Feisty debate likely over arts


A heated debate is guaranteed tomorrow evening as the Althing Social Group examines whether too much money is spent on the arts in Shetland.

The motion will be proposed by avidly anti-Mareel councillor Jonathan Wills and Althing regular Gordon Dargie, while Shetland Arts chairman Donald Murray and trustee Joanne Jamieson will be defending their organisation from what seems certain to be some robust criticism.

Shetland Arts is this year projected to spend a total of £1,364,397 on its various activities, of which £754,513 is provided from the isles’ oil funds through Shetland Charitable Trust, along with £10,000 from the council’s development budget. In the current financial year it has also received £156,803 from the Scottish Arts Council and recouped just over £260,000 through tickets and other sales from its various shows, exhibitions and premises.

The bulk of expenditure goes on staffing costs, which total £784,895, while overheads for the organisation’s different premises at the Garrison Theatre, Bonhoga Gallery, Toll Clock and Weisdale Mill total £201,750. A further £202,922 is spent on educational purposes related to visual arts, drama, music, film, craft, literature and dance.

Dr Wills has on a number of occasions voiced his concern that so much money is being spent on staffing costs at Shetland Arts while, in his view, a relatively small amount of money is going towards grants for budding artists and writers.

Shetland Arts director Gwilym Gibbons countered that the present wage bill was necessary to run its facilities at Bonhoga and the Garrison and to “provide support services to the creative community”.

He said it was a good thing to support employment, that the money being spent was important for generating funds from elsewhere and that because reducing staff would affect the services provided by Shetland Arts and thus the revenue generated from them, it would not necessarily follow that more grants would be available for artists. “I believe it’s money well spent,” he said. “In terms of management and administration we’re a very lean organisation.”

? See next week’s Shetland Times for a full report on the debate, which takes place in the Tingwall School at 7.30pm tomorrow. Details of all the Althing debates can be found on its website at www.althing.org.uk.


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