Theatre in Wales

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

The future of the Arts Council of Wales

Jeni Williams adds to the debate on the role of the WAG in the arts in Wales

Dear all,

I write out of grave concern for the future of the Arts Council. I know that I'm neither a practitioner nor an expert commentator but I believe strongly in the central importance of the arts both for a healthy society and for a healthy individual. I'm worried about the long-term effects on the arts should the Assembly take direct control of the field. I write out of a genuine care for, and anxiety about, the fate of the arts without an official advocate in the brute face of populism and utilitarian thinking, without proper, clearly laid out systems of accountability. There is a debate starting on the Theatre-Wales site but I am not aware of a co-ordinated response from the arts community (or communities I suppose) and I believe that the situation is so grave that there should be one.

A decision to dissolve the AC would affect all the arts in Wales. For theatre it could mean the further erosion of innovative drama and the splintering of provision into community ventures and big 'high-art' flagships. For literature it could mean similar things: more popular material and classics. Nothing wrong with that of course just as there's nothing wrong with community theatre and the classics but a vibrant society needs a broader range of arts and there are grave problems for artists, performers and writers of any kind that don't fit into these categories.

In terms of the visual arts I fear that support for galleries and touring exhibitions may dry up or support associated with radical art projects. There is obviously a place for commercial art and much of this work is imaginative and highly skilled - but it is not enough alone.

Some (AM) politicians do enjoy the arts - I think of Andrew Davies - but many do not. I am extremely fearful of the effect of losing the Arts Council as a buffer between the governing body and the arts community/communities. I feel that the kind of work that will suffer from this loss may be Marc Rees's wonderful 'House Project.' I took a number of students to Chapter to see the project and they were overwhelmed and stunned. It had an enormous impact on them and dramatically (if one can employ such an adjective!) affected their own work.

I am anxious that these significant though tortuous connections will not be apparent in an unmediated context where the discrete art object/project may be judged purely in terms of its immediate impact and the numbers of people who are able to access it directly.

If the Assembly were to take over direct control we risk the rule of civil servants with no specialist knowledge, and political interference by AMs with neither an understanding of the arts nor an interest in developing one.

I do not claim that the Arts Council is pefect as it stands (we all know it is not) but I think it has been in the process of becoming more accountable of late in part because of heightened scrutiny since the Assembly was established. However if the governing body takes over the function of administring the arts directly then that appraising eye is far less likely to be turned on its own activity. The system, cumbersome though it may be, of financial and professional support could slip away - just as the arts scene is starting to develop more healthily.

I feel more and more anxious about this issue over the past week or so and hence am sending this letter into the blue. What do you think about this? is it possible to press for support for the Arts Council (and the Books Council, never mind the museums) maybe to suggest some changes to its internal organisation and for still more accountability but essentially to lobby for its continuance.

Perhaps you do not agree with my assessment of the situation? Whatever the case may be I feel desperately that we do need a well-publicised public debate so that people are more aware of what may happen.

I would appreciate a response to this email - perhaps, after all, there IS a coordinated campaign and I can join it?

With warmest wishes,

Jeni Williams

author:Jeni Williams

original source:
16 August 2004


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