Theatre in Wales

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Politics must not interfere with art     

POLITICIANS were warned yesterday of setting a "dangerous precedent" by taking over the funding decisions of a North Wales theatre.

An influential committee of MPs said the Welsh Assembly was wrong to give itself the power to distribute cash to prestigious arts groups.

In November, the Assembly announced it would take over handing out grants to Mold's Clwyd Theatr Cymru and five other leading arts groups from the Welsh Arts Council quango.

But a report by the culture, media and sport committee has criticised the move, saying AMs and MPs should keep an "arm's length" from distributing cash to cultural groups.

It said "fortunately there is no prospect" of the government copying the Welsh example for English theatres. Members of the arts community fear plays and performances will be open to political interference or even censorship if funding decisions are made by politicians.

Ian McGarry, general secretary of performing arts union Equity, told MPs: "We think that is dangerous precedent and would not want to see it happen in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland."

An Equity spokesman yesterday said: "The Welsh Arts Council has been left with a rump of organisations to fund. We believe funding decisions should be independent and quite separate from government and politicians. We would not want funding to rely on political whim. What happens if a government changes and a new administration has very different priorities?"

The Assembly originally wanted to scrap the Welsh Arts Council all together but backed down after sustained pressure from theatre groups. Its compromise was to take over the funding decisions for six key groups - the Welsh National Opera, Clwyd Theatr Cymru, the Welsh language National Theatre, Diversions Dance Company, The Academy and the BBC National Orchestra Wales.

Terry Hands, director of the Clwyd Theatr Cymru, said he has experienced more political interference from quangos than governments who directly fund the arts.

He said: "I have worked in seven European countries at a national level where there were no quangos, and there was no political interference and they had more money. "Everyone meddles in the arts," he said. "I would rather have someone trying to meddle who is directly elected than a quango."

A spokeswoman for the Welsh National Assembly said: "The Welsh Assembly Government already directly funds projects as varied as the Wales Millennium Centre and the Artes Mundi Prize for visual arts, so the decision to take over direct funding for the six national Welsh arts organisations is just a logical extension of this situation."
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Tuesday, April 05, 2005back



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