Theatre in Wales

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

Arts & Culture Policy Review: WAPA Response

1. Other than providing additional funding, what do you believe the Assembly could or should offer the arts in Wales, and how should the Assembly develop its own definitive arts policy?

The Assembly should set out the broad principles of artistic aspiration and development and charge the Arts Council, and any other relevant bodies, to deliver those principles.
A definitive arts policy should be created which allows opportunities for people throughout Wales to enjoy a broad spectrum of arts events of the highest quality - this should be no less than they now enjoy. This policy should be the result of wide reaching consultation with people who have similar aspirations e.g. local authorities, audiences and users of theservice as well as members of the arts community. This ensures that experience and expertise will not be lost.
The Assembly needs to offer the arts community a policing role. Up to now if arts groups have needed redress or have had complaint or concerns, the only point of reference has been the Secretary of State.
2. What should be the principle objectives of an arts and cultural policy for Wales?

Breadth and diversity. Current Arts Council policy advocates this but funding decisions will result in the opposite. In performing arts one principal dance company, one major opera company, one English Language theatre company and one Welsh Language theatre company does not constitute diversity and limits audience choice.
Access. There needs to be a network of companies serving needs across all geographical areas.
Quality and excellence. This must be paramount, but it must be measured in relative terms. Large scale and national does not necessarily mean high quality and conversely, small scale and community based does not mean low quality. Flagships can be small.
A core of professionalism. It is essential to the infrastructure of the arts in Wales that support is given to maintaining a sizeable core of professional practitioners whose creative and administrative talents underpin all aspects of arts practice.
A recognition that the arts do not come off a conveyor belt and that strategic planning can only result from the Assembly providing stable long term commitment.
3. Should the priority of such a policy be based on the arts in Wales or on Welsh arts?

Both. There should be no pre-determined priority. Priorities like this will change as society changes.
There needs to in built flexibility.
There must be the opportunity to learn from outside and to share best practice. The vast majority of Welsh artists already do so.
4. Given a "clean sheet" how would you suggest the Assembly structures its funding and management of the arts in Wales?

We do not believe that the present structures are intrinsically wrong.
What is wrong is the way they have been operated and managed
The root problem has been a lack of money and a reluctance to consult with partners and stakeholders.
There needs to be more transparency and accountability.
It is process that needs to be reviewed more acutely than structure.
One outcome of the Review needs to be a clear definition of the respective powers and responsibilities of ACW and the National Assembly
5. In your experience how open and accessible do you feel the Arts Council of Wales is, and have they been prepared to listen to your views and take on board your ideas?

The Arts Council of Wales is a closed institution. They occasionally listen to views but rarely take them on board. Examples:
When the Arts Council reorganised in 1992 the professional arts community recommended a radical restructure both departmentally and geographically. They did neither. This resulted in a further reorganisation two years later upon which they declined to consult at all.
During the present Drama Review WAPA asked for independent scrutiny of the franchise process. This was denied.
ACW have made their Council meetings open to the public (a move first called for publicly in the Western Mail by WAPA and PAG), but only for Agenda A which merely contains superficial reports and decisions, and which is getting shorter every meeting. ALL decisions of any substance are confined to Agenda B. ACW are obliged to explain why items are referred to the B Agenda but have not yet done so.
ACW issued a Consultation document on Openness and Accountability. There was a 100% recommendation from respondents that ALL meetings be open (apart from reserved matters of a private nature). These recommendations have never been implemented. All Advisory Panels and Regional Committees are closed.
ACW even decline to provide details of who sits on their Advisory Panels.
After much pressure ACW agreed to provide drama clients with assessors reports as a matter of course. This has never been implemented.
Using the Drama Strategy as an example, do you feel the Consultation exercise was well managed or were there things which could have been done differently?

The Drama Strategy has been managed appallingly.
ACW should have made public the responses received during the various Consultations in order to substantiate the decisions that have followed. They have consistently argued that their Strategy is based on the wishes and opinions of respondents. How many respondents advocated the cut of grant to Hijinx Theatre in February 1999? None. So how can other decisions be taken at face value?
The most serious mismanagement concerns the local authorities. ACW should have brought the 22 unitary authorities, the 8 TIE companies and any other interested parties round a table and said: We have a problem. Resources will no longer stretch adequately. Before we are faced with draconian decisions, are there any new models or ways of joint funding which we can explore? Instead of which they embarked on piecemeal conversations (not consultations) with random local authority members, called one WLGA meeting in May 1999, ignored the general views expressed in that meeting, and called it consultation. The result is condemnation from the WLGA and a threatened withdrawal of funding from the local authorities of catastrophic proportions.
Throughout the timetable of the Strategy there has been a litany of complaints from companies. Decisions have been made late, deadlines have not been kept to, officers have not turned up to meetings. The frustration of companies reached a peak in November 1999 with WAPA's vote of no confidence.
The mismanagement continues. The Appeals Panel designed to hear the appeals of the three TYP companies contains members of the Arts Council who made the original decisions.
All these complaints refer back to a non existent openness and accountability policy.
6. Do you feel the Council's structure is appropriate to enable it to develop national arts strategies?

No.
ACW do not seem to understand the difference between strategy and policy.
About four years ago ACW invited certain interested parties to collaborate/advise on the development of their Corporate Plan. After a couple of meetings the idea was abandoned.
The last internal reorganisation creating an Artform and an Access Division was intended to bring cohesion and a strategic approach to grant making, particularly between revenue and Lottery. This has not happened. The two divisions work in isolation. There are still examples of Lottery awards being made to clients who are being reconsidered for grant aid by the Artform Division.
How can Arts Council members make strategic, qualitative decisions when the majority of them never see little or no work? The Assembly should instigate some form of monitoring which requires a commitment from Council and Panel members to see work. These need not be onerous but they should be regular.
7. How well have the arts been supported across Wales, particularly in the Welsh Language?

The geographic coverage has been reasonable. There is a producing drama company in most regions. This will not however continue and is a major criticism of current policy. Certain parts of Wales, e.g. Flintshire, will have to buy in product from England where it was unnecessary before.
Welsh Language Theatre is being developed mainly in the North West away from the majority of Welsh speaking audiences and practitioners. Resources are not being allocated to Welsh Language work on a comparable basis.
The expectations of audiences in different parts of Wales must be recognised.
8. Do you agree with the principle of funding fewer better?

In principle the theory has merits but let us be clear that that is not what the Arts Council are doing.
There has been a cut to Young Peoples Theatre of 168K
There has been a cut to New Writing of 90K
There has been a cut to Experimental Theatre of 65k
The proposed project budget will now be far smaller than planned.

Where clients have been promised additional funding such as Clwyd Theatr Cymru, they are expected to deliver an enhanced programme of work. In CTC's case increased touring. So these clients could still be relatively worse off even though they are receiving more money.
The question being asked now is where has the money gone?
No client will be better off in real terms as a result of this Strategy.
9. Which bodies should play a key role in the management and distribution of European funding?

We do not believe ACW have the expertise and would therefore suggest a new structure.
The loss of the International Officer post recently has been a retrograde step.
10. What more can Wales Arts International do in promoting Wales abroad?

Wales Arts International is under-resourced and will not be able to do enough until its budget increases.
A common complaint is that WAI concentrates mainly on "major" organisations such as the WNO. Virtually all of the TIE companies have promoted Wales abroad in the last year but have received no help or credit for doing so.
11. How can the arts contribute to tackling social exclusion and what barriers hinder progress?

Virtually all the performing arts groups work with in and with the community. Many work on projects intimately associated with social exclusion, e.g. Spectacle Theatre, in the mid valleys area, has been doing a three year project on literacy. Hijinx Theatre specialises in work for adults with learning difficulties.
Many of the youngsters that work alongside theatre companies are lacking communication skills and self awareness, but these are discovered through workshops or Youth theatre development. The arts are an ideal vehicle for this.
We believe that access to this type of experience should not depend on where you live in Wales but it will do if the present policies persist because the amount of coverage will suffer. Two Youth Theatre groups will almost certainly close.
12. What support should the Assembly be providing to sustain or increase the viability and income of the creative arts?

The principal answer has to be - increased resources.
If Wales wants an arts industry which can reflect and promote the country's identity then it has to be prepared to invest the necessary money.
Arts workers are very entrepreneurial, and the value the arts provide for Wales is exceptional, but there are limits and continuing under investment will take its toll. There are already actors, dancers and writers leaving as a result of the Drama Strategy because they see no future for their careers here.
The Post 16 Committee should be lobbying on a cross Committee basis to promote the case for the arts, using the best practice and the successes which we will be only too happy to supply. The Pre 16 Committee has a major interest through the education service, the Economic Committee has an interest through the generation of jobs, inward investment, tourism etc.
We suggest that the future of Lottery funding needs to be examined. We have lobbied for the last two years that there be a change of emphasis from capital to revenue. This has not happened and ACW have said they see no prospect in the foreseeable future. This has however happened in the rest of the UK. Scotland and England have also used Lottery Funds for Stabilisation purposes. ACW have refused to do the same.


Theme Rankings

We found that we could not complete the ranking exercise because the themes are inter-related and thereby impossible to prioritise. All six are key terms of reference and key objectives for the professional performing arts on a day by day basis. All arts groups aspire to meet the majority of these objectives in every piece of work. Arts groups don't need to be encouraged to develop these themes, because they are integral to their work, but all groups would admit that they could meet the six objectives more effectively if they had additional resources, and if they knew that they had the positive support of all sectors of the National Assembly (Education, Economic Development, Health, Social Services, and Local Government).

author:WAPA

original source: WAPA
21 January 2000

 

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