Arts council chief refuses to bow to criticism

An increasing sense of anger at the actions of the Scottish Arts Council has spilled over into furious dispute. Is it just sour grapes, or will the debate change the way the arts are funded? Words: Andrew Burnet

SEONA REID, DIRECTOR of the Scottish Arts Council (SAC), is sticking to her guns as the organisation she heads faces unprecedented criticism following a series of unpopular decisions.

Speaking to The List, she defended those decisions and the SAC's role in making them. While she welcomed debate over funding of the arts, she expressed her disappointment that the attacks had become personalised.

The SAC recently announced the six touring theatre companies which were to receive four year 'franchise’ funding: The popular and long-established Wildcat Stage Productions formerly funded on a year-round ’revenue’ basis was not among them.

The decision follows other unpopular moves by the SAC. The board of Scottish Ballet was recently forced to resign, while the company has been encouraged to downscale its creative output. Substantial cuts to the film production budget were seen as undermining the Scottish film industry’s recent renaissance and led to the resignation of former Edinburgh Film Festival director Mark Cousins from its board.

Reid and SAC chairman Magnus Linklater have Suffered personal criticism as dissatisfaction in several quarters has spilled over into acrimonious dispute. At a press conference held last week by Wildcat in

‘I think these arguments should be expressed in full and rounded terms, but they should be expressed to the organisation, not to an

individual within lt.’ Seona Reid

Glasgow, the company’s artistic director David MacLennan spoke bitterly about the SAC as an ’unanswerable Stalinist clique riding roughshod over our lives'.

Playwright, director and filmmaker John McGrath a long-term Wildcat collaborator wrote in one Scottish newspaper that Reid ’represents the last twitch of a long-discredited Thatcherism’. Elsewhere, historian, poet and commentator Angus Calder

MacLennan (left) and Anderson: Recent show to be revived as funding debate rages

proposed that the SAC should be disbanded altogether, while Douglas McArthur (a former SAC drama committee chairman) claimed in a letter to the press that Reid had ’demonstrated a desire to "finish them [Wildcat]"’ an allegation she absolutely TGJGCIS.

'I don't think one takes such big and serious decisions without anticipating that there would be a response,’ Reid said, though she admitted to feeling ’extremely uncomfortable’ at the personalised attacks.

’My own Views don’t influence the decision of the CounCil,’ she added. ’I think these arguments should be expressed in full and rounded terms, but they should be expressed to the organisation, not to an individual Within it.’

Reid pointed out that the Wildcat decision is SUblOCi to appeal and conceded that public response V/l” be taken into account. However she added: ’These dCCisions were not the short-term whim of a small group of people. We’re very confident that they are the right decisions.’

If nothing else, the furore is an indication of Scotland’s desire to reassess the status quo in the optimistic post-referendum climate. The root of many of the criticisms is that as a quango appointed by the

previous government, the SAC is unaccountable to the public.

Angus Calder argues that a quango will always encounter accusations of unaccountability. He believes that in the Scottish parliament, funding of all but the most expensive art-forms should be devolved to local councils as effective a measure as any of their desirability to the people of that area. However, he admitted that a national strategy would also be required. 'Opera and ballet have to be funded at national level, through the Scottish parliament directly,’ he said. ’Every three to five years you have a debate in the Scottish parliament on the level of funds necessary. Then there's no problem about openness.’

A Scottish Office spokesperson said the decision on funding for touring theatre companies had been subject to ’full consultation’. He declined to comment on Calder’s suggestions. ’That would be a matter for the new parliament to decide,’ he said.

While the SAC sticks to its guns, Wildcat will stick to The Gun, the most recent show co-written by MacLennan and mu5ical director Dave Anderson. it is to be revived for a six-week tour of Scotland, starting tonight (Thu 9 Oct) at Cumbernauld Theatre.

See also Letters, page 6.

And finally. . . curfew proposals that don’t go far enough

HAMILTON HAS BECOME the focus for a national debate on the state's right to intervene in protecting children, after Strathclyde Police announced plans for a curfew in the town. Youngsters out after dark without a good reason are to be returned home by a friendly neighbourhood bobby. In this age where everyone is a victim, it has been most amusing to see parents protesting that they don't want their kids brought back. ‘But you're to blame!‘ the nation howls. Brutality begins at home. (Then gets out into the streets and chucks concrete slabs through pensioners' greenhouses).

BUT IT ISN'T just young hooligans who shouldn't be allowed out on their own. Take Tony Banks, the

Anderson: give him a baseball cap. . .

minister for sport. isn't one of the functions of a politician to be ‘politic’, Tony? As in 'cautious' and ‘wise'? It isn't so much describing


Tory leader William Hague as a foetus that is the problem. Or even that Banks's incumbency has been marked by foot-in-mouth disease. The real offence is against British fair play. Hague, already suffering from looking like a cross between Homer Simpson and Clive Anderson (in a baseball cap), is also in hot water over sharing a bed with his future missus. Dash it all, Tony, you shouldn’t hit a man when he’s

JUST WHEN YOU thought it was safe to scan the news without any mention of a certain deceased blonde, up pops Sarah Ferguson on American TV. Weeping buckets, she admitted: 'I miss her desperately - beyond words on a television screen,’ and confessed: 'I'm a single working mother,’ before stating, less helpfully: ’I go up and down like

a yoyo.’ Would it be cynical to suggest that Ms Ferguson, like so many others, has taken this opportunity to elevate her public persona to a higher level than deserved? Yeah, far too cynical.

BUT TO GET BACK to giving youngsters a free rein: there was something salacious about all the coverage of thirteen-year-olds Emma Brammer and Andrea Prime who were preparing to wallop the living daylights out of each other in the boxing ring. Sadly, the bout was cancelled, after ‘adverse' publicity (though it was, of course, a sell out). The sardonic comment from the British Medical Association summed it all up: female boxing, they claimed, was a victory for equal rights - to brain damage, loss of vision and general insanity. (Brian Donaldson)

10 Oct—23 Oct 1997 THE LISTS