Theatre in Wales

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

Nation and State

The Primacy of Place at the Culture of Wales

John Morris, who made the journey from Ceredigion to the Cabinet, appeared in conversation on 2nd November last at Aberaeron's book weekend. I asked an old acquaintance, well-steeped in things local, which part of the county had been his home.

It was no more than a casual enquiry and my friend said he did not know. A half-hour later he came over. Not only had he in the interim established the locality where the future Lord Morris had grown up but went further. He identified individual farms where family members lived or had lived.

I mentioned this exhaustiveness of interest to a historian. Place, she said, was vital, class a lesser thing for Wales, at least in comparison broadly. It put me in mind of other times. The founder of Admiral, one of Wales' few FTSE 100 stars, was asked about the business climate generally. He mentioned that eight local authorities within 30 minutes' drive from Cardiff's centre was as it is but not overly helpful. Leighton Andrews' initiative to reduce the rich quilt foundered so that the 22 local authorities remain.

Localism is in full flourish. I made mention two summers back of a local theatre company playing to 700 while a national company in the same week in the same town played to 17. The primacy of the local is gained at the expense of the national. Radio 4 last year broadcast a programme “So Many Different Little Corners”. From my review at the time:

“Regional identity is very important because the people of Anglesey are not the same as the people on the Llŷn Peninsula. You can see the Peninsula from here but they're very different from us. We're not the same.”

Sara Elin Roberts of Bangor University: “South Wales is a very different country to North Wales really. In the Middle Ages it was a separate country, Deheubarth. To me Cardiff is quite a foreign place...South Wales is a foreign country to me.”

I was at the launch in 2017 of David Goodhart's book “The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics.” It was the cause of much attention with its thesis of a sharp bifurcation between what Goodhart termed the Somewhere People and the Nowhere People.

Although I am not a sociologist I was not left convinced that as a division it was so simply applicable for Wales. Yes, the population drift is inexorable but values and affiliation for the place of origin remain high.

To every action a counter-reaction. The reaction to localism is the claim on cultural expenditure by Government. The Scottish Government had the courage of its convictions and placed its national arts companies under government management. The situation here is slithery with Government neither quite out nor in. It would not matter if the results spoke for themselves which in some instances they do. National opera and national dance broadly ennoble the culture and make an impact outside.

The most pointed commentary has been published by IETM, the International network for contemporary performing arts, a network of over 450 performing arts organisations and individual members. On 28th August 2019 its site published a view from Wales:

“...everything funded will have a clear goal of contributing to the greater good. This is art as political outreach, as the Arts Council subscribes to Welsh Government political strategies in order to maintain its slice of the ever-diminishing pie. The definition of that “greater good” is inevitably determined by the political consensus, and here lies the problem: art may very well have the power to democratise, but art itself is rarely the product of democratic thinking. In Wales, art now must contribute to education, to empowerment, to social mobility, or it is not worthy of subsidy from the public purse. This is noble, but also ignores the genius of the unintentional.

This central funding ideology means that there is work now not being created in Wales because it does not fit the political criteria of the nation’s governors.”

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
09 February 2020


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