Swinney shares concerns over funding given to ‘genital contact’ art project

Creative Scotland knew what the Rein project would entail months before awarding it almost £85,000.

John Swinney addressed questions over funding awarded to the Rein project
John Swinney addressed questions over funding awarded to the Rein project (Andrew Milligan/PA)

John Swinney has said he shares the Culture Secretary’s concerns after it was revealed Creative Scotland knew a theatre project awarded almost £85,000 would involve “genital contact”.

The First Minister said the arts organisation must be open and transparent in the way it conducts its work.

Following an urgent meeting with the public body, Culture Secretary Angus Robertson told MSPs he has urged chief executive Iain Munro to answer questions from Holyrood’s Culture Committee “transparently”.

Mr Robertson also confirmed he had only seen the evidence on Tuesday.

Freedom of information documents released on Tuesday showed the explicit contents of the application were revealed to the public body, including nude actors, in March 2023 – nine months before public money was awarded to the director of the Rein project.

Angus Robertson has sought an urgent meeting with Creative Scotland’s leadership
Angus Robertson has sought an urgent meeting with Creative Scotland’s leadership (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Asked about the issue on Wednesday, Mr Swinney told the PA news agency: “The Culture Secretary has expressed his concerns about the information that’s come to light and he’s asked for urgent discussions with the chair and chief executive of Creative Scotland because we have got to understand the substance of this issue.

“I share the concerns that the Culture Secretary has expressed and I think we need to see a very full and comprehensive explanation from Creative Scotland.”

He said it is not appropriate for the Scottish Government to take decisions on individual arts programmes.

Mr Swinney added: “Creative Scotland has got a specific role to undertake, but it must undertake that in a way which is open and transparent.”

The Rein project was awarded £84,555 in January 2024 despite the application outlining plans for “genital contact” and a “sex party”.

The public body has since withdrawn the funding for the “hardcore” project, which was recruiting actors to participate in “non-simulated” sex scenes.

Creative Scotland stated it was “always aware” of the explicit nature of the application but said it was not clear until March 2024, when the project advertised for participants, that it was moving from “performance to unsimulated sex”.

Creative Scotland is seeking reimbursement of this award, stating the project was “considerably more explicit” than first thought and breached the contract.

However, it is not looking to draw back £23,210 for a research and development (R&D) phase of the project produced in August 2022 which said “explicit sex acts” would not be performed, but stated a final performance was expected to include them.

In response to an urgent question from Scottish Tory deputy leader Meghan Gallacher, Mr Robertson said: “It is imperative that Creative Scotland can command the confidence of this Parliament, not least its Culture Committee.”

Responding to Ms Gallacher’s question on whether he had confidence in the chief executive, who she said “appeared to have deliberately misled” MSPs, he said: “Where serious questions are to be asked, they should receive serious answers.

“That is why I pressed on both the chairman and the chief executive of Creative Scotland that they should avail themselves the opportunity in full to speak to members of the committee, so they can be satisfied both about the circumstances that (Ms Gallacher) clearly still has concerns about.”

The Culture Secretary went on to say he had received assurances that Mr Munro had the “full support” of the Creative Scotland board.

The application, seen by the PA news agency, states: “In our initial short R&D phase we had a no genital contact rule. In this development phase we will work on a sex scene with genital contact with three of the cast.”

Application assessors were also presented with visual mood boards of the project.

A Creative Scotland spokeswoman said: “We were always aware the project would be explicit and creatively challenging, but it was not clear until the project issued the call-out for participants on its website that the project was moving from performance to unsimulated sex.

“It was at this point that Creative Scotland felt that there had been a breach of contract, and this breach of contract was not disputed by the applicant.

“Creative work, across many art forms, can feature explicit depictions of sex. But there is a difference between that depiction and actual sex, which is not appropriate for public funding.”

Scottish Conservative deputy leader Meghan Gallacher said: “Creative Scotland have some serious explaining to do.

“It appears they have misled the public over this scandal, in an attempt to cover their appalling misjudgement in awarding funding to this project.

“The attempted cover-up is more inexcusable than the original poor decision-making. As a publicly-funded body, Creative Scotland have a duty not just to spend taxpayers’ cash wisely, but also to be fully transparent on how they do so.

“Ultimately, SNP Culture Secretary Angus Robertson is answerable for this quango – and the public deserve answers on this growing scandal.”