Theatre in Wales

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

Bara Caws's submission to the Post 16 Education Co

A Review of the Arts and Culture Policy: Theatr Bara Caws Paper

In your opinion, apart from the provision of extra money, what should/can the Assembly offer the arts in Wales and how can the Assembly develop its final Arts and Culture Policy?

We suggest that the Arts should be separated from 'Post 16 Education and Training' and a Secretary with responsibility for culture should be appointed. We have doubts about the model where the Assembly directly steers and funds the Arts. There will always be a need for an agency between the Assembly and the providers. The Assembly's priority should be to reform the current system to create a body which is more accountable to participants and providers. We cautiously support the principle.

What should be the arts and culture policy's main principle in Wales?

We believe that accessibility is the main principle for the Arts in Wales. Because we are a professional theatre company which takes theatre to the community, our analysis of accessibility is reaching the widest possible audience. Of course, those who work in amateur/community theatre probably have a different analysis to ours. But it's important to remember that both sectors have a role to play in a national theatrical structure which acknowledges accessibility as a main principle. But further development in the numbers which experience theatre, whether as a member of the audience or as a participant, can only happen with more investment.

Should such a policy principle be based on arts in Wales or on Welsh Arts? What should be the balance between the two?

We are not sure what the differences are between the Arts in Wales and Welsh Arts. If the difference is a difference between traditional Welsh culture and professional arts, then the two undoubtedly have a role to play in modern Wales. We believe that there is too much emphasis on 'amateur' in the current climate which will, in the long term, lead us to a lack of artistic and cultural energy.

With a 'clean slate' how do you suggest the Assembly should structure its arrangements for funding and managing/developing the arts in Wales?

With a 'clean slate' we believe that a similar body to the Welsh Arts Council would develop organically and in time it would suffer the same problems as the Welsh Arts Council. There is no point therefore in abolishing the Council; the work practices of the present body must be reformed to ensure transparency and accountability by following the Assembly's example.

In your experience, how open and accessible has the Welsh Arts Council been when listening to your opinion and dealing with your ideas?
Using the Drama Strategy as an example do you believe that the consultation process has been well managed or should matters have been dealt with differently?

In the past we have maintained a constructive relationship with the Welsh Arts Council, therefore we cannot talk from the perspective of those who have been wronged. It's obvious to us that the Council has made quite a few mistakes in implementing its drama policy; a policy which we basically supported. We believe that it's time to reform the Welsh theatre and to abolish the less productive/successful elements of it. But how does one assess the artistic quality and entirety of an individual or company? If the Arts Council had created an objective assessment process we suggest that perhaps the recent fiasco would not have occurred. The key word is honesty. Unfortunately, 'politics' always hinders the process.

Do you believe that the Council's structure and organisation are appropriate in enabling it to develop national arts strategies and control the distribution of the Assembly funding?

We believe that the Welsh Arts Council, in its present form, can administer the Assembly funding for the benefit of the arts community. However, after restructuring following this consultation process, we hope that the Council, jointly with the Assembly (and hopefully the Welsh Cultural Secretary) will be able to create strategies for a prosperous future for the Arts in Wales.

We can foresee a model where National companies, the flagships of dance/drama and opera will be accountable to, and will be directly funded by the Assembly. This will benefit the Welsh language National provision and it will secure parity with the English medium provision, which at present is favoured. From experience it's obvious that the Welsh language Theatre hasn't the power to attract money from the private sector. More equality of public support is therefore needed for the Welsh language Theatre, or at least parity with the English language.

In you opinion, have the arts been well supported across every region in Wales, especially in the promotion of the Welsh language?

Considering the percentage of Welsh speakers in Wales, historically the provision has been fairly good. However, we are concerned about the whole nature of funding the 'powerhouse' and the delay in development. As the Welsh language increases geographically more Welsh language theatrical provision is necessary in the south. We are a service, following the advice of the Welsh Arts Council, eager to accomplish such an evolution, if funding allowed. Our concern is that the situation will remain unchanged as a result of the advent of a National Theatre. If we consider the theatre provision in Wales, generally there has been a substantial investment, but unless there is investment in the products themselves, investment in stage performanes would be in vain since there would be no productions to stage and promote.

Do you agree with the principle of 'funding fewer for better' i.e. to channel resources on fewer organisation with a view to substantially improving productions?

We need a national theatre to guarantee quality products for the audience and also to offer a constructive career structure for providers. But the development of a National Theatre should not be at the expense of small companies such as new project and writing companies. In an exciting theatrical climate a balance is needed between the two to ensure that both feed on the creativity of one another. It was disappointing to hear that no drama project grants have been offered this year due to difficulties with the strategy. As a result there's a possibility that there will be no commissioned play in the National Eisteddfod this year.

Which body/bodies should play a key role in managing and distributing European funds for the arts?
The same body as the one which distributes grants.

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

It's essential that we have an embassy agency on behalf of the arts in Wales. We are a small nation and through our culture we can justify ourselves on an international stage. This is what Quebec did and perhaps we should follow their example. Welsh International Arts could work more closely with the Welsh Culture Secretary to raise awareness of our innate overseas culture.

How can the arts contribute to dealing with social exclusion in Wales and what obstacles currently prevent any progress?

We do not believe that it is the theatre's main function to deal with social exclusion. However, we believe that some sectors of the profession are more equipped to deal with the problem, for example 'youth theatre' (In fact, under a system with a cultural secretary responsible for funding our arts, we suggest the possibility of leaving youth theatre under the care of the post 16 committee). We believe that our role in Bara Caws is to entertain, motivate and excite audiences throughout Wales without an educational agenda, although of course there are educational and social elements to every theatrical experience. The theatre has the ability to unite and influence the course of society, and a society with a lively artistic life is a healthy and hopeful one.

What support should the Assembly provide to maintain or increase the viability and income of the creative industry in Wales?
Better investment in the medium. Every type of theatre, from national provision to children with disabilities' workshops have a role in modern society. Quality and excellence are the important factors. We can accomplish this with better funding. We are confident that the Assembly is aware that our cultural industries play an important part in our country's economy. Investment in the Arts is not an empty investment; it's an investment which secures jobs, especially in the deprived areas. The theatre is not elitist. It has a key role to play in Wales' economy.

author:Bara Caws

original source: National Assembly for Wales
31 March 2000


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