Creative Scotland knew Rein project included real sex before awarding nearly £85,000 public funds

Creative Scotland knew a controversial theatre project would include a "sex scene with genital contact" nine months before almost £85,000 of public money was awarded, documents have revealed.

The public arts body has since withdrawn the funding for the "hardcore" Rein project which was recruiting actors to participate in "non-simulated" sex scenes.

A total of £84,555 was awarded to director Leonie Rae Gasson for the project's development in the January round of Creative Scotland's National Lottery Open Fund - despite the application in March 2023 outlining plans for "genital contact" and a "sex party".

Creative Scotland sought reimbursement of the award, stating the project was "considerably more explicit" than first thought and breached the contract.

In an update last month, Creative Scotland's chief executive Iain Munro said £67,741 had been recovered from Ms Gasson.

Combined with 10% of the award which had not yet been paid, a total of £76,196 had been withdrawn - 90% of the original award.

Mr Munro explained that Ms Gasson had incurred legitimate costs of £8,359, mainly to subcontracted freelancers, by the time she was informed of the U-turn.

Not all funds withdrawn

Creative Scotland said it did not intend to recover the fees already paid to third parties "in the interests of protecting the, often precarious, income of these subcontracted freelancers".

The arts body also confirmed it did not intend to recover £23,210 it awarded to Ms Gasson in August 2022 for the research and development phase of the project which said "explicit sex acts" would not be performed, but stated a final performance was expected to.

In a statement, Creative Scotland said the arts body was "always aware" of the explicitness of the application, but said it was not clear until March 2024 that the project was moving from "performance to unsimulated sex".

An advertisement for participants in March took the project to an "unacceptable territory" by including "unsimulated sex", a spokeswoman said.

But the application obtained through freedom of information requests has revealed the explicit contents of the application were disclosed to the public body, including nude actors as part of the 40-minute theatre installation.

Explicit contents were disclosed

In the project description, the application 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.

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A Creative Scotland spokesperson 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."

'Appalling misjudgement'

Scottish Tory deputy leader Meghan Gallacher said Creative Scotland has some "serious explaining to do".

She added: "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."