Theatre in Wales

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

CUT THE ARTS FREE FROM STRANGLING OPERA VINES

open letter to the new chief executive of the Arts Council of Wales

Dear Peter Tyndall,

Just a quick note to convey my congratulations on your appointment as the new chief executive of the Arts Council of Wales, together with my commiserations that you will now be running one of the most moribund and useless organisations in Welsh history.

You will certainly know already that the arts in Wales are all but dead.

Almost every theatre is running short of money and squealing for life. Our literature, particularly our English fiction, is a joke which wouldn't come up to snuff in a banana republic. No one can remember the last decent film we put out and practically every Welsh artist is either silent or gone abroad.

I know there are a few exceptions to all these statements, but they are only a few.

Even our esteemed Italian National Opera Company is deep in debt and seeking a large stabilisation grant which, I gather, they are going to receive, since they and their creepy supporters pretty much rule the Welsh arts roost.

All this reflects no credit on the organisation charged with fostering the Welsh arts and, in case you haven't heard about it yet, there's another horrifying train whistling down the track in the form of AMs who want the Assembly to take over the Welsh arts.

Some talk about nothing else, although we have already noted that their idea of reviving the Welsh arts seems to be to put up a new building for 83m in the Bay which, if nothing else, will provide a nice roof over the head of our Italian National Opera and a new stage for American musicals.

Then, to make your week complete, there was a report saying that all attendances for the subsidised arts are falling. They are putting on dull work, it says, losing audiences and requiring expensive rescue packages.

The sorry truth is that your organisation and its work are meaningless to most people of Wales, particularly the young. Only a few artists approve, usually if they can screw a small cheque out of you, but by and large you are perceived as a bunch of dim-wits who only support expensive, minority, elitist tastes.

But this is a friendly note, which is not meant to depress you, since you are probably depressed already. And the real reason for my writing is to give advice on what you and the Arts Council should do to get out of this appalling mess.

Now, you have a truly terrific chairman in the shape of Sybil Crouch. I know this because I had dinner with her the other night, and she didn't hit me once, although there was an awful lot of shouting at one point.

I simply do not know how they found her since, far from being some grey-haired, middle-class dowager from Llandrindod Wells, she is, in fact, a sexy and intelligent former rock chick whom you. might expect to find selling bangles on a stall in Glastonbury.

She also has a vocabulary which would put the wind up Janis Joplin, so someone, somewhere, is thinking along the right lines. The council itself is changing too, with some interesting newcomers who are weeding out the old guard.

They are all aware that there should be great changes, but the wall against which they keep banging their heads, is what sort of changes? Who goes? Who comes? Who gets the money?

These are almost impossible questions, but they need to be answered and they should be answered by us. So here's what you must do next.

Call a national conference with but one theme: The Welsh Arts, Who Lives and Who Dies? This conference should be open to all and become the biggest, noisiest and bloodiest row ever.

The agenda will cover all Welsh arts and we should ask do we want the Welsh National Opera in Wales, when its abolition would free up all the other Welsh arts? Do we actually know that we, the public, subsidise every bum in every seat in every opera with about 75?

Do we want to continue wasting money on bursaries to, say, writers, when there isn't a decent publishing house in Wales? Do we want to spend 83m on an arts centre in the Bay, when we can't come up with a decent film or play?

Welsh artists have no infrastructure in which to work and that's precisely what the Arts Council of Wales should sort out. We don't want to live in The Year Zero anymore. We desperately need a whole raft of new ideas, particularly in our thinking about the arts, since that is the only way we will ever grow and change as a nation.

The artists of Wales are all dying. We need properly?funded film studios, recording studios, galleries, theatres and publishing houses. We need ways to get our work to the public so that the market can then decide what it wants.

Everyone is sick and tired of messing around in this Welsh wasteland where the poisonous vines of Italian opera have a stranglehold. We don't want your Victorian house of patronage, Mr Tyndall. We want to create and be seen.




author:Tom Davies

original source: The Western Mail
30 July 2001

 

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