Governance and Decision Making

The governance of the Dewar Arts Awards is structured around its core purpose – to support talented young artists in Scotland who do not have the financial means to pursue their ambitions, and is focussed on two clear expressions of that purpose: the oversight and effective management of the funds and investing these funds in highly talented and deserving applicants to ensure maximum impact.

2011 awardee Calum Huggan, supported at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
2011 awardee Calum Huggan, supported at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

The founding Chair of the Dewar Arts Awards is Ruth Wishart who has played critical role in defining both the spirit and practice of the governance of the Awards and indeed in the recruitment of Trustees who bring significant expertise and knowledge across culture, specific art forms and specialist expertise and share the values of the trust. All of the Trustees see those essential values as flowing from the chair and her passion for talent, fairness, access and democracy. Securing those values through effective succession planning will be critical.

In 2002, the initial investment into the usable fund included a substantial commitment of £5 million from the joint Labour and Liberal democrat run Scottish Executive at the time, enhanced by some legacies and bank and investment interest, bringing the total to £5, 201,664.

The initial fund has been the foundation of some truly transformative activity in Scotland’s cultural life. Given Donald Dewar’s love of the arts and commitment to social justice, the Awards have proved a fitting way for the Scottish Government to continue to pay tribute to its first First Minister.

The Chair and first group of Trustees considered seeking funds from elsewhere but concluded that they were given a generous sum and seeking other funds was not the right focus for the Awards.

This initial investment portfolio was managed by Thornhill Investment Management Limited until 2010 when it was transferred to Cazenove. In 2013, Cazenove then merged with Schroder’s PLC. The portfolio management was then transferred to Brewin Dolphin in 2015, who were selected by the Trustees on the basis of their ethical investment approach as well as their strong record in fund management.

The accounts were managed by McCabe who then merged with French Duncan LLP in 2008. In 2012, French Duncan then merged with MacFarlane Gray who are now the Dewar Arts Awards accountants and auditors.

Thornhill Investment Management/Cazenove/Shroders and now Brewin Dolphin have reported formally in regular written reports on the performance of the Dewar Arts Awards portfolio and have personally regularly attended Trustee Meeting providing a comprehensive account of their investment strategy and conferring with the Trustees on significant decisions. All Trustees, led by the Chair, Ruth Wishart, have been involved in the decision making and guidance to the portfolio managers, however specific expertise has also been brought in through the recruitment of Trustees with previous experience in managing Trust portfolios and currently through the addition of Nicola Catterall who brings specific financial experience as well as art form knowledge to her role.

The investment portfolio increased modestly in its first year. However, the period between 2004 and 2007 saw an increase of 30%, adding over a million pounds to the available funds and taking them to £6,910,388, just before the 2008 financial crash.

Between 2007 and 2009, the portfolio lost more than half its value dropping to £3,401,499 in response to the stockmarket crash of 2008. However, a successful investment strategy has allowed the fund to move back towards its value at foundation. It is currently sitting at £4,445,470.

The financial crash and subsequent massive drop in the Dewar Arts Awards funds represented the most significant governance challenge the Trustees have faced in the 15-year history of the Awards. They worked closely with the portfolio manager to look at the best option for protecting the fund as the crisis continued but also addressed the direct results on the decision making around new awards and ongoing commitments to awardees. Having had significant and increasing funds to support awardees over a number of years, this rapid diminution of resources, focused the minds of Trustees on the purposes of the award and their own duties and commitments. After considerable deliberation, an EGM recorded a unanimous determination to trade through the crisis on the basis that the level of need would likely increase.

Although the Trustees did decide to trade throughout the worst period of the financial crisis and offer awards and ongoing support for existing awardees, the number of awards radically reduced from 97 in 2007 to 29 in 2009 and the ‘Daughter Of Dewar’ instrumental scheme was dropped, although the main awards did not exclude a request for support for an instrument where this was the critical success factor for a young artist.

However, overall grants levels were not actually curtailed in line with fluctuations/reductions in investment income since the 2008 crash. In first 5 years to 2006, grants amounted to £967,000. In second 5 years to 2011 it was £1,637, 000 and in last 3 years to 2016 £1,303,000.

The average value of the awards dropped only temporarily from around £8,500 to £6,500 but had increased to previous levels by 2010. The average grant has fluctuated over the years, dictated more by awardee demand rather than funding constraints. The average grant over the 15 years is £8,422 but the average of the annual grants is £5481. The 2016 average of £5,916 exceeds that.

The more rigorous approach by Trustees also increased the emphasis on financial need with the average income/family income for an Awardee at the time of the award dropping by 19% the year after the crash.

For the modest one-off initial investment of £5.2million, the Trustrees have managed to generate £3.2m of income/growth over 14 years of investment (averages £225,000 p.a.) and spend £3.9m on grants (average of £260,000 p.a. ) and still have £4.5m available in 2016. There is an expectation that the Trustees can continue to operate at this level of self-sustainability for years to come. This continues to be self generating income from the initial injection of funds, balanced with regular grant-giving, to ensure long term sustainability.

As interesting is the impact the type of award that Trustees were agreeing to support. This was significantly influenced by the crisis as Trustees supported only formal courses rather than more unpredictable projects. The result was fewer projects and exhibitions in 2009 and 2011 and those have continued to form a much smaller proportion of awards. Inevitably this approach has a greater effect on arts forms where projects and exhibitions tend to be the vehicle for creative development and reputation building, and trustees will require to re-visit this strategic course.

A number of Trustees feel that the thought and rigour applied at that point of crisis in 2008, is as important now, as different but equally critical issues emerge. There is a sense that the gap between the disenfranchised and the privileged is increasing and fewer young people in real need are coming through.

The financial crisis created the most complex and challenging period for the Trustees but the decision making process for the Dewar Arts Awards has always been complex, with applicants at such different stages, from such different disciplines and enhancing the culture of Scotland in different ways. Assessment often includes complex personal circumstances, and different levels of confidence and articulacy.

2008 awardee Lynne MacLachlan’s work. Lynne was shortlisted for the Argent Young Jeweller of the year.
2008 awardee Lynne MacLachlan’s work. Lynne was shortlisted for the Argent Young Jeweller of the year.

It is worth noting that through the 15 years of the awards there has never been a cap on the amount that can be disbursed at any meeting. Rather, each cohort is examined on merit employing the same basic criteria.

The deep and extensive expertise and knowledge of Trustees across art forms, talent development (from schools and communities to educational institutions and individual tuition and mentoring), communications, access issues and finance, ensures both vigour of debate and rigour of decision making and encourages both frankness and flexibility. The core emphases are talent and need rather than a definitive expectation of artistic destination.

The funding criteria are applied rigorously but fairly with a success rate for applicants of 29.6% over the 15 year period (464/1569). This does not fluctuate dramatically year by year. There are very few appeals (10/1569) or 0.6%.

As indicated in all sections of this report, they have adapted to what has worked and to circumstance and indeed to the individual and art form concerned, trying to ensure that the intervention is of the right kind and at the key moment for that art form and the applicant. The detail of consideration has included investigation into the quality and suitability of institutions.

This fluidity of decision making and adaptation of priorities is expressed most thoroughly through the initial creation of the Daughter of Dewar Awards in response to an extensively expressed need for intervention in this area of the talent development pathway and the regrettable but necessary loss/mainstreaming of this mechanism, when the financial crisis restricted available funds and obliged the Trustees to focus their investment on the most talented and most needy.

"The Dewar Art Awards work peculiarly well. It is based on our combined judgement and it’s rigorous, thorough, fair, brilliantly run and committed to changing lives."

Jean Sangster, Dewar Arts Awards Trustee

The work of subcommittees and individual leadership within the Trustees, reporting back to the full group, has been essential to ensuring informed decision making around investment, process, promotion and board recruitment. The response to the financial crisis has been outlined above but the development of the web and media strategy and the huge events programme around the 10th anniversary celebrations. It should also be noted that before these and the effective recruitment of new Trustees to fill knowledge and skills gaps are the result of informed decision making.

The makeup of the current Board of Trustees is considered by its members to be extremely well balanced. The experience and specialist expertise within the board can be very easily reconstituted to support the future thinking and essential initiatives outlined in Section 6 of this report, Future Direction and Development.

The data gathering process involved in compiling this report will provide considerably increased understanding, informing thinking and working. It will also provide a data-set that can be refreshed, enhancing the governance of the Dewar Arts Awards on an ongoing basis. Hopefully this will refine decision making around need and investment, art form balance, partnership and, most importantly, access.

Consideration does have to be given to succession planning and securing the values of the Dewar Arts Awards currently deeply incarnated in the founding Chair, Ruth Wishart, and to the succession around other long term trustees whose expertise and/or outlook has become essential to a balanced approach to governance.

At the 15th anniversary of the Awards, Trustees also feel it might also be a good moment to embed the perspectives of the awardees more thoroughly in the governance process with the appointment of a previous awardee to the board.

All of the Trustees’ deliberations and decisions are minuted and subsequently archived in the National Library of Scotland. All of its financial activities are recorded and reported and the charity is OSCR compliant.