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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 March 2008, 19:07 GMT
Culture group 'can rewrite rules'
By Pauline McLean
BBC Scotland Arts Correspondent

Jack McConnell
Jack McConnell unveiled his administration's Culture Bill in 2003

It was St Andrew's Day 2003. And the packed room in the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama was tense with anticipation.

Almost every cultural organisation in Scotland was represented - theatre, music, literature - the heads of festivals, experts in arts education, and of course, the then First Minister Jack McConnell.

We listened intently as he gave an impassioned speech about the value of culture - and how he intended his ministers to make sure it was at the heart of everything they did, from health to business.

And even the most cynical observer couldn't help leaving the room with a wave of enthusiasm - at last a first minister prepared to tell the world that art and culture mattered.

"This," said one normally world-weary arts commentator, "could be the catalyst for the most radical shake-up of the arts ever."

Living in limbo

Fast forward four years and three months, three culture ministers, and a change in government, and we're only just at the start of the culture bill's laborious journey through parliament.

Many of the ideas suggested in public consultation - better transport links, free tickets for schoolchildren - have been lost on the way.

Others - like the somewhat woolly interpretation of "cultural entitlements" - have been left to individual local authorities.

The main change the bill will bring about is the merging of the two main funding bodies - the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen.

Linda Fabiani
The culture minister said government would not interfere

Both organisations have been living in limbo since the deal was announced and the bill at least means some progress can take place.

But much has still to be decided - from how the new body will disperse its funding, to where it'll actually be based.

The only definite is that the new body will be called Creative Scotland.

So is this the catalyst for that radical change? Or simple repackaging of an old product?

There are those who believe this is a chance for Scotland to start with a blank canvas, explore new ways of encouraging culture, and new methods of funding - to shake off the last vestiges of the post-war Arts Council of Great Britain, from which our current funding body derives.

The new organisation has a chance to appeal beyond its traditional reach.

It can offer support to websites and pop bands as well as orchestras and drama groups.

It can afford to take a wider definition of culture - and all that entails.

Lions' share

It no longer has to worry about national companies taking the lions' share of the funding pot - they're now funded directly by the Scottish Government.

It can rip up the rules and rewrite its own.

The downside - there will always be far more demand for funding than money to go around. So Creative Scotland can never expect to be loved.

The new legislation also dispenses with the much-lauded "arms length" principle which prevented culture ministers interfering with the artistic decisions of arts organisations.

Culture Minister Linda Fabiani has pledged her government won't interfere, but without the legislation, who can promise that future governments won't.

So not so much a catalyst for change as another stop on a very long journey.

But at least now, the end looks in sight.



SEE ALSO
Plans for creative body published
13 Mar 08 |  Scotland
Bill sets out new arts body plans
07 Nov 07 |  Scotland
Culture bill 'will foster talent'
14 Dec 06 |  Scotland

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