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David McGuinness's blog

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Tuesday 5 January 2016

Quite a few stories in the press recently could be summed up (or preferably dismissed) as ‘people can be arseholes on twitter’. One of yesterday’s ill-informed twitterstorms, about Ellie Harrison’s ‘The Glasgow Effect’, revolved around her receiving £15k of funding from Creative Scotland’s Open Project fund.

This brought to mind a conversation the other day about the fallout from Creative Scotland accidentally overspending by £10m in 2015-2018 on regularly funded organisations. Many of those RFOs those who failed to get funding in that round immediately applied to the Open Projects fund, depleting its resources even further (that £10m had to come from somewhere). So what? Well …

I think it is wise to have a level of artistic distrust in a funding scheme that funds institutions over artists. Any institution will inevitably work to perpetuate its own existence, alongside but usually above the making of creative work.

Of course institutions are enormously valuable. For example, cycling facilities have to exist in order for people to feel safe using bikes in a city. The facilities have to be put in place ahead of their actual use, and similarly, for artists (or anyone) to feel that they can make things, the provision of facilities ahead of time is important. But on the other hand, if you put money directly into the hands of artists, they will spend it on facilities which are appropriate for the work that they are making. Even a small ‘industry’ like early music funds a vast range of support services provided by small businesses directly to musicians, whether it’s instrument- and string-makers, specialist sheet music shops, or tuning software.

That’s the beauty of the Open Projects fund: in theory at least, it’s open to pretty much anything and anyone, on the basis (mostly) of the strength of the artistic idea, and once awarded, it’s the artists who decide where the money is spent. I’d be much happier if CS had accidentally spent an extra £10m on that, but perhaps to maintain that kind of funding practice would require more thought, more maintenance, and more judgement.

Perhaps it’s because I was brought up on pop music, where bands and record labels served their artistic purpose and then naturally ceased to function, that I usually find artistic institutions unpalatable: it’s certainly not from any attachment to free market economics on my part. It often pleases me when an artistic institution voluntarily winds itself down and ceases to exist: it’s a recognition of when the time has come to move on, and for its participants to focus their activities in another way. But how seldom it happens.

So here’s to Open Projects funding, even when (perhaps especially when) it upsets people.