The Unlearning Organisation: Cultural Devolution and Scotland’s Visual Arts 1967-2017

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Abstract / Description of output

Building on primary research in CCA/GSA’s Third Eye Centre archive and interviews with key stakeholders, this chapter elaborates the ways in which visual artists based in Scotland developed their own civic infrastructure in tandem with the devolution of state arts patronage from London to Edinburgh from 1967 onwards. It demonstrates how the Keynesian arms-length principal inherited by the Scottish Arts Council (SAC) generated a productive tension with nascent Artist Run Initiatives (ARIs) in Scotland. With limited state support, artists successfully developed and ran their own platforms while the Scottish Arts Council founded and led more generously funded (competing) national and civic arts organisations.

Realising Tom Nairn and Bob Tait’s vision of a Scottish International, Scotland’s nascent ARIs bypassed official Scottish and British arts bodies, finding a blueprint and network for their activities in ARIs such as SPACE (London) and PS1 (New York City).

As a means of mapping means of production and systems of distribution over the past half century, the chapter presents snapshots of organisational change at pivotal moments in the devolution of the arts in Scotland: 1971, 1979, 1992 and 1999.

These case studies provide a basis for critical analysis of the devolution of the visual arts since the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament. Following political devolution in 1999, Scotland’s Governments have revoked JM Keynes’ arm’s length Patron State model in favour of the New Labour experiment with Structuration and creative economics that is Creative Scotland. Throwing SAC on the arms-length-bodies bonfire that has raged across R-UK, a centrist ‘creative economy’ model has been accelerated by the SNP.

In some respects, post-devolution Scotland is less devolved than it was in 1994 and, also, less democratically accountable. The chapter proposes that the Scottish Government may best unlearn the existing Union State apparatus by adapting the distinctive model of collaborative advantage that artists have developed to successfully govern their activities over the past 50 years.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 10 Feb 2018
EventThe Scottish Society for Art History’s Study Day 2018 : Art Organisations and Institutions in Scotland - Reid Building, Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 10 Feb 201810 Feb 2018


ConferenceThe Scottish Society for Art History’s Study Day 2018
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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  • Artist-Run Archive

    Mulholland, N.


    Project: University Awarded Project Funding

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