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

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Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationArtists in the City
Subtitle of host publicationSPACE in '68 and Beyond
EditorsAnna Harding
Place of PublicationLondon
ISBN (Print)9781999927806
Publication statusPublished - 2 Mar 2018
EventSPACE’s 50th anniversary archive display - SPACE, Mare Street, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 18 Jan 201817 Mar 2018


ExhibitionSPACE’s 50th anniversary archive display
CountryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


Building on primary research in CCA/GSA’s Third Eye Centre archive and interviews with key stakeholders, this book 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 paper 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. I conclude by proposing 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.

The chapter has good impact relations since it relates to two documentaries I featured in, one by the BBC and one by Frieze Films. Both were broadcasted/screened to large audiences are remain available online. It is not published in SPACE's 50th anniversary book 'SPACE in 1968' and so widely read by artists in the ARI sector.

    Research areas

  • Contemporary Art, artist-led, artist-run, devolution, Scotland


SPACE’s 50th anniversary archive display


London, United Kingdom

Event: Exhibition

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