Theatre in Wales

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

Gwent Theatre's submission to the Post 16 educatio

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 Culture Policy?

The Assembly should establish a national policy for the arts in Wales, and then develop - and enforce - a system to ensure that a reformed Arts Council of Wales delivers that policy.

Determining the policy will require wide-ranging and continuous consultation both with the arts community and with the local authorities, businesses, communities and individuals who pay for and benefit from the arts.

Ensuring that a reformed Council delivers the policy will require NAW scrutiny not only (as at present) of procedural irregularities, but also of substantive decisions. The Assembly should establish an Arts committee to consider the operation and impact of the arts across all of its functions; and it should consider the appointment of a Secretary for the Arts, Culture and Media. A reformed Arts Council’s administration of arts funding must be transparent and robust enough to stand up to ongoing committee scrutiny. The ‘arms’ length’ principle is a safeguard against undue political interference, but there is a difference between working at arms’ length and flying at the end of a very long kite string, that can only be twitched once a year.

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

To promote, foster and support in every corner of Wales artistic creation of the highest quality, both large scale and small scale.

To give people in Wales the opportunity to experience and enjoy the work of artists, makers and performers, and to be artists, makers and performers themselves, thus enabling the arts to make their unique contribution to education, cultural enrichment, employment, economic development, social inclusion and community regeneration.

To ensure that the talent and creativity of Wales is recognised throughout the world.

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

Both. To predetermine a balance would create the risk of discrimination between practitioners on grounds other than merit, and of compromising on our suggested first objective - the promotion of work of the highest quality.

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

By establishing an audit of what we have and what we need. By consulting with artists, audiences, companies, local authorities, schools, businesses and other national agencies.

By using the outcomes of this audit and consultation to construct the brief that it gives to ACW as its facilitator and funder, and then being rigorous and persistent in ensuring that ACW adheres to the brief.

Above all, by working in partnership with all who have a stake in arts provision. In the case of the local authorities, this partnership in policy-making should be linked to a revival of the principle and practice of

partnership funding.

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 that could have been done differently?

Our experience of dealing with ACW over the last eighteen months is the subject of a separate detailed file which we have submitted in evidence to Post 16 Committee. We believe that the case made in that file shows the Arts

Council officers to have been autocratic and secretive. Their Appeals Procedure is fundamentally and legally flawed and vulnerable to challenge. We do not believe that our case for a funding agreement in the recent competitive bidding was properly evaluated - indeed, we feel that it was barely considered by ACW officers pursuing a predetermined agenda, whose ‘judgements’ were accepted with insufficient challenge by panel members who had no direct experience of our work. In these circumstances we are not surprised at the continued refusal of ACW to make public the reasons for their decisions in this process.

We were not alone in opposing from the outset the basic approach of the Drama Strategy to Theatre in Education. ‘Funding fewer better’ did not seem to us to satisfy ACW’s duty to increase accessibility. Our views, and those of many other bodies and individuals throughout the consultation period were never properly represented in the reporting process. Submissions were suppressed or subjected to ruthless editing to give the impression of a response largely favourable to ACW’s proposals.

In considering the response to the strategy, and during the competition for funding agreements, ACW’s ‘consultation’ of local authorities was particularly flawed. The decision to retreat from the proposed funding process - ostensibly as a result of pressure from these same authorities - illustrates an initial lack of consultation.

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?

No. We have made it clear that we believe that an Assembly committee, not the Council, should determine national strategy. A reconstituted Arts Council, with more professionalism, more experience as practitioners, and above all with a greater willingness to listen, could certainly contribute to the development of strategy, and manage the distribution of funding. Also, properly constituted, it would be better able to represent arts practitioners and make the case for increases in arts funding.

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

There has been a reasonable network of provision across Wales with small producing companies based in most areas. Companies and organisations which tour locally have responded to the needs of local communities by promoting

work through the medium of Welsh language that reflects the expectations and particular needs of an area. If policies proposed by ACW are implemented it is inconceivable that the present level of provision will be maintained.

8.Do you agree with the principle of ‘funding fewer better’ ie concentrating on a lesser number of organisations with a view to significantly improving the quality of productions?

No. In Theatre in Education the requirement to provide all pupils with experience of live theatre on several occasions in their school lives demands the maintenance of at least eight companies. The proposed ‘better’ funding which in fact involved a cut of 168,000) was designed to reach a smaller audience than is served at present.

All these companies require better funding. They meet expressed community needs; they have spin-offs in the provision of Youth Theatre and receiving venues; they contribute to programmes of social inclusion and community

regeneration in otherwise deprived areas; and they should not be sacrificed to a dogma that does not achieve its declared objectives.

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

The Assembly should ensure that appropriate bodies employ the necessary experts to manage this complex process, and to assist and advise companies making individual applications.

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

Most of the TIE companies make links and exchanges with companies in other countries by taking work to festivals, networking and sharing working practices with other companies. These exchanges are invaluable to the development of cultural diversity and the promotion of Wales abroad but often receive little or no

recognition. WAI could do more to assist companies by developing their information facilities and providing assistance with applications for European funding within a reasonable time scale.

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

The role of the arts in education has a vital part to play in addressing socialexclusion and the role of the Theatre in Education Companies in particular is instrumental in introducing young people to the arts at an early age. The very nature of the work is all inclusive and contributes to the development of an interest in our cultural heritage and the diversity of the world in which we live. It provides an environment which gives opportunities for young people to express their own ideas, values and feelings to enable them to participate in building a society which is creative, diverse and inclusive. The value of a network of small

companies serving a number of local authority areas leads to the development of wider community benefits responding to particular social needs through workshops, performances and youth theatre activities designed to develop communication skills, awareness and confidence. They provide identity, focus and a heart to the community which was demonstrated recently when our company was threatened with closure. Access to the arts should not depend on where people live or the ability to pay but it will do if proposed policies are put into practice.

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

The arts should be given a higher profile within the Assembly with the establishment of an Arts committee and a Secretary for the Arts, Culture and Media in Wales.

Recognise the importance of the creative industries to education, employment and the economy. Delay any proposals for Theatre for Young People until April 2002 with a minimum of 3 year funding to allow for planning, stability and the prospect of development. Increased resources to bring Wales, at the very least, in line with England.

Theme Rankings.

We feel that all the themes are of equal importance.

All six themes are key issues for assessing the arts in Wales.

Our company aims to address all of these objectives as an integral part of our work.

Additional resources are required to enable more effective development of these themes

author:Gwent Theatre

original source: National Assembly for Wales
18 May 2000


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