Arts / ‘No requirement for questions to be taken’ Shetland Arts says in response to democracy deficit accusations

SHETLAND Arts has dismissed any suggestion that the way it conducted its annual general meeting (AGM) could be regarded as “undemocratic” and “unaccountable”.

In two questions submitted in advance to the meeting, author Donald Murray and former councillor George Smith both expressed their astonishment and dissatisfaction with the way the agency ran such an important meeting.

Shetland Arts’ 20-minute AGM was held on Thursday at 5.30pm in the organisation’s boardroom.

The public was unable to attend proceedings in person but could follow the meeting online via Teams. Questions to the meeting had to be submitted in advance.

Murray said that in an open society, questions to office bearers should arise from the context of the discussion taking place in the meeting rather than being submitted in advance.

He asked why Shetland Arts was behaving in such an “undemocratic and unaccountable” way when holding its AGM.

Smith meanwhile said that in all his years in the voluntary sector he found this an “unusual” way to conduct an AGM.


Reading out a pre-prepared response to the queries, the board chair Susan Mail said: “Shetland Arts is established as a charitable trust and is governed by a board of volunteer trustees who are openly recruited from the community.

“There is no requirement for any questions to be taken at all at the AGM, but we are keen to hear from the public and will be launching our customer satisfaction survey next week, so that people can feed in.

“All the information relating to the AGM has been made available online, and we asked for questions to be submitted in advance purely so we are able to answer them as fully as possible.

“We have been running AGMs with guests online in this way since Covid, and it has significantly increased attendance and accessibility.”

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Other issues touched on during the Q&A session were the lack of standing events and the perceived under-usage of Mareel’s purpose built auditorium, better provision for local talent, more classical concerts and the agency’s policy on equality and access.

Mail said: “To build a venue like Mareel and then not provide any subsidy to run it creates a huge challenge to the management team.

“In its first three years of operation Mareel lost over £350,000. Not only is it the responsibility of the current trustees to run Shetland Arts and all its activity within the budgets available; they are also required to repay this deficit.

“We have always sought a much broader conversation with Shetland Islands Council about the potential for them to support the arts in Shetland.”

She added that the council had recently supported the Tall Ships Races to the tune of £1.5million of public funds, demonstrating the cost of putting on events in Shetland.

Shetland News’ own questions were submitted after a deadline that had previously not been communicated and hence did not feature at the AGM. Answers to follow.

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