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Scottish arts shakeup to concentrate funding on one-off projects

National arts agency Creative Scotland's new strategy after suffering £2.1m budget cut raises fears of a drain of talent

Dozens of Scottish arts companies and art centres are facing deep funding cuts and job losses under a radical restructuring of spending by the national arts agency Creative Scotland.

The agency's new funding strategy puts far greater emphasis on theatre groups, art centres, galleries and festivals competing against each other for subsidies for one-off projects from next April to help it cope with a £2.1m cut in its funding from the Scottish government.

Creative Scotland insists the new system will produce much sharper and more creative art, and greater collaboration between companies, but critics within the arts community believe it raises doubts about the long-term survival and strength of many of the organisations losing core funding.

They fear the uncertainty and instability of relying in future on short-term funding will lead to a drain of talent from Scotland and harm their ability to attract new talented directors and curators.

Creative Scotland said overall arts spending in Scotland was being far better protected than in England, where the Arts Council has seen swingeing funding cuts.

One of the UK's largest annual poetry festivals, the StAnza festival based in St Andrews, the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow, a city now famous for its three Turner Prize winners, and the Stills contemporary photography gallery in Edinburgh are among the 49 organisations being put on short-term project funding.

Deirdre MacKenna, the director at Stills, which had got up to 60% of its funding from Creative Scotland, said: "We've no idea what the impact will be because we don't understand what it is Creative Scotland has in mind for us. [It's] all about the expertise and keeping it in the sector. [If] we undermine the capacity of the sector, you start to mess long term with its potential capacity."

Eleanor Livingston, director of the StAnza festival, said they had received significant basic funding from Creative Scotland under the now-scrapped flexible funding scheme, which allowed StAnza to stage its most ambitious programme to date in March.

"We're very disappointed that flexible funding won't continue, because we've found it extremely useful in helping StAnza develop and expand," she said.

Creative Scotland is organising a series of meetings with the affected groups to discuss the new strategy. Its executives admit it will involve pain and change for many affected groups, but it insisted that it could be extremely helpful to many companies.

The agency estimates the money available for funding arts projects in Scotland will roughly double to £15m because of a steep increase in National Lottery funding in the next few years; that will increase from £18m in 2010 to £32.3m in 2014, and again the next year.

However, the 49 "projects clients" getting short-term funding will be forced to compete on a project-by-project basis.

Venu Dhupa, the most senior of Creative Scotland's three creative directors and architect of the restructuring, conceded the shakeup would create a "more volatile environment" and require flexibility for many of the affected companies.

Dhupa said her job was to get the best possible value from public funding, but the agency would try to support the companies and ensure projects lasting for two or three years were funded where possible.

She said: "What we're trying to do is inject some energy into the ecology [of Scotland's art world] but also have some stability. We know some organisations will find it difficult to adjust to the new climate, but we will do our best to help advise them."

Creative Scotland has secured the core funding for 40 other major "foundation" organisations, such as the Edinburgh international festival, the Fruitmarket gallery in Edinburgh, Dundee Contemporary Arts, the Tramway and Citizen's theatre in Glasgow, Edinburgh's Traverse theatre and Pier Arts Centre in Orkney. Three other arts organisations, including Edinburgh Printmakers workshop, have been added to the list of foundation organisations.

A further 22 organisations have been made "annual clients", including the cutting-edge Glasgow International arts festival, the Celtic Connections music festival, Edinburgh's Festival Fringe Society, and the St Magnus music festival in Orkney.

Dhupa said the restructuring would force some companies to become more entrepreneurial and commercially-orientated to win external funding or put on more popular shows. She cited the Canadian-based theatrical circus company Cirque du Soleil and the playwright and director Robert Lepage as examples of brands which had won independent commercial success.

There would also be a greater emphasis, she said, on finding and cultivating celebrities who could be trained to promote Scotland and Scottish arts and abroad, as well as supporting and promoting volunteers and amateur artists.

• This article was amended on 18 May 2012 because it suggested Robert Lepage has a dance company; in fact he's a playwright and a stage and cinema director. The spelling of Cirque du Soleil was also corrected. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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