Why did UZ Arts have to close?

UZ Arts the Glasgow based international arts company closed on 31 March 2020.  

Nothing lasts forever but UZ has certainly had a remarkable history. It started life in 1994 as UZ Events, a commercial company, and developed and ran Shine On Glasgow Winter Festival, Glasgow’s Art Fair, Glasgow’s Hogmanay including the Millennium Celebrations, Big in Falkirk and Glasgow’s Merchant City Festival. In 2010 the organisation became a charity UZ Arts with the focus on supporting artists but still creating a myriad of events across Scotland from Shetland to Dumfries and Galloway and Glasgow to Edinburgh. Our international work took Scottish artists and performers to the USA, Canada, India, South Africa and Australia . However the two major projects in 2019/2020 were the Insitu network across Europe and Sura Medura the international artist residency in Sri Lanka.

In January 2020 whilst working at Sura Medura in Sri Lanka I heard that Sura Medura had lost its funding. Creative Scotland had supported  www.suramedura.com for 10 years and over 150 artists had attended the unique residency often working with local artists and bringing the work created back to Scotland and Europe. It was devastating news not least because we’d just invested in a beautiful new residency building in Sri Lanka. In March 2020 we heard that we had also lost our funding for Insitu, the European network of festival directors. Losing all support from Creative Scotland signalled to our board that the company could not continue. 

The loss of Insitu funding was particularly incomprehensible. Insitu has grown from five partners in four countries to 20 partners in 12 countries and is recognised by the EU as Europe’s primary network in its field. UZ Arts has been at the centre of that sustained growth as a founder member of the organization and the steering committee that led it.

The network has supported many Scottish companies and artists in developing relationships and opportunities across Europe whilst audiences comprising hundreds of thousands across Scotland have enjoyed the work of Insitu artists. For many years Insitu artists provided the international programme for the Merchant City Festival and Big In Falkirk and most recently artists for Galoshans Festival, Take Me Somewhere Festival, Tiree Music Festival and the Kelburn Garden Party and elsewhere.  Insitu partners and artists have addressed conferences and symposia in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Greenock.

The funds applied for were to complete the 4th year of our European Insitu Programme. The funding would have been tripled through match funding and would have enabled UZ Arts to bring international artists to Falkirk, Glasgow, Paisley and the Kelburn Garden Party. It would have taken Scottish artists and performers to France, Kosovo and the Czech Republic. And in an extraordinary breach of faith Creative Scotland through its dysfunctional funding system decided not to fund it.

Irrespective of the impact  of the subsequent Covid crisis on the programme this was a terrible decision that completely undermines 17 years of work developing Scotland’s place in the Insitu network. 

It means that Scotland will no longer be members of Insitu,  a prestigious and highly successful European network that UZ Arts, a Scottish company helped create. Given the Scottish government’s  commitment to retaining and developing relations with Europe, it is an extraordinary and very damaging decision. 

It’s a decision that underlines the structural and organisational problems that have beset Creative Scotland. Whilst UZ have had a great deal of support from individual officers, the organisation is not fit for the purpose of supporting a strategic International organisation such as UZ Arts. To create significant work and develop long term strategic relationships we need a funding system that allows us to plan ahead. As members of Insitu we had to plan four years ahead,  signing a contract to pay €45K a year for each of the four years. For its part Creative Scotland had supported us to be members of Insitu but only allowed us to apply for grants a year at a time. So we had to take it on trust that they would agree the grant each year and in this the final year they have broken that trust with very damaging results.  

So that was that. After 26 years UZ closed because Creative Scotland couldn’t find a way of strategically supporting a company that was delivering to the Scottish government’s national and international ambitions.

It is too late for UZ Arts, but hopefully Creative Scotland will review how, in the future, it will support organisations such as UZ Arts. 

But it is not quite the end. Whilst Scotland is no longer a member of Insitu, and UZ Arts has closed, Sura Medura continues as an Associate Partner of Insitu. 

And one way or another Sura Medura will continue to host European, Sri Lankan and Scottish artists. 

And I will continue to work as an artist and support artists through various projects the next being an online Symposium – Moving Out on July 4… Keep watching this space…

Neil Butler, June 2020

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