Theatre in Wales

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

Public Arts Not the Same as Culture

Revealing Data on Young People and the Arts

I went, a year ago, to the bus station to collect a car-load of passengers. Their trip to the city had been superb. The gig had been out-of-this-world, and there was more. They had even spoken face-to-face with the artist himself. The cycle of life has an inexorability of reassurance to it. In 2018 the young are thrilled by seeing Akala. A generation ago it would have been Morrissey who engendered the same thrill. And a generation before that it would have been Ian Anderson standing on one leg, Keith Moon beating the life out of his drum-set, the young Rod Stewart kicking a football onstage.

The last I can attest to because they were the epicentre of my own cultural life. The Arts Council had nothing to do with it. I first went into an art galley because an inter-rail ticket took me to Tuscany and that was what everyone did. I bought a ticket to “Fidelio” partly out of curiosity, partly because the nature of a highly-subsidised European city meant it was cheaper than the cinema. Now I am the beneficiary of arts expenditure in the public domain and, the occasion being right, take young people.

But it does not happen often, the last occasion a year and a half back. “Trainspotting” is a cultural export for Scotland that has endured for decades. The time before that it was a musical in London “Urinetown.” It is fair that Arts Councils should concern themselves about who walks in through the door. I share it. I was taken to Blanche McIntyre's reworking of “Tartuffe” in the winter and did not enjoy it overly. The audience was large and exclusively aged fifty upwards. Contradictorily Ian Rickson's awing version of “Rosmersholm”, far less modernised, brought in an audience of a far wider heterogeneity.

Changing the nature of audience might start with changing the product. If Welsh producers put on theatre like “Trainspotting” and “Urinetown” the audience would change. The most diverse audience that I can recall was for “Llwyth” and that show was also beneficiary of three tours. Ironically it is the north, rural Flintshire, that sets the pace. Had it been available I would have taken a half-dozen young to “the Assassination of. Katie Hopkins.” But audiences of Wales have to suffer an arts governance they never asked for. The resolve to deprive us of comedy is as fixed as it is undiscussable. Even the German-speaking theatre has managed national comedy.

The arts and culture are not the same. To be young is to seek out your own culture. Surprisingly, another report dispels the common Councilly-view. “Youth Music poll shows a massive rise in music-making among young people”, ran the newspaper headline, “especially among those from lower-income backgrounds...more than two-thirds of young people are active musicians.”

“The study by music charity Youth Music, in tandem with Ipsos Mori, polled more than 1,000 British children aged seven to 17 about their music habits. Unsurprisingly, 97% of them had listened to music in the previous week – but 67% had also engaged in “some form of music-making activity”. It’s a huge rise from 39% in 2006, when Youth Music conducted their previous survey.”

This is a dramatic change. “Thirty per cent of surveyed children played an instrument – 39% of whom are somewhat self-taught – with the piano proving most popular. Eleven per cent made music on a computer – rising to one in five young men...76% of children entitled to free school meals described themselves as musical, versus 60% of those not entitled. Activities including rapping, DJing, writing music and making music digitally were all markedly higher among children from lower-income backgrounds.”

“The report’s authors argue it is vital “to make music an indispensable part of school life”. But they also acknowledge the potential in mobile video apps like TikTok, saying: “While there may not be a lot of music involved, the app encourages young people to be creative, autonomous and hone their performance skills, often in highly humorous ways.”

The fuller summary of the findings at:

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
11 June 2019


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