Creative Scotland chief questioned by Holyrood over Rein explicit arts project application

30 May 2024, 10:54 | Updated: 30 May 2024, 14:31

The chief executive of Creative Scotland has been questioned by a Holyrood committee over the decision to award almost £85,000 of public funding to an explicit arts project - despite the application stating there would be "genital contact", STI tests, and lubricant.

A total of £84,555 was awarded to director Leonie Rae Gasson for the development of Rein in the January round of the arts body's National Lottery Open Fund.

Creative Scotland later U-turned on its decision and has clawed back most of the funding after the project sparked a public outcry over its intention to include "non-simulated" sex performances.

The move away from simulated sex was deemed a "significant change" and a breach of contract, with support withdrawn.

Ms Gasson has denied misleading Creative Scotland.

Iain Munro, chief executive of Creative Scotland, appeared before Holyrood's Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee on Thursday and was grilled over the initial decision to award the money.

MSP Alexander Stewart noted that "genital contact and sexual performance" was being indicated right from the start.

Mr Munro stated it was Creative Scotland's understanding that the performances would be simulated.

He said: "There was no mention of real or non-simulated sex in the application."

Mr Munro added that the application was "consistent" with what the arts body would expect to see in regards to industry standards for simulated sexual activity.

'Genital contact does not mean real sex'

He stated the "mere mention" of genital contact "does not mean real sex".

Mr Munro added: "Genital contact can be simulated. And I would suggest that you only need to switch on the television or go onto streaming platforms to see sexual activity of a simulated nature on our screens frequently.

"It's not real. It's simulated, and there are ways of tackling it.

"So, I am very clear that my presentation to you of the facts remain, and the mention of genital contact does not mean real sex.

"That was not, and never has been, our understanding."

MSP Clare Adamson, committee convener, noted that the risk section of the application stated that where necessary, COVID and sexually transmitted infections (STI) tests would be undertaken by performers ahead of rehearsals.

Ms Adamson asked if STI tests were "industry standard" for productions.

'STIs don't simply exist only in genital areas'

In response, Mr Munro stated: "So some aspects, and this would be one of them, go beyond industry standards into best practice.

"I'm certainly no microbiologist or medical expert, but where projects of this nature involved with nakedness and contact and touching, STIs don't simply exist only in genital areas.

"So, for us, this would be an additional strengthening of the safeguards within the project that would be appropriate to see."

'Why weren't questions asked about the lubricant?'

Meghan Gallacher, deputy leader of the Scottish Tories, noted that the budget and risk assessment also included lubricant.

She said: "You've spoken about the STI tests in terms of safeguarding, but surely lubricant would assume that this would be much further than simulated sex that would move into non-simulated sex, and why weren't questions asked about that part?"

Ms Gallacher said it had been a "serious overlooked element", adding: "Because I don't understand how that particular item could be placed on a budget and risk assessment if it wasn't going to be used for a particular purpose."

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Mr Munro once again stressed that it was Creative Scotland's understanding that the performances would be simulated.

He said: "The mere mention, a bit like genital contact or STI, that lubrication is involved does not necessarily mean real sex."

However, Mr Munro did concede that it should be "one of those flags for us that mean that we need to understand it in a bit more detail to ensure and assure everyone within the process and more widely were it to be successful that real sex is not involved".

Mr Munro stated there is no systemic problem at Creative Scotland but accepted the situation had been "reputationally damaging".

'People may sometimes disagree with some of the work we support'

Robert Wilson, chair of the Creative Scotland board, told the committee that more than 4,000 applications are received each year, with around 2,000 individual funding awards issued from a £90m budget via the Scottish government and UK National Lottery.

Mr Wilson stated Creative Scotland remains "committed" to artistic freedom and supporting a broad range of artists that will, at times, include work that pushes boundaries, polarises opinion, and "occasionally create controversy".

He added: "People may sometimes disagree with or dislike some of the work we support. This is the nature of funding the arts and indeed of the arts themselves.

"However, there is always learning in situations like this and the senior leadership team at Creative Scotland, with the support of the board, have reviewed the application process for open funding and have introduced new safeguards, including an additional stage of review for all applications that are recommended for funding.

"The board has also agreed to a more cautious approach to risk in terms of our future funding of projects with sexual content and those that involve vulnerable people or children."