‘Elitist’ ‘cultural academy’ proposals challenged

‘Elitist’ ‘cultural academy’ proposals challenged


The Scottish Arts Council’s concept of a Cultural Academy for Scotland is being challenged by a group of Scottish artists.

The Scottish Artists Union is seeking support from the public in opposing a consultation which ends next week. 

The idea for a ‘cultural academy’ was a response to the Cultural Commission’s challenge how best to mark the achievements of creative individuals in Scotland. It coincided with what the Arts Council’s own re-thinking of awards across the arts spectrum.

The Council insists there are no fixed views at this stage about what the Cultural Academy would actually consist of. ‘It could be a building, it could be a series of high-profile prestigious awards,’ but the underlying idea is for individual members to be appointed or elected to the Academy. An Arts Council public questionnaire is asking how this might be done.

The Scottish Artists Union (SAU) describes the concept of an Academy as both trivial and elitist. ‘We find the idea of creating national icons from already established artists to be reducing serious arts to a level of ‘stardom and fame’ without any serious purpose, and that the idea of creating a ‘Club’ with or without a building, is elitist and traditionalist and against the egalitarian nature to which Scottish culture aspires.’

The SAU is urging artists and other members of the public who also oppose the idea of an academy, or have alternative suggestions, to make them known both to the Arts Council and to Creative Services Scotland.

The questionnaire, available on the Scottish Arts Council website, came about from recommendations made in a report by Scotland’s ‘Cultural Commissioners’ last year. It is ‘inviting a broader range of opinion from artists, audience and participants on the concept of a Cultural Academy’.

But the SAU argues that this is largely a cosmetic exercise. ‘The questionnaire is heavily weighted in favour of the proposition and offers no possibility for respondents to present an alternative view to what appears to be a pre-determined course of action.’

The questionnaire does show a tendency to ask leading questions: The first question asks respondents to ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’ with the following propositions:

‘A Cultural Academy should:    
  a. Honour and celebrate outstanding personal contributions to the cultural and/or creative life of Scotland   
  b. Reward artistic/cultural achievement and assist in its future development
  c. Raise the profile of artistic/cultural activity and its contribution to Scotland’

As activities of a hypothetical Cultural Academy, they seem fairly uncontroversial and obvious – it is the necessity of a Cultural Academy itself in order to advance cultural life in Scotland that is in question, so far as the union and other critics are concerned.

In the place of an Academy, the SAU proposes an extension of the existing Creative Scotland  Awards, or something similar. This currently offers financial support and validation to proposed actual art projects, enabling new work to be made.

The union also favours awards recipients of an award which would operate in a similar way to the existing public honours such as the OBE, ‘but as a public and sectoral, not a political, accolade.’

The Cultural Commission Report was published last June to inform the cultural strategy of Scotland for the next 25 years. The Commission itself was formed in June 2004, consisting of a group of eight cultural figures appointed by the Scottish Executive and chaired by James Boyle. The Bafta-winning musician Craig Armstrong resigned from the commission after only a month the formation of the because of the lack of practising artists on the board.

He was replaced by Sheena Wellington, a singer and arts activist with wide experience of performance and administration in Scotland, following lobbying by traditional-arts campaigners.

The deadline for filling in the questionnaire is 9th July 2006.

The SAU asks artists and other members of the public who also oppose the idea of an academy, or have alternative suggestions, to make them known both to the Arts Council and to Bryan Beattie at Creative Services Scotland: bryan@creativeservicesscotland.co.uk.

Scottish Arts Council website: www.scottisharts.org.uk
Scottish Artists Union: www.sau.org.uk