Creative Scotland, regular funding & classical music

First published in The Herald on 19 November, 2014

There was never going to be universal jubilation about Creative Scotland’s 3-year Regular Funding plan, announced last month. The arts funding body had £100m to divvy out between 264 applications; they chose 119. What a thankless task. For the 145 applicants who don’t feature in the CS ‘portfolio’ (the word of the moment) there are other routes to financial support, offered on a shorter-term basis but potentially amounting to similar annual sums. Last week’s surprise Scottish Government intervention awarding £1m direct funding to Scottish Youth Theatre (shared with National Youth Orchestras of Scotland, National Youth Choir of Scotland and Scottish Youth Dance) suggests the overall picture is far from complete.

The crucial benefit of Regular Funding is stability and the potential to plan ahead. Nowhere is this truer than the classical music sector. Classical music is slow-burn. I mean both the art itself – instruments take decades to master; new works gestate gradually – and the industry. Artists book years in advance; commissions and collaborations need several seasons in the planning.

Across the arts there were winners and losers last month. Many questioned the weighting of the portfolio, suggesting CS played it too safe and made some inexcusable omissions. I spoke to Ian Smith, CS music portfolio manager, and to figures from within the broad sphere of classical music to gauge the response.

Ian Smith: CS music portfolio manager
There are no quotas on funding classical music: every application is judged on quality. That said, achieving a range of styles is taken into account in the final decision. Most important is whether the company’s work is of benefit to Scotland, but how many of the group’s members are based in Scotland is a factor we also keep an eye on.

We don’t tend to give Regular Funding to festivals. The magnitude of Celtic Connections and the Edinburgh International Festival mean their impact is year-round; St Magnus is deemed critically important because of place. Not awarding Regular Funding to Sound was one of the hardest decisions but there is a Plan B. There are no casualties; just slightly different opportunities.

Fraser Anderson: General manager, Scottish Ensemble (awarded £1m Regular Funding)
The impact of our residency projects has been terrific, especially in Inverness and Aberdeen. Regular Funding means we can do more, but isn’t enough to do everything everywhere. The fact that the Central Belt is so well served by orchestras means we shouldn’t simply present our core repertoire here. We’ve decided to focus on larger-scale, site-specific, cross-artform projects in Edinburgh and Glasgow. These are expensive but they attract a new audience – like the visual arts and architecture community that came to 20th Century Perspectives at the Anderston Centre. The long-term funding also means we can do more work with international partners and significantly raise our profile abroad.

Svend Brown: Artistic director, East Neuk Festival (turned down for Regular Funding)
I’m disappointed but the Open Fund could be considerably better than our previous funding situation. We can apply for two-year funding and we can apply when it suits our financial cycle. Two huge improvements.

Personally I think that battling CS is not the most fruitful way forward. The arts – and festivals in particular – generate all sorts of wider economic benefits. Hotels, restaurants, taxis, trains… ENF’s impact in 2014 was assessed at over £3 million. We don’t see a penny of that and there’s no way to compel all the businesses to help pay, except perhaps through local authorities business rates. Support for arts by local authorities is falling. They’re in danger of starving the golden goose. We’re also subject to the rigidly themed “Year of…” events that the Scottish Government favours to stimulate tourism. These create a ludicrous seesaw in funding. One year the theme might be ‘creativity’ or ‘homecoming’: a good fit with ENF. The next year’s theme is ‘Food and Drink’ so we have no obvious place at the table. How are festivals supposed to build a strategic approach to attracting tourists?

Alasdair Campbell: Producer, Counterflows (turned down for Regular Funding)
Grass-roots music is a vital part of our country’s cultural makeup, especially in Glasgow. Most of the artists I programme at Counterflows are not otherwise recognised by any kind of funding. It might be picturesque to imagine underground artists scraping by on a shoestring – sometimes it’s implied we like it that way! But Counterflows is about creating a legitimate platform for these artists and introducing them to a wider audience.

CS has been supportive of my projects in the past and we’re currently discussing how to go forward. But no Regular Funding means uncertainty. It is very difficult to book international artists or forge collaborations with international festivals without being able to plan more than a few months ahead.

John Harris: Artistic co-director, Red Note Ensemble (awarded £645,000 in Regular Funding)
We are hugely grateful for the stability this funding allows us. We’ll be able to hire another member of staff (bringing the team to four) who will be responsible for creative learning projects. We’ll be able to plan more international collaborations and offer more work to our core players.

The problem is that CS encouraged us to work in partnerships, and much of our business plan is in collaboration with Sound and Art Link, neither of which got Regular. If our proposed partners don’t have money then our proposed projects either can’t happen or will have to be heavily subsidised by us. The implication is that we’ll likely do more projects in the Central Belt rather than the North East, or we just won’t do them at all.

Alfonso Leal del Ojo: Manager, Dunedin Consort (awarded £300,000 in Regular Funding)
We’re delighted to be given Regular Funding for the first time. In annual terms we received a minor increase on last year – 40 per cent less than what we applied for so we’ll have to revisit our business plan. But the fact that it’s Regular is crucial. The application is a hideous amount of paperwork. Dunedin’s administration is just me and a part-time person; Regular Funding means we’ll be able to plan ahead and I won’t have to spend so much of the year filling in forms.

If John [Butt, Dunedin’s artistic director] had his way we would do a million projects every year. All of his ideas are brilliant and I feel like a party pooper always saying there’s not enough money. Our next recording is of Bach’s violin concertos; after that it’ll be Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, which John wants to make into a DVD with dancers. That would be fantastic but sadly too expensive.

Pete Stollery: Chairman, Sound (turned down for Regular Funding)
This CS decision will do huge damage to the new-music ecosystem in Scotland and the arts scene outside the Central Belt. It’s impossible to ignore the regional imbalances of the portfolio.

Throughout the application process we were encouraged by CS to think big. When the decision came we were first told we’d been turned down because we didn’t fit a well-balanced portfolio, then we were told it was because Regular Funding doesn’t apply to festivals, then that we were high-risk financially, though they hadn’t looked at our accounts.

We have since been given transition funding to tide us from March until next year’s festival. But we’ve been informed that we need to “recalibrate the trajectory of Sound”, which is hugely demoralising. We believe next year’s festival will happen, though it’ll be smaller than previously planned. Flagship community projects and collaborations with international festivals are seriously at risk. It’s a devastating decision.

Classical (and classical-ish) companies awarded regular funding 2015-18

  • Arika: £600,000
  • Cryptic: £750,000
  • Drake Music Scotland: £350,000
  • Dunedin Consort: £300,000
  • Edinburgh International Festival: £6,952,000
  • Enterprise Music Scotland: £675,000
  • Hebrides Ensemble: £550,000
  • NYCoS: £600,000
  • NYOS: £650,000
  • Paragon Ensemble: £300,000
  • Red Note Ensemble: £645,000
  • Scottish Ensemble: £1,000,000
  • Scottish Music Centre: £570,000
  • St Magnus International Festival: £500,000