Theatre in Wales

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

Young People Not the Beneficiaries of Public Art

Public and Public Sector: In-groups and Out-groups

My submission to the Culture Committee a few years back opened:

“Wales has a theatre of a quality and a scale that belies its size. No community of three million in the world has a larger. It is a record in which all concerned should take pride.”

But scale comes with a caveat. It is not to do with largeness. Geoffrey West has a brilliant book called simply “Scale.” Scale is subsidiary to form and form follows function. As listed on this site, year on year, page on page, there are good works and good companies and sometimes there are great works and great companies.

The ecology is full but at the same time it is insufficient. In Aberystwyth, the cultural fulcrum of north and south, I have seen thrilling work for children from Iolo, Arad Goch, Cwmni'r Frân Wen.

But there is a deficit- there is little I can take young adults to.

Why should this be?

There are two principal causes, one is the nature of state and nation.

Government is instrumental. It is there to do things. These things are made manifest: bridges, roads, operations, lessons, refuse collections, and ten thousand other activities.

The vector of culture is aesthetics. This is not a domain where government is comfortable; thus the urge to instrumentalise the culture budget into wherever there are numbers which look material: VAT receipts, exports, employment.

The calamity of 2020 has laid bare the nature of that employment for what it is. Oli Mould, author of “Against Creativity”, (Verso Books, 2018) wrote an article for Prospect last September 9th:

“More damagingly, the creative industries also feed off an army of freelance, precarious and volunteer workers. Recent research has shown that freelancers in the UK lose over £5000 by working for free in the vain hope of gaining “exposure.” Sadly, the story of creative workers expecting to work for multimillion-pound institutions for nothing is all too common.”

As for exports the article below, 5th January, pointed out that Wales runs a balance-of-payments deficit in culture. This need not be. It is facilitated by the fact that it is not noticed. Tyneside produces "Billy Elliott", the Rhondda does not. Nobody minds.

The articles of 28th and 30th March recommended to look to the tensions within organisations to understand them. The article of 16th February differentiated state from nation. Here is tension: the officers of the Arts Council of Wales have to put up with the weight of a governing consensus which does not favour the arts or views them narrowly. In 2020 the version of the Council, since the retirement of Dai Smith, now puts the arms-length relationship in inverted commas. Statute is over-turned.

No young people of my acquaintance are beneficiaries of state spending on the arts. By way of explanation look at the differences in these statements.

Live performance evaporated on 15th March. A voice on social media lamented its loss and said why:

“I think this unprecedented time has only proved the importance of theatre. That tangible experience, that can’t be imitated. The flick of sweat from the fringe of the performer as they sharply turn their head. The glint in their eye from the lights, the smell of the floorboards and the costumes (not always great after a long run!)

These are things I miss so much, that I can’t get from any film or series I watch at home.

I’m desperate to experience theatre again.”

A voice from within theatre who holds respect also spoke. From Peter Cox:

“The best theatre is a crucible where intellect, emotion, philosophy, politics, language and human potential come together to forge new understanding, new ways of seeing the world and new ways of being. As theatre makers we are societal alchemists. Our raw materials are our lives and the lives of others. Our medium is story.”

Look then to views from the across the state. From local government:

“The arts bring practical and economic benefits, and can help us address a range of public policy matters, whether that be in the education system or in helping to address otherwise intractable health issues. Participation in the arts helps community cohesion and can reduce social isolation and exclusion.”

Loneliness its a scourge that accelerates illness and raises mortality. This adds nothing.

From another source:

“The arts illuminate and give life to the wide range of strategies that underpin civic life. From arts and health to cultural tourism, public art to town centre and community regeneration... the arts create and sustain jobs, enrich education services, bring people together, enhance communities’ well being, and improve our quality of life.”

The last show I took a young person to was a theatre version of “Trainspotting.” Relationships, music, outrage. No-one outside the inner circle wants to see theatre dressed up for tourism. I want to take young people to performance that is meaningful to them. They ponder climate catastrophe due in their lifetimes. They navigate love and commitment. On a Saturday night they gather around bongs. I doubt whether a bong will ever appear on a stage in Wales. There is a prissiness to state art; it does not like that sort of thing.

Look at this dreary piece of writing. It comes from the Culture Committee:

“Art forms a vital part of society. Self-expression and creativity are worthy reasons for public investment in their own right. However, art can make a positive impact across a variety of fields – mental health, tourism, tackling poverty among others. This potential for art to enable positive outcomes should be recognised by those making public policy and funding decisions.”

“It is well-established that large-scale events have far-reaching social impacts.”

No evidence of any sort is given. But no evidence is necessary. It is one group member handing group-think to another group member.

The word group-think was inspired by George Orwell and popularised by William H. Whyte Junior in 1952. Whyte described it as “a rationalized conformity – an open, articulate philosophy which holds that group values are not only expedient but right and good as well.”

The group sustains its sense of goodness by ensuring a deficit in cognitive make-up (below 12th April).

The young people of my acquaintance pay their taxes but are hardly beneficiaries of state spending on culture. There is most likely a reason. They are not members of the group.

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
31 March 2020


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