Theatre in Wales

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

Paper by Theatr Powys to the National Assembly Pos

Culture Policy Review: Theatr Powys Paper

Other than providing additional funding, what do you feel the Assembly can/should offer the arts in Wales and how could the Assembly develop its own definitive Arts & Culture Policy?

Theatr Powys contends that the Assembly's Arts & Culture Policy should be produced from a National Vision for the arts and not through economic demand. The National Vision for the arts should be developed through a comprehensive, wide ranging and inclusive consultation process which truthfully reflects the range and diversity of voices and creative statements of people in Wales. A National Vision for the arts developed in this way would effectively be shared and owned by the citizens of Wales with its Stewardship resting with the National Assembly, who would then be seen as actively supporting social cohesion and the reinforcement of National Identity.

Having been placed by the Assembly in context with its own priorities and policies on employment, education, health and quality of life, the Arts & Culture Policy could then become a framework for the development of a Strategic Arts & Culture Plan which would be developed and implemented by the Arts & Cultural Plan which would be developed and implemented by the Arts Council of Wales (ACW). With further consultation and negotiation, the Strategic Arts & Culture Plan would incorporate delivery objectives and targets, informed by funding priorities and commitments agreed between ACW and the Assembly. What should be avoided in the future is the situation that occurred in 1999/2000 whereby ACW received a 2.8% increase in funding for the arts from the Welsh Office, yet decided to put professional Theatre in Wales on standstill. This decision was based on the argument that "Professional theatre receives the highest amount of ACW spending", yet the ACW Corporate Plan stressed that "the erosion of the funding base....has caused problems of sustainability, particularly in the performing arts.....the plan has to ensure the delivery of high quality work on a sustainable basis". The Assembly must ensure the equitable and fair distribution of funding, which should be subject to negotiation and Agreement between the Assembly and ACW, with the National Vision for the Arts, Arts & Cultural Policy and Strategic Arts & Cultural Plan as the guiding reference points.

This whole process does require a timetable and organisational structure, which is sufficient and manageable - underpinned with clarity, openness and transparency. A creative and co-operative partnership between ACW, the Assembly and other stakeholders in the arts in Wales is essential for the acceptance and successful implementation of arts and cultural policy and strategy, with the need for setting up appropriate communication structures and fora to facilitate monitoring and review.

What should be the principle objectives of an arts and cultural policy for Wales?

To support a developing infrastructure with long-term investment to achieve and maintain excellence in the arts, which draws on all creative talents and skills in Wales.

To promote access, quality and participation in the arts and enable everyone in Wales to benefit from the National Vision for the arts.

To reinforce National Identity and the promotion of Wales through its arts and cultural industries.

Should the priority of such a policy be based upon the arts in Wales or on Welsh arts? What should the balance be between the two?

It is important for the arts in Wales to benefit from a sharing of artistic work, practice and methodology within and outside the borders of Wales. Cultural tourism will continue to make a significant contribution to the economy of Wales. Presenting work from outside Wales should be undertaken to act as additionality to that which can be produced by the Welsh arts community - this can enrich the artistic life of Wales if it contributes through high quality and production values; increases cultural diversity; advances practice and methodology; shares artistic and cultural experiences. This should not be viewed as 'replacement therapy'; development of Welsh arts demands investment and nurturing.

Welsh arts has much to offer outside its own borders, through its contribution to provide 'added value' to trade delegations abroad. Promotion of Welsh arts should go beyond the National Companies, and embrace the Theatre for Young People (TYP) Companies who should be given adequate space and equal status in the multi-media promotional material for arts and culture in Wales produced by ACW, and by encouraging the participation of TYP in festivals and exchanges at home and abroad.

Support of Wales based companies through revenue grant aid is an imperative; it rewards investment by the Assembly in the long term, and through the development of a secure skills and knowledge base which has continuity of change. Revenue-funded, small/middle scale touring producing theatre companies have been major contributors to the employment and training of new and established arts practitioners in Wales. These Companies have developed community links and partnerships over many years. They continue to be an important source for new writing, as 'seedbeds' for the development of new work, practice and methodology in Wales. Rationalising these companies would result in considerable loss of long term employment and training opportunities. Arts practitioners in Wales benefit from access to work in employment and training opportunities. Arts practitioners in Wales benefit from access to work in Companies with policies and commitment towards investment in people and training. Reducing the number of revenue-funded companies would lead to an insecure, lower paid and lower skilled workforce.

Given a 'clean sheet', how would you suggest the Assembly structures its funding and management/development of the arts in Wales?

The Assembly should continue to sponsor the Arts Council of Wales (ACW), with ACW being more vigorously regulated and made more accountable to the Assembly, particularly through the consultation and negotiation processes outlined above. The National Vision for the arts in Wales would be held under the stewardship of the Assembly, with the use of ACW resources determined by negotiation related to the Arts & Cultural Policy. Funding and Policy should be the mechanisms used by the Assembly, with ACW used as the instrument for the distribution of funding and the facilitation of arts and cultural development in Wales.

An independent regulator should be appointed to oversee ACW's management, administration and decision making processes, as an immediately accessible point of contact to ensure fairness, openness and accountability. This appointment would be made without prejudice to established Appeals procedures.

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? 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?

ACW operate from a Code of Best Practice and, on the same day as deciding TYP 'franchises', the ACW Council also adopted the National Assembly Code of Practice on Public Access to Information. The National Assembly Code was subsequently referred to for not revealing the 'franchise' bids or how decisions were reached on TYP 'franchises' at evaluation stage and at ACW Council. Evidence suggests that ACW are not prepared voluntarily to operate in an open and transparent way. Information is often provided after lengthy time periods and much debate and discussion. It raises questions as to why ACW seeks to operate in a secretive environment. Much false and misleading information was provided by ACW to its Council, the Public, MPs, AMs, the press and media.

Theatr Powys have been consistent in expressing the view that decisions on TYP 'franchises' were politically and economically driven, with known outcomes.

Theatr Powys believe the Drama Strategy consultation process demonstrably failed to deliver on the basic principle that a truly inclusive consultation process should draw on the experience, aspirations and views of arts practitioners and all those people who have an interest and involvement in the arts in Wales. By the end of such a consultation process everyone who would wish to participate in the debate on shaping arts policy in Wales should have had an opportunity to do so. In practice the level, nature and scope of the consultation was insufficient, resulting in the exclusion of many groups, organisations and individuals from the process. E.g. Management Boards were not consulted, along with the majority of schools, teachers, youth theatres etc., with a minimal level of consultation with companies and local authorities. Only 50+ copies of the 'Professional Theatre for Young People (TYP) in Wales' document was circulated nationally, with only 37 written and verbal responses received from the whole of Wales. This contradicted the ACW advance statement that: "ACW is currently developing options which will draw on existing strengths and will consult all interest groups including schools, local authorities and theatre companies".

The consultation paper lacked the necessary level of detail, quality of information, accuracy and analytical integrity. This prevented Theatr Powys and many other companies from making the quality of informed and authentic responses to the draft proposals they would have wanted to make. From small and unrepresentative samples of responses, distorted and selective analytical conclusions were derived by ACW, e.g. (from the TYP consultation process) 33 out of 37 respondents (9:1) were in favour of supporting fewer well resourced TYP companies BUT 31 out of the same sample of 37 respondents (5:1) were against rationalising the present provision. From this data therefore, 29 out of the 37 respondents voted in favour and against. A confusing, contradictory and inconclusive picture! Such unreliable data (more so, as figures were expressed in proportionality ratios) should not have been used to justify the "fund fewer better" option without some explanation of the data and statistical information in the form of a sensitivity analysis. Further, the question of "funding fewer better" was linked to the probability of continuation of standstill funding. The true position in 1999/2000 was that ACW received a 2.8% uplift (1% in real terms) in funding from the Welsh Office, yet it was they, the Arts Council of Wales, who decided to freeze (and effectively cut!) funding for professional theatre in Wales.

The method adopted by ACW for establishing the amount of funding TYP in 2000/1 was, in the words of Mike Baker (Director of Artform Development, ACW) "simplistic". The method of arriving at a significantly reduced level of funding in the sum of 720,000 for TYP 'franchises' is still regarded by the TYP companies as flawed and deserving of independent scrutiny, e.g. only TIE productions were used in the calculation, depressing the level of funding arrived at, as compared to using the true number of TYP productions. ACW did not take fully into account such conclusions as, quote: "On the basis of current successes, (Respondents) argued that the present network (of 8 TIE companies) should be strengthened".

The timetable for consultation and development of the Drama strategy was insufficient, and did not allow for the responsible management of change. The timetable also denied Assembly input and involvement in the development of the Drama Strategy.

Do you feel the Council's structure and organisation is appropriate to enable it to develop national arts strategies and to manage the distribution of Assembly funding?

Theatr Powys welcomes the National Assembly's intended Management review of ACW.

In your view, how well have the arts been supported across all regions of Wales, particularly in promoting the medium of Welsh language?
Promotion of the arts, particularly in promoting the Welsh language has been polarised North and South, whilst the real work of promoting the Welsh language in the arts has been going on outside of these two areas.

Welsh language touring theatre has not received enough support. Welsh language community theatre tours to rural areas with audiences suffering from poverty, isolation and social exclusion. The populations can be made up of mainly elderly people.

New theatre writing in the Welsh language needs support at all levels. Venues and promoters in the Welsh speaking areas of rural Wales need greater marketing and promotional support through networking and innovative funding schemes which could develop the infrastructure, training and artistic development of Welsh language theatre. Positive action should be taken to extend funding through the ACW 'Night Out' scheme for the presentation of Welsh language touring theatre in community venues.

Do you agree with the principle of "funding fewer better" i.e. concentrating on a lesser number of organisations with a view to significantly improving the quality of productions?
Improving quality of productions should not be confused with the issue of "funding fewer better". ACW has a responsibility for on-going monitoring, evaluation and annual review of all companies' work. There are established procedures in ACW and other arts agencies for dealing with quality standards in the arts, in accordance with best practice on fairness, openness and accountability. Areas where 'qualities of productions' are low heed to be identified, with questions raised at the earliest opportunity, and the matter dealt with through established procedures. A Company having its 'quality of productions' questioned may have received huge levels of public investment over many years. The public and the Company deserve the right to see quality standards addressed in an atmosphere of mutual co-operation between funder and client, and for the Company to be given every opportunity to achieve the agreed quality standards. The TYP franchise' process showed an abdication of responsibility by ACW to oversee quality standards through established procedures and best practice, and avoided normal evaluation procedures through the ARTform Development Committee. Through the TYP 'franchise' process companies were being threatened with closure when questions had not previously been raised about their 'quality of productions'.

The savage attack by ACW on the Theatre for Young People sector in Wales, and intended reduction of 189,000 for TYP in Wales (based on the ACW Capital Plan for 2000/1), was carried out in the name of "funding fewer organisations better". Where a National network of theatre provision has been set up, the consequences of reducing the number of companies at a later date is to demand the remaining companies 'fill the holes' in provision, requiring more work over a wider geographical area - as was the case in the Mid & West Wales and North Wales TYP 'franchise' areas. This situation can have enormous budgetary implications through increased expenditure on touring costs to reach audiences across a larger service region - a poor return on public funding, with low cost effectiveness in service delivery. Additional company resources need to be used in developing new relationships and networks through marketing, liaison, and work familiarisation. Destruction of networks in this way is a failure to recognise the importance of 'regional identity', reflected in the location of Companies in particular areas. "Funding fewer organisations better" can be used as another term for rationalisation and, with a national network of provision can result in the destruction of long-established strategic and funding partnerships and relationships between companies and communities.

In the case of the Mid & West Wales TYP 'franchise' area, theatre companies and local authorities consistently argued that the vast geographical area comprising the four counties of Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Penbrokeshire and Powys could not be serviced effectively or cost efficiently by one company. The Funding Agreement for Mid & West Wales was established at 185,000 for producing and presenting work bilingually in the four counties. Arad Goch and Theatr Powys are currently in receipt of revenue grant aid of 306.648, i.e. ACW intended to cut the funding for theatre for young people in Mid & West Wales by 121,648 (40%) to "fund fewer better"! If awarded the TYP 'franchise' for Mid & West Wales, Arad Goch would have received an extra 12,268 for additional touring in Powys (the largest county in Britain) plus large parts of Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire. Theatr Powys consistently argued that being awarded the TYP 'franchise' for Mid & West Wales would not have resulted in being "funded better", because the additional income would have been outweighed by the considerable additional costs on travel, accommodation and allowances in delivering across such a large region.

The Assembly must take account of the National Vision for the arts in Wales and Arts & Cultural Policy to establish the necessary increased level of funding which is desperately needed for the successful, sustainable development of theatre for young people in Wales. "BETTER FUND BETTER" is better!

Which body/bodies should play a key role in the management and distribution of European funding to the arts?
The assembly in conjunction with a vigorously regulated ACW, with the framework of the National Vision for the arts, Art & Cultural Policy and Strategic Plan as the guiding reference points for the distribution of funding.

What more can Wales Arts International, or others, do in promoting Wales' creative industries abroad?

Develop their facilitation and funding of festivals and exchanges.

How do you feel the arts can contribute to tackling social exclusion in Wales and what barriers presently exist which hinder progress?

The arts are a powerful source for tackling social exclusion by providing access for individuals and communities to powerful creative and expressive processes which can assist in generating social cohesion, reinforcing local identity, inspiring confidence, developing skills, educating, informing and enriching people's life experiences.

Social exclusion exists in many parts of Wales, not only in the South Wales Valleys. The problems of social exclusion exist in our Cities, Towns, Villages and outlying rural areas. Recognition of social exclusion and isolation in our communities has been realised through the European Union's declaration of new Objective One Status for many parts of Wales including the West, South West and parts of Mid Wales. The Assembly in conjunction with ACW must ensure that opportunities are maximised for arts involvement and intervention to assist in projects tackling social exclusion, through the use of money which will be made available to the arts under both economic and social regeneration elements of the new Object One programme. Funding for arts related projects and partnership schemes, which include the arts as an element within projects, must be made available through simplified application procedures with flexibility in guidelines and criteria. Measurement of outcomes and outputs must be reasonable and appropriate to the arts.

The existing network of 8 TIE companies has made a significant and important contribution towards tackling social exclusion through the production and touring of new and company devised theatre work in the English and Welsh languages to community venues in a range of different urban and rural settings, running youth theatres, undertaking theatre in education programmes in schools etc. People of al ages, backgrounds and income levels have had access to the revenue-funded companies' work over many years. Community touring theatre will continue to make an important contribution towards tackling social exclusion. Theatr Powys have condemned ACW's intentions, through the Drama Strategy, of shifting resources away from supporting revenue-funded companies in fixed term (and Lottery) funded projects, as this would create an unstable and insecure production base for community touring theatre in Wales. This proposed shift is a development which contradicts the aims, objectives, and principles laid out in ACW's Corporate Plan which stresses the need for "a sustainable array of revenue-funded arts organisations which can play a strategic role and deliver a consistent quality of activity". It also does not take account of ACW objectives and policies towards ensuring access and opportunity for the people of Wales to experience and enjoy the arts "within a reasonable distance of their home and at reasonable prices".

Project and new initiatives funding should operate alongside, and not replace, a well-funded array of revenue Companies producing work in English and Welsh languages, which is the model by which Theatr Powys believe ACW goals of "promoting a long term view" through the production of "high quality work on a sustainable basis" can be achieved.

Theatr Powys have condemned the ACW intentions in the Drama Strategy to prioritise funding for the "flagship companies" in Wales (e.g. WNPACs, including Theatr Clwyd Cymru) as part of the ACW's drive to "increase exports of arts and cultural industries". This prioritisation is taking place at the same time as proposals are being implemented which will de-stabilise and de-construct the existing model of community touring provision in Wales. "The strengthening of the economic base of the arts in Wales" should be encouraged through investment of resources in Welsh communities and the indigenous revenue-funded companies, and not towards prioritised investment in prestigious flagship arts enterprises.

What support should the Assembly be providing to sustain or increase the viability and income of creative industries in Wales?
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author:Theatr Powys

original source: Theatr Powys
18 February 2000


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