Tag Archives: Arguments

A plea to Creative Scotland and its board

It’s been a while since I posted about the Creative Scotland stooshie. In December the board requested a bit of time to consider what to do next. I know it’s only the end of January (probably the beginning of February by the time I finish writing this), but considering how swiftly events moved towards the end of last year, this feels like a very long pause. With the next board meeting looming on February 7th, no doubt there’ll be news soon – but in the meantime, I would urge Creative Scotland and its board to think carefully not just about what they do, but about how it reads to us on the outside. As Henry Fielding puts it:

It is not enough that your designs, nay, that your actions, are intrinsically good; you must take care they shall appear so.

Optimist that I am, I truly believe that the remaining staff at Creative Scotland have good intentions. I hope the same is true of the board. I believe there are plenty of people involved who see the need for change and genuinely want relations between artists and Creative Scotland to improve, who are hoping that whatever comes out of the next board meeting will bode well for the future. This belief engenders hope, not just in me but in many artists. But it’s a fragile, newborn hope, still at the stage where it could easily be crushed by clumsy handling, whether by the organisation itself or by the board.

Creative Scotland’s challenge is to be careful how they present themselves. I was a little alarmed to see them advertising for a Research Officer on Ideastap using phrases such as “key stakeholders” and “deliver the ambitions of our corporate plan”. Seeing this kind of market language in an arts context always makes my blood run cold, but even if I set my personal qualms aside, there’s this: “a commitment to our values will be essential.”

The whole point of CSstooshie was to establish that there was a problem with Creative Scotland’s “values” as they stood. This was acknowledged by senior management and by the board. Creative Scotland needs to figure out what its values are before demanding that people commit to them. I know this is a standard phrase to see on job advertisements, but that’s exactly the problem. It reads like a standard phrase in a standard ad for a standard office job, with no implication that working for Creative Scotland should require a wee bit more. Commitment to the arts in Scotland, perhaps? Perhaps Creative Scotland thinks that’s implicit in asking for a commitment to “their values”, but they haven’t yet earned sufficient trust for us to take that as read. Now more than ever, we need to see meticulous attention to detail in the way they write their job descriptions, because the job descriptions that they write for a new Chief Exec and new Creative Director will have far-reaching repercussions. If they want us to believe that they’re capable of taking such pains over the descriptions for the top jobs, they need to demonstrate it all the way down to descriptions written for Research Officers (who, judging by the fact that they only earn three or four times what most of the artists I know earn in a year, must be pretty low down the CS totem pole).

As for the board, they made a massive step in the right direction when they released the Pitlochry statement and it’s vital that they don’t do anything to undo that good work. As they formulate new plans and begin the search for a new Chief Executive, it’s absolutely necessary that they not only consult and listen to artists, but that they are seen to do so. The easiest way to do this, it seems to me, would be to add some artists to their largely non-artistic make-up. I don’t mean that they should adopt a token artist – I think I’ve made my feelings on box-ticking abundantly clear in previous posts – but that they should consider reshaping the board so they have more representation from the nebulous thing that is the artistic community. They would also do well to make sure the process is as open and transparent as possible, since any hint of cloak-and-dagger dealings, nepotism or taking the path of least resistance will serve to destroy that fragile hope and trust.

So this is my plea to Creative Scotland and its board: if artists are willing to trust that your designs and actions are good, will you take care that they also appear so? Don’t leave us to guess at what’s going on and how decisions are being made. Be clear and open with us. Nurture that hope and trust, because the stronger those things are the easier your jobs and our lives will be.

And if in doubt, ask the artists – we’re pretty good at knowing how things will read…


Being the Squeaky Wheel

I’m not going to assume that everyone knows the expression “the squeaky wheel gets  the grease”, since I actually got through the first 20 years of my life without encountering it. It’s a phrase used to encapsulate the idea that the people who make the most noise are the ones who get what they want.

This idea is completely opposed to what I was taught growing up. Over and over again I was told that you don’t get what you want by shouting or demanding or even just being politely explicit. You get what you want by working for it quietly (and methodically, which was the bit I always struggled with) and if what you do has sufficient merit you will get what you want. You don’t kick up a fuss about why you’re more deserving than anyone who might want the same thing, you just trust that if you’ve done what you need to do, you’ll get out what you put in.

Realising that life is not like that has been an ongoing process for the past 30 years, but it’s such a deeply-held belief of mine that I feel I am constantly locking horns with life because of it. Surely life should be like that? It should be possible? I can’t quite let go of that idea, even though I’ve been shown time and again that life actually favours the squeaky wheels. (Surely when you can see clearly that something you believe is wrong it should be possible to discard or even just adjust that belief? That would be the rational thing to do, and I get very frustrated when I can see the rational path before me and can’t allow myself to take it. I also get frustrated that I can never type the word ‘frustrated’ accurately on the first attempt.)

I see it to a certain extent in my professional life, but it’s a necessary evil there. It really isn’t enough for a writer, director or actor simply to do their work well and honestly and hope their merits will be recognised, because there are countless others out there who are just as meritorious and there aren’t enough opportunities to go round. In addition to having merit, you must also be good at publicising yourself (unless you’re born very well-connected or you get a particularly lucky break, in which case count your blessings). It’s a pretty common frustration, since few of us seem to like doing self-publicity and everyone seems to think that everyone else is better at it than they are.

However, at the moment it’s more of an issue in my domestic life than my professional one. I dread things going wrong around the house, because if it’s anything that necessitates dealing with insurance companies I know I’m going to have to be the squeaky wheel. Yesterday, while I was still in my pyjamas and considering going back to bed with a splitting headache, our downstairs neighbour came to let us know that there was a leak from our flat coming through his ceiling. A bit of searching revealed that the leak was coming from our combi boiler. We have insurance through Shield, so I called them and asked for an engineer.

Getting on for 5pm, I called again to ask where the engineer was. I know they have call-outs until 11pm, but I’ve also been through this often enough to know that if you don’t have the engineer on site before 6pm your chances of getting things fixed that day decrease considerably. I’m also still in a bad mood with Shield since the engineer they sent out to do a routine service last November told us we had a carbon monoxide leak and left us without heat or hot water for three days, only for a second engineer to come out to finish the job and tell us that there hadn’t actually been a leak in the first place and that the first engineer had misread his monitor. At least this time we can see there’s a leak, but I’m still not thrilled by having our heating and hot water cut off in January. I have spinal problems that cause me a lot of muscle tension and I rely on hot water to keep the pain under control, so the cold water thing gets old fast.

So the engineer comes out, does his thing, says that he has to order parts and will be back in the morning. He orders all the parts he could possibly need. His supervisor refuses to authorise the more expensive parts. I make it clear that I am not going to be happy if those turn out to be the parts we needed. This morning comes. No engineer. I phone up to find out what is happening. I’m told that the job isn’t booked in for today but they’ll try and get someone out this evening.

This is the difficult bit. On the one hand, this is completely unacceptable. We pay for this insurance – by the logic I grew up with, we have quietly and regularly fulfilled our end of the bargain. What should happen next is that Shield fulfils theirs, quickly and with minimum fuss, and this should require no more from me than calling the problem in. We certainly shouldn’t be facing another indefinite period without heat a mere two months after the last time, especially as the boiler was fine until we had it serviced and has been nothing but trouble ever since. Since I am obviously going to have to be the squeaky wheel, I would prefer not to do do it by halves. A nuclear loss of temper would be really, really satisfying.

On the other hand, I’m on the phone to some poor girl who is not being paid enough to deal with me raging at her. It is also not her fault. She’s just telling me what comes up on her screen. Losing my temper with her would hardly be fair. But what she is telling me is that this problem cannot be resolved quickly and without us spending days huddled round the halogen heater, and as long as I remain calm this is what she continues to tell me. Honey is not working. It is only when I become somewhat vinegary that she agrees to put me through to her manager. When I speak to the manager my tone is emphatic, not impolite but obviously angry. Suddenly it becomes possible to get an engineer out today.

By 16.30 we had heating and hot water again. I’m pleased about that. However, we only have it because I got angry and won an argument. I’m quite good at winning these arguments, but I don’t like myself afterwards. Getting angry is a loss of control and I’m not a fan of those. I’m not sure to what extent my frustration grows from disappointment in myself for letting myself give in to the rage and to what extent it comes from having to do this in order to obtain a service I’ve already paid for. If I hadn’t argued so vehemently we would still be waiting for the initial appointment, never mind having the boiler fixed. The squeaky wheel did indeed get the grease – but damn it, it shouldn’t be this way and I don’t know how to let go of that. Perhaps more on that way of thinking in a future post. Perhaps not. We’ll see. I’m exhausted and drained and not committing myself to anything I might later regret…

At least I can say this much – as miserable as the experience was, it was a hell of a lot easier going through it with my husband than on my own. We raged together, then later we laughed together and rejoiced in being able to have showers and baths again. Now we’re blowing off a bit of steam, in his case killing video game monsters and in my case telling the interwebs all about it. Time for tea, chocolate brownies and then bed, in the hope that tomorrow will be better than the last two days. This particular wheel has done enough squeaking for now.