Theatre in Wales

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

The Arts Council debate – time to speak out

Chris Ryde (Equity Wales and WAPA) speaks his mind

It has been good to see the comments from Jeni Williams and Sybil Crouch in the Commentary section of the website and I endorse most of what they have had to say.

My concern is twofold. Firstly, it seems that there are certain sections of the arts community that are still unsure whether or not “nationalising” the Arts Council is a good thing. Indeed there are presumably some who think it is a cracking idea. I would ask anyone in either of those camps to think hard about their position. Yes: we have had our differences with the Arts Council. Yes: they have done some incredibly inept things. I know that better than anyone, but never at any stage (including in evidence to Richard Wallace in 2000) did I ever go as far as suggesting that we should “nuke the bastards”. Reform not abolition has been a much more productive policy.

The arms length principle needs to be protected. That is the long and short of the argument. To anyone who has any doubts I would ask the question: What is going to happen when the first play deeply critical of the ruling Welsh Government appears and is taken off after the Culture Minister threatens to withhold the grant? And that scenario could be replicated in some form or other in opera, literature or the visual arts. We don’t want a funding system that depends on political contacts and intrigues, or even on he (or she) who lobbies loudest. We want accountability and transparency and that is not – repeat not – going to come through civil service administered arts funding.

So today on behalf, and with the full support of, the WAPA Executive I am writing to Rhodri Morgan asking him to leave the Arts Council as it is. I think it is vitally important others in the sector make that view public also. That is my second concern. Silence on this matter will be taken at best as indifference and at worst as acquiescence. If we sit on our hands we will only have ourselves to blame. I urge individuals, groups, and organisations to write to the First Minister within the next ten days and support the principle of an independent Arts Council; and then when we win that argument we can concentrate on making sure that the one we get is the one we want.

Chris Ryde
National Organiser for Equity
Chair, Wales Association for the Performing Arts

The letter to Rhodri Morgan is copied below:

Rhodri Morgan A.M.
First Minister
Welsh Assembly Government
The National Assembly
Cardiff Bay
CF99 1NA
September 10th 2004

Dear Rhodri,

We are aware that you have put all Assembly Sponsored Public Bodies on notice that they may be integrated into the Government unless on an individual basis they make out a case for exception.

WAPA represents the professional performing arts sector in Wales and we believe that the interests of our members and the arts in general will not be well served by adding the Arts Council of Wales to that list.

We strongly contend that the over-riding principle on which the Arts Council was created years ago, namely that it should put arts funding at arms length from direct government processes, is as valid today as it was then. We do not feel that any government should be putting itself in a position where it is having to make direct decisions on cultural and artistic matters.

The Arts Council of Wales has a staff and structure through which it can make informed and considered decisions following expert and other advice. We believe that it should be left to administer the arts in Wales on that basis. It is true that our sector and the Arts Council have differences in opinion from time to time, and we have not always supported ACW’s decisions or their processes, but that does not provide a clear cut argument for the Council’s abolition. What we want to see is an arts funding system which is transparent, accountable, free from political interference and censorship, and which leads to an ecology where good quality work can be made and supported. If at any stage we feel that the Arts Council is not doing this we will continue to criticise it, but we believe this only serves to strengthen, not undermine, the relationship between the Council and it clients.
It should not be forgotten that the Arts Council of Wales has been in permanent re-organisation since the mid 1990’s when Emyr Jenkins was its Chief Executive. It now needs a period of stability where the staff and advisers can come to terms with the major upheavals of the last few years and during which the institution can grow and mature

We feel that it would be regrettable as well as regressive for Ministers, Assembly Members, and Civil Servants to be at the mercy of individuals who would invariably and repeatedly lobby all such parties in order to advance their claims for increased resources. In those circumstances weighing up the wider interests of Wales as a nation against constituency or regional considerations would be in jeopardy. Every decision would become a political one. It is precisely the overarching Welsh perspective that an Arts Council can supply.

It can also supply an integrated approach to funding which will be another casualty of the decision to integrate, as lottery funding would henceforth have to be transferred to another agency and one likely to be based outside Wales such as The Big Lottery Fund. This would severely undermine the holistic approach that has been a welcome development over the last three to five years.

We are not opposed to change per se within the current structure. Indeed we have our own views on where improvements can be made. However, in overall terms WAPA is strongly of the view that the Arts Council is one of those bodies which “takes decisions that are better kept at arms length from the Government” to quote directly from your Permanent Secretary’s Memorandum issued on August 2nd. We therefore urge you to keep the Council broadly constituted as now.

Yours sincerely,

Christopher Ryde

author:Chris Ryde

original source:
08 September 2004


Privacy Policy | Contact Us | ©2006 keith morris / red snapper web designs /