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Secretary of Culture demands answers about explicit art exhibition

Image source, fake images

  • Author, Rachel Grant
  • Role, BBC Scotland News

Scotland’s culture secretary has demanded an urgent meeting with Creative Scotland to discuss why an arts project involving real sex was awarded more than £100,000 in funding.

Angus Robertson said he is “deeply concerned” by documents obtained by BBC Scotland News which show the original funding application made clear the project would involve real sex.

Funding body Creative Scotland suspended support for the Rein project in March, claiming they had not realized real sex would be part of the event.

But Rein’s request acknowledged that the development would involve “a sex scene with genital contact” involving three cast members.

Robertson said he had requested an urgent meeting with Creative Scotland leaders to “discuss how confidence in the organization can be restored”.

Director Leonie Rae Gasson won a total of more than £110,000 in money from the arts body’s lottery and was asked to repay £76,196.

sex scene

Creative Scotland later said they had not realized the project involved actual sex, but Rein’s application acknowledged that the development would involve “a sex scene with genital contact” involving three cast members.

He also stated that, where necessary, testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) would be carried out before rehearsals.

The Rein funding application was accepted in January at a second attempt, after amendments suggested by Creative Scotland were included.

He said the show would “showcase pioneering Scottish creativity on an international scale” after premiering at Glasgow’s Take Me Somewhere Festival in 2025.

Filming at an unnamed location in the Scottish Highlands was scheduled to begin on May 24.

The performers would have been paid for filming, as well as rehearsals and training with a “kinky and BDSM educator,” according to the application.

Screenshot, Creative Scotland said it stood by its reading of the funding application for Rein

A Creative Scotland spokesperson said they maintained their reading as “simulated performance”, even with genital contact.

The request, obtained through freedom of information requests, said: “In our short initial R&D phase we had a no genital contact rule.

“In this phase of development we will work on a sex scene with genital contact with three of the cast.”

Creative Scotland also published evidence that it had announced a casting call for dancers and sex workers, including those with disabilities, to take part in the show which involved “unsimulated sex”.

The page was removed after Creative Scotland came under heavy criticism from politicians and feminist groups.

Women’s rights group For Women Scotland said the proposed project dehumanised women and promoted “unhealthy and dangerous” relationships.

Creative Scotland initially supported the project as a “challenging and creatively ambitious experimental performance art piece”.

It involved using “pornographic processes” to film “unsimulated sex” in the Scottish Highlands and then showing the images on giant screens.

Locations for filming were listed as Glasgow, Edinburgh, the Highlands and Camden in London.

There would also be workshops to engage the public with paid scholarships for disabled participants.

Screenshot, The application for Rein received “enthusiastic support” from Tramway-based arts charity Take Me Somewhere.

Creative Scotland has so far recovered £67,741 of the grants.

The arts body decided not to reclaim the £8,359 already spent, mainly on subcontracted freelancers, “in the interest of protecting the often precarious incomes” of these workers.

Among them was a British Sign Language translator who made a video version of the casting announcement describing the explicit acts that would be part of the performance.

Financing and support of associations

Supporting partners on the project included Creative Scotland-funded arts and education charities Take Me Somewhere and The Work Room, which together ran three weeks of development days for Rein in 2022 and 2023 and offered further support.

Both are based at The Tramway, a public art venue funded by Creative Scotland and owned by Glasgow Life, the charity that runs Glasgow City Council’s leisure facilities.

In a letter of support sent to Creative Scotland alongside the funding application, Take Me Somewhere confirmed its “enthusiastic support for Leonie Rae Gasson’s Rein project”.

He said he was offering his own “financial and in-kind support package” for Rein.

Take Me Somewhere, which received almost £800,000 in funding from Creative Scotland between 2020 and 2023, had initially invited Gasson to perform Rein at its festival last October.

The Work Room has received over £1.8 million from Creative Scotland since November 2020, including grants for inclusive and “anti-ableist” dance practice.

Screenshot, Gasson’s previous work explored sexuality on stage.

Ms Gasson, who is from London and lives in Glasgow, worked at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland until April and has worked with the National Theater of Scotland and the Tron Theatre.

Her previous work includes a project at the Traverse Theater with Lyceum Youth Theater in which “teenagers and a child” take items from audience members’ bags and make sex toys with them.

Robertson expressed concern about the new details that emerged Tuesday.

He said: “Based on the information we have just seen today, I have several questions about how this project was awarded funding in the first place.

“I have requested an urgent meeting with the chief executive and chairman of Creative Scotland to understand how the current situation has unfolded and to discuss how confidence in the organization can be restored.”

Scottish Conservative deputy leader Meghan Gallacher said Creative Scotland had “some serious explaining to do” and added that Robertson was ultimately responsible.

“It appears they have misled the public about this scandal, in an attempt to cover up their terrible error in judgment in awarding funding to this project,” he said.

“The attempted cover-up is more inexcusable than the original poor decision-making. “As a publicly funded body, Creative Scotland has a duty not only to spend taxpayers’ money wisely, but also to be fully transparent about how it does so.”

Gasson declined to speak to BBC Scotland.