year round.  The point of having dedicated companies is that they lead the way and inspire us, all of us who make work for children to see the standard of work that can and should be made. They make top quality work and make the whole sector better.

Catherine Wheels has personally inspired me, and I can hand on heart say all of my peers, to up our games and strive to make top quality work. The company is a true beacon that inspires me to create better work, be a more responsible artist and ignites a passion in me for being an artist. If you hack this away, what is there for young artists to inspire to? Grow, be successful, then be damned by that very success.

And then there is Birds of Paradise and Lung Ha’s both incredible companies again making top class work.

This is not a balance. It just isn’t. You need leaders in the field. Trailblazers, specialists. If you create a portfolio that doesn’t pull and stretch in every direction. You don’t get balance. We need children’s theatre companies making every children’s theatre show better and disabled led theatre companies making every theatre up its game on inclusion an diversities.

Alongside this these companies don’t just create their own great shows. They foster the whole sector. Numerous artists have been supported and encouraged in practical, meaningful ways. They have supported people because with the support and sustained funding they once received they were generous, as leaders in their field should be.

Creative Scotland have spoken about the forthcoming strategic fund for creating and touring work that they hope might fill this gap. But these people were already creating and touring work. What they provided alongside this was infrastructure. That is what you are funding at its core, artistic infrastructure.

It is telling that in this year, our National Theatre of Scotland is working with Birds of Paradise and Catherine Wheels on two separate co-productions.  This is another publically funded body who is looking to promote and celebrate the greatest makers in our nation working with two companies another body has decided don’t merit sustained attention.  This alone can be seen as a damning indictment of some very short-sighted decisions.  

But decisions have to be made and sometimes people can get it wrong. That’s ok. Because if we are strong enough and brave enough we can hold up our hands to a mistake and change it. Creative Scotland please consider this. 

Artists and Marketing

Here is a story I heard. I am unsure if it is true but I choose to believe it. My favourite playwright, Edward Albee is being interviewed. The journalist is writing a preview for his new play ‘The Goat’ or ‘Who Is Sylvia.’   The journalist asks can you describe the play in 10 words or less. Albee’s reply is quick and taut, ‘If I could do that, I wouldn’t have written the damn thing.’

I like this anecdote for so many reasons.  It perfectly sums up my own responses to trying to contain a piece or sum it up. For a good work of art, an intricate creation, this is an impossible task and one I’m not envious of others for trying.

This is my understanding of marketing. A difficult and slippery job. How do you sum up a show and all the myriad of reasons to see it? Can you take the spectrum of a play and master it in one brush stroke? How do you entice an audience to the work in one image, a blurb or a tweet?

I don’t know if there is a theatre maker in the country who hasn’t once looked at some piece of marketing and thought, ‘this is rubbish, I could do a better job.’ I know I have. But reflecting now. I’m sure I couldn’t.

Artists are completest. They don’t go into an art gallery look at the postcards for sale and say, ‘I get the picture.’  Yet this is what we ask of our marketeers. They get a show title, maybe a script. If they are lucky some ongoing dialogue with the busy director and even on rare occasions the designer. But until the show is made, all the decisions haven’t been taken. The canvas is still only a flat sketch. This is what marketing departments have to go on.

Alongside this, we put our marketing departments in uniquely difficult positions. Theatre marketing is the servant of two masters. The artist and the public. Other products bend to public perception, to deliver what the public wants to see. An artist’s job is to jostle, challenge and provoke trough entertainment. An artist will not always bend the knee to the will of the people.

Even writing that last paragraph makes me realise another layer of difficulty. So now we have a marketing department asked to sum up a piece of art while it’s still in an embryonic form while conveying it pleasingly and excitedly to the public. As if the will of the people is one universal voice. ‘Yes, we like blue’ it all says at once. As if it isn’t a whole spectrum of personalities and quirks and tastes. You can only please some of the people some of the time and under these circumstances that moment of pleasure at an image, a blurb or a tweet is a minor miracle.

So, I will try to take a pause the next time I bemoan the size of a marketing department and the easiness of their job. Still, a rubbish image is still a rubbish image. But under the circumstances, could I really do any better?  

Imagery found online from 5pound theatre production of 'The Goat.'