Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

The next 5 years of the Performing Arts in Wales

Draft text of Jenny Randerson's speech to the 'Kick up the Arts' conference on October 8th 2001

I was delighted to hear that the Performing Arts fraternity was assembling to discuss its priorities and to set a positive agenda for the next five years.

I am particularly delighted because this conference has grown directly out of a conversation I had with Phil Clarke some months ago about the needs of the sector. I was even more delighted to be invited to say a few words about my Culture Strategy and how I see things developing for the performing arts in Wales.

Many of you will know that I have been working on my Culture Strategy “A Platform for Fulfilment”. May I take the opportunity of thanking those of you who provided comments on the earlier draft. The latest version of the strategy has grown from the inputs of the National Assembly’s Culture Committee and from the wider consultation, which allowed a wide range of stakeholders in the Welsh cultural scene to make valuable contributions.
I believe the emerging document sets out a bold vision for the future and an ambitious strategy for the next decade. No strategy can be set in stone, it is inevitable that whilst our aspirations for Wales will remain constant, our means of achieving objectives will change over time. In response to a changing environment we will need to look again at the policy tools at our disposal. Now we must begin to take the steps needed to fulfil our vision for the future.

Wales has a rich past and a wealth of present day talent but it still has an opportunity to achieve a new cultural transformation. The National Assembly must take a lead in bringing about that transformation - in our thinking, planning and funding and, as a result, in our delivery. If we achieve that it will inevitably result in greater recognition and profile for Wales, with all the wider benefits that that can bring.

Those of you who have read and commented on my Culture Strategy will know that I believe that in all the professional arts, five strands emerge vital to any strategy - these are:

The link between the arts and the public needs to be strengthened. This does not always mean giving the public exactly what it knows it wants, but it does mean working to gain the widest popular support for the arts, even when people individually see and use different art forms in different ways and to varying extents.

There must be more effective support to enable creative professionals to work at a reasonable income level, and to recognise adequately the time and work involved in producing high quality results.

The arts institutions of Wales must be put on a secure footing

Responsibility for funding the arts - whether local authorities, Assembly Sponsored Public Bodies or the European Union - must be clearly delineated.

The voluntary base of the arts must be given strong public commitment and the resources which flow from it.
In terms of Music and Opera, Wales is famous for its musical tradition but if truth be told, while contemporary rock and pop music is making great strides, the other forms of music - classical, traditional, jazz, choral and folk - are far more fragile than they should be.

Despite the excellent work of Welsh National Opera, the recent quality of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the rising standards of the Welsh College of Music and Drama, the classical music infrastructure is inadequate. Groups like Music Theatre Wales do not have the resources to produce as much work as they should and though a small number of choirs and individual classical and popular performers enjoy international renown, Wales does not have the strength in terms of infrastructure to maintain its reputation far into this century.

In traditional and folk music Wales is too far behind Scotland and Ireland in celebrating its heritage and nurturing its performing traditions.
I believe we need to rectify the situation in seven ways:-

Strengthen the existing infrastructure of performing organisations,

Invite the Arts Council of Wales to draw up proposals for new organisations, in particular outside Cardiff - I plan to meet the Arts Council to discuss these issues further.

Invite local authorities across Wales to submit suggestions for modern venues appropriate to local needs and national ambitions,

Strengthen the opportunities for professional musicians to earn a secure living in Wales, so that the resident freelance pool is deepened, by investing in festivals, arts centres, recording companies and broadcasting.

Re-invigorate the amateur and semi-professional community music organisations that have suffered as the heavy industry which supported them has declined.

Improve research facilities and training in Wales’ traditional music.

Help performers and composers in all forms of music reach international audiences.

Turning to Theatre, Theatre has been at the centre of controversy in Wales’ artistic life for many years. Drama policy-makers have found it difficult to know whether to concentrate slender resources on producing capacity, local theatre companies with strong education and community functions or flagship companies in Welsh and English. I believe that it is impossible to have a successful drama culture without all three - and that the evident connections between theatre and audio-visual production make all three essential to home-grown cultural industry. Resources are the key and too often in the past uncertainty as to whether funding responsibility lay with local authorities, local education authorities or the Arts Council has left organisations unnecessarily exposed to financial uncertainty.

We should therefore:-

Decide on the scale, function and remit of companies to be supported, which body is responsible for which aspects of their work and make sufficient funding available to allow companies to fulfil their agreed tasks,

Increase the production capacity of companies in Wales (in both languages) so that audiences can rely on a steady supply of high quality work,

Review the stage capacity in Wales, looking at the state and standard of theatre buildings and equipment, identify the gaps in provision and remedy them,

Increase the opportunities for communities to work with professionals,

Ensure that buildings equipped through lottery funding have sufficient revenue to be fully used.

In relation to Dance, despite the high quality of Diversions Dance Company, dance is under-represented in Wales’s artistic life. While it is probably too late to adopt a full-scale ballet company, there is no doubt that Wales could and should support a greater range of dance organizations, together with training facilities. The Millennium Centre will provide a home and, it is hoped, a catalyst to dance activity. However we should investigate the prospects for other locations and training provision which can, in time, offer Wales a significant pool of resident dancers.

My Objectives in relation to the performing Arts, and your objectives too, perhaps should be:

To reaffirm Wales’ position as a leading musical country by increasing the professional musical activity in Wales, stabilising community music organisations, and ensuring that Wales has a full range of international class ensembles, venues and festivals.

To ensure stable and high-quality theatre life throughout Wales.

To strengthen existing companies, both in terms of numbers and performing opportunities, and to support new initiatives in dance and physical theatre whenever possible.

To transform the exhibition infrastructure, employment climate and international reputation of Wales.

Funding for the Arts Council of Wales this financial year is 17 million, up 1.2 million on 2000-1 (an increase of nearly 8%). Future indicative increase to nearly 18million in 2002-03 and around 20 million in 2003-04 provide an increase of around 28 per cent in the planning round. The Assembly’s draft budget for 2002-03 from the current planning round will be announced on 10 October. However, I can at this time assure you that I have made a strong case for additional funding for the Arts Council, so I urge you to “watch this space” for the eventual outcome.
I have been in my Ministerial post for a year now and in that time, I have met with a great many individuals and organisations; I have met regularly with the Arts Council on issues of importance including the arrangements for restructuring of that body; I have responded to the former Post-16 Education Committee Report “A Culture in Common” and I am now, in partnership with you all, developing a Culture Strategy for Wales. We’ve come a long way in a year but there is still a long way to go. I plan to present the final version of my Culture Strategy to the Culture Committee in November therefore I would welcome knowing the outcome of today before I do that.

Thank you for listening and I hope you have a very productive day.

author:Jenny Randerson, Culture Sectretary, National Asembly for Wales

original source:
13 October 2001

 

Privacy Policy | Contact Us | ©2006 keith morris / red snapper web designs / keith@artx.co.uk