Diluted deal still places island arts organisation in battle for survival
THE future of one of Scotland’s foremost theatre and music companies still hangs in the balance after a crunch meeting on Tuesday evening saw islanders’ demands only partially delivered.
Described as ‘ watered down plans’ to make Comar, an umbrella organisation for Mull Theatre and music and arts venue An Tobar, accountable to the community, an offer of either four or five islanders will be brought onto the management committee. And there was a continuation of the stay- of- execution for two controversial high-profile redundancies. But islanders agreed it was a step in the right direction.
Five members would give islanders an equal vote with current directors but, at the time of going to press, only four seats on the board were made available.
In August, Mull and Iona res- idents demanded that the threat of redundancy looming over two influential staff members, musical director, Gordon Maclean ,and artistic director, Alasdair McCrone, was removed and called for the board of directors to resign. A shadow board was formed.
But a packed meeting on Tuesday night at the Aros Hall in Tobermory was told the demands of islanders ‘had to be compromised’ to comply with the conditions set by Creative Scotland, the organisation that funds Comar.
Mull community council was told last week the shadow board believed that, due to an ‘overly tight budget’, after the group missed out on some of its expected grant funding, it would be impossible to re- employ the two men and balance the books.
A report by shadow board member, Neil Hutton, ended by saying the current directors were ‘detached, corporate and anony- mous’. This was in direct conflict to the very reasons islanders wanted to save the unique nature of both An Tobar and Mull Theatre.
Aladair McCrone told the meeting: ‘Everywhere we’ve been, we have met with the most tremendous support from audiences, promoters, and press.
‘There is huge backing for the work we’ve been doing for years and for how we do it.
‘The actions of the Mull and Iona communities have struck a chord with so many others around the country who identify with this situation and understand all that you are trying to do.
‘I know that the shadow board has been enormously effective at moving forward what was a dreadful situation and giving us at least some hope for the future.
‘The most immediate effect has been the suspension of the redundancies, which was conveyed to us the day before our production opened.’ He added: ‘ With their current proposals, the shadow board has my complete support and trust.
‘This is a complex and difficult situation but their understanding, their tenacity and the professionalism of their approach has made a huge difference.
‘ We still have a long way to go to make things right, but I have confidence that we are heading in the right direction, a direction which seemed impossible to achieve before you all got involved a couple of months ago.’
Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell sent a message to the meeting. It read: ‘(These proposals) are the minimum which would be acceptable and, equally importantly, effective in securing the change needed.
‘If there is any attempt by the existing board to water it down any further that should be a deal-breaker. Once it is in place, the locally-based elected directors will be in charge and can push the envelope to secure greater change. But to get there, they must accept that Creative Scotland is contracted to the Comar that presently exists and they will need to be persuaded that the new board is able to take the reins.’
A spokeswoman for Comar said: ‘ Comar and the shadow board hosted a meeting on Friday, September 18 in Craignure, which was the fourth meeting in recent weeks. The discussion was energetic and positive and good progress was made in moving towards greater community involvement in Comar’s future.
’ The audited accounts for Comar to March, 31 2015 will be presented at the forthcoming AGM, currently planned for November, 2015.’
A Creative Scotland spokesperson, said: ‘ We understand the shadow board met the community members on Tuesday and we look forward to hearing the outcome of this meeting.’