Theatre in Wales

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

Drama Association of Wales submission to the Post

Drama Association of Wales/Cymdeithas Ddrama Cymru

The Drama Association of Wales welcomes the opportunity to respond to consultation within the National Assembly Review on Arts and Culture Policy for Wales.

The Drama Association of Wales is the umbrella body for participatory theatre in Wales; founded in 1934 and core funded by the Arts Council of Wales since 1973.

The function of the Drama Association of Wales is to increase opportunities for people in the community to be creatively involved in drama which is enjoyable and of a high standard.

The organisation exists to promote participation in amateur theatre activities. In 1934 the association started as the Drama Committee of the South Wales Council for the Social Services as a way to help the unemployed to get involved in drama and a playscript library with low hire charges was set up. That was the starting point and it has remained central to our operation ever since.

The association has a full time paid staff of four based in the former branch library in Splott and a shared member of staff with the National Eisteddfod of Wales who works from the Eisteddfod offices in Llanelli. In addition DAW has a volunteer staff of five whose input amounts to one and a half full time employees.

DAW is a registered charity and has an Executive Committee elected from the membership which includes representatives of the six area organisations for participatory theatre in Wales.

The core service of the organisation is its playscript library – the largest English language theatre lending library in Europe. Members hire copies for playreadings, to choose a play for performance, for research and educational purposes.

Other services provided by the organisation include a newsletter, generating new writing, play publishing, festival organisation, training and general information services. In addition to this DAW acts as an advocate for participatory theatre locally, nationally and internationally.

The current membership of DAW is 250 Individual Members and 300 Group Members. With the average membership of an amateur theatre company numbering 167.9 this gives approximately 50,300 people benefiting directly from DAW’s services (Central Council for Amateur Theatre Survey 1989). Membership is made up of participatory theatre companies, educational establishments, interested individuals etc.

DAW is currently developing a project in collaboration with Voluntary Arts Wales to provide a new home for the organisation and its library collections, whilst also offering accommodation and shared resource facilities to several other voluntary arts organisations. The concept of which is to provide a focus and base for the voluntary arts in Wales. Thereby raising the profile of the participatory arts and the umbrella and infrastructure bodies who represent the sector.

Note: At a meeting held on 3 March 2000 between representatives of DAW, Voluntary Arts Wales, Welsh Joint Education Committee and Wales Amateur Music Federation a large measure of agreement in response to the questions posed was reached. For the convenience of members reference should be made to the submission presented by Voluntary Arts Wales.

1 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 and Cultural Policy?

There is an immediate need for a clear arts and cultural policy for Wales. Policy should be written through continuous dialogue and consultation with the arts community in Wales. The task of developing policy should fall under the auspices of the Assembly and an Assembly Secretary for Culture should be appointed thus moving the arts from marginal representation within the Assembly and giving the Arts and Cultural Industries within Wales the status they deserve. This individual should be informed and aware of the diverse cultural uniqueness that is Arts in Wales.

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

The principle objective should be recognition of the value of participation in the arts and reinforcement of the policies pertaining to this as written in the ACW document "Taking Part".

Quality must remain a principal objective. In terms of participation quality should and can only be measured by the participant in terms of quality of experience.

Sustainable funding mechanisms must be established to support infrastructure bodies and allow them to plan strategically on a long term basis and to support a network of opportunities for participation for all the people of Wales.

3 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?

Policy should be based on the Arts in Wales; being totally culturally inclusive; representing the communities and cultures making and participating in the arts in Wales.

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

The roles of Policy, Strategy and Funding need to separated. Whilst the Assembly should be the body establishing Arts and Cultural Policy for Wales the organisations whose job it is to deliver these policies are best placed to establish the strategy by which this is achieved. In establishing its own clear Arts and Cultural Policy for Wales the Assembly has the opportunity to establish a democratic system for serving the arts at every level in Wales.

The model as offered by Voluntary Arts Wales (see attached), is a fairer more representative structure which would establish for the first time direct connection between the governing body for Wales and the creative community.

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? 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?

DAW has a good working relationship with ACW and is included in most consultation processes relating to participatory theatre. However, despite having been a client of the ACW Drama Department for 24 years, until moved to become a client of the Access Division in 1997; DAW was excluded from the consultation process of the Drama Strategy and participatory theatre was ignored as being part of the provision of drama in Wales.

The consultation process was flawed and not broad enough. It is the responsibility of any arts funding agency to consult broadly and with clearly stated objectives. Any consultation process should take into account that most organisations have obligations to their Boards of Management and consultation processes should take into account that any response needs to be presented to these boards at quarterly meetings – this involves a lengthy but fairer process.

6 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.

Although there is an Advisory panel structure within ACW any recommendations made at this level or by officers can be overturned at Council. This is undemocratic, unrepresentative, costly and a complete waste of people’s time.

DAW represents participatory theatre in Wales. By funding DAW through the Access Division the arts council denies the vital role played by participatory theatre within drama in Wales. Segregating access and participation issues effectively removes them from art form consideration and complicates the relationship between the professional and voluntary arts. This in turn can devalue the artistic contribution of participatory arts.

7 In your view how well have the arts been supported across all the regions of Wales, particularly in promoting the medium of the Welsh language?

There are weaknesses in the activity maps of a lot of voluntary arts organisations. These are particularly noticeable in rural areas, Merthyr Tydfil, Swansea Valleys and the North Wales coast including Anglesey. The number of Welsh language participatory theatre activists have been traditionally difficult to quantify this is largely owing to the lack of confidence Welsh language groups have in looking outside their immediate environs. Funding has never been available to develop means of offering the same services to this area as enjoyed by the wider drama scene in Wales.

8 Do you agree with the principle of "funding fewer better" i.e. concentrating resources on a lesser number of organisations with a view to significantly improving the quality of productions?

It is a contradiction to advocate increasing access to the arts through a policy that reduces the opportunities to get involved. Using short term, geographically based funding solutions, to redress the historical underfunding of the arts is destructive and divisive.

Following many years of tightening the arts funding purse strings and four years (1995 – 99) of standstill funding to ACW clients, any arts organisation whose existence could not be justified has already fallen by the wayside. Reducing the number of clients would effectively reduce the opportunities for the people of Wales to experience the arts.

However, the lack of parity of funding between the participatory arts and other arts sectors needs addressing in order to bring arts funding in line with the priorities already published by the Assembly.

9 Which body/bodies should play a key role in the management and distribution of European funding for the arts?

The current system whereby arts organisations access European funds via WEPE and other agencies, in competition with other sectors, has produced a reasonable degree of funding for a wide range of organisations. Future funding will not, as we understand it, be accessed via this mechanism.

The "arts strand" of Objective One has been removed from the Single Programme Document and this, along with stated EU policy, confirms the fact that Europe’s interest in funding the arts is limited to outputs such as jobs, social cohesion and economic regeneration. Funding will be accessed under various strands of the programme and what is needed is not a "ghettoised" area of funding with a limited budget but an increase in the knowledge and skills to access European funds. The expertise in this area lies with VAW and the WCVA not within the Arts Council.

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

In recognition of the existence of the Compact there should be open access to funding for international travel and cultural exchanges for those working and participating in the voluntary arts. International Participatory Theatre has always relied on the private input of those individuals involved, thus making the international exchange of amateur theatre companies a privilege of the few. Nor should international development be limited to the flagships. With limited resources DAW have taken advantage of a niche market for shorter length plays which have been marketed at European amateur theatre festivals. This has resulted in productions of plays by Welsh writers all over Europe, Canada the Sultanate of Oman and as far as Australia.

An amateur theatre company based in Gelligaer was recently invited to perform to an audience of two thousand at a festival in South Korea and received a standing ovation for their innovative production. The company travelled to South Korea having fundraised for two years and was told that both British Council and Wales Arts International funding were not available for non-professional work. Their work has built valuable links between the two countries forging greater understanding and sharing cultural experiences. Every member of the group, as with all the groups who travel each year to other countries, acts as an ambassador for Wales.

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

Please refer to the response by Voluntary Arts Wales.

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

The arts and creative industries in Wales need the Assembly to recognise their status in terms of their input to the economy of Wales. The Assembly should encourage partnerships between business, sponsors and local authorities with the participatory arts sector.

The annual DAW Summer School draws in participants on the basis of a third each Wales, UK and the rest of the World spending at least a week in Wales and contributing approximately 500 per person to the local economy. Festivals with an International representation draw in cultural tourists whose spend per night can be estimated at 100.

author:Drama Association of Wales

original source: National Assembly for Wales
22 March 2000


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