Theatre in Wales

The latest theatre, dance and performance news

Arts back on track after a momentous 12 months     

As ever the report is published when we are already well into the following financial year, and many of the developments predicted in the report have advanced substantially.

In preparing a list of the 10 key achievements of the past year, I have largely resisted the temptation to focus on organisational and cultural changes, although these have been critical to the progress we have made in developing the arts in Wales.

The process of change has been driven through by the chair, Sybil Crouch, and the council, who recognised the need for change, and ensured that the lessons of past mistakes were taken on board.

The commitment and dedication of the council's staff in the last year, in the face of huge organisational upheaval as we restructured and changed almost all of our working practices, has been inspirational, and they deserve full credit for what has been achieved.

Also central to the achievement has been the role played by the National Assembly. The publication by the Minister for Culture Sport and the Welsh Language of the Culture Strategy, Creative Future: Cymru Creadigol, created a strategic framework for the work of the council and was backed up by a 23% increase in funding, which allowed for consolidation of many arts organisations and significant developments in key areas.

The arts in Wales suffered from many years of standstill funding and cuts in real terms, and this injection of cash is helping to redress the damage this caused. Further significant injections will be essential if the arts are to make their full contribution to the life of Wales, both in terms of enriching the lives of people and communities through participation and attendance, but also through their contribution in other aspects of Welsh life, providing employment, promoting tourism, contributing to regeneration, sustaining and promoting the Welsh language, as a core component of education, and in promoting national identity, national pride and international recognition.

Choosing a top 10 has been difficult, with so much going on, but these are some of the highlights, in no particular order.

* In the past year, ACW has been implementing its largest capital programme ever. There are new developments and major upgrading throughout Wales including the Newport Theatre and Arts Centre, the new Wrexham Theatre, Theatre Mwldan in Ceredigion, the recently re-opened Oriel Davies in New-town, the Doc Victoria development in Caernarfon and of course, ACW's largest ever grant for the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff.

Along with a proposed new arts centre in Merthyr and a gallery in Pembrokeshire, these will ensure that ACW's commitment to providing high quality access to the arts throughout Wales is delivered.

* One of the greatest casualties of the lack of arts spending in the past was theatre in the Welsh language. ACW, with financial backing from the Assembly, has been developing a new Welsh Language National Theatre Company through the year, and the chair and board have now been appointed. In addition, ACW has funded the production of two new large scale Welsh language plays, Dan y Wennallt, a Welsh language version of Under Milk Wood, and Amdani, a play based on the popular S4C series, both of which will be on stage in the very near future, and offer a glimpse of what we can expect once the new company is fully established.

* All of these developments took place in the context of Supporting Creativity, ACW's new five-year arts development strategy, which was produced following extensive consultation with our partners throughout Wales. It sets out a clear vision for the future development of the arts in Wales in all art forms and cross-cutting issues, and reflects the council's ambition and commitment to delivery. It will be formally launched in the very near future.

* Despite Wales's great tradition in the visual arts, we have never been represented at the Venice Biennale, the premier international festival for the visual arts. ACW was delighted to have been at the forefront in developing and funding the part-nership, which is putting the finishing touches to the arrangements for the Welsh Pavilion in Venice later this year. The recent announcement of the artists has been widely

welcomed, and this is another major step in putting Wales on the world stage. ACW is also pleased to have been involved in the development of the Artes Mundi prize, which will be the largest international art prize in the world, and will be held in Wales Biennale.

* The Welsh National Opera enjoys international renown for the quality of its work, and again, helps to keep Wales on the world map. This year, we have been able to put together a stabilisation package with WNO and our colleagues in the Arts Council of England, which has secured the financial future of the opera, and enabled it to concentrate on music making, rather than struggling for survival. Funding from the Assembly has also secured the future of two-week seasons in Swansea and Llandudno, as well as extensive outreach and educational work around Wales.

* Wales has achieved international recognition for the quality of its community arts which play a vital role in promoting participation in communities across Wales, including some of those most deprived and those in rural areas. This work had traditionally been funded through project grants, and many of the organisations faced an insecure future. With the help of the additional funding from the Assembly, six key community arts organisations are now in receipt of revenue funding, thus securing their work for the future.

* One of the criticisms of the old ACW was that too many key decisions were taken centrally, and that the role of the local offices in Carmarthen and Colwyn Bay was too restrictive. This year, major devolution has taken place to local offices and committees, who are now responsible for large areas of grant expenditure. In addition, a new local office was established for South Wales. This enables ACW to work much more effectively in local partnerships and to respond to the differing requirements of communities throughout Wales.

* The involvement of young people in the arts is a key priority for ACW, and the launch of the pilot projects for promoting and developing this involvement is a major step forward. The first four projects are now under way in Anglesey, Gwynedd, Merthyr Tydfil and Newport. The projects are funded by ACW and are being run by the local authorities. Hundreds of young people have been enabled to participate in arts activities in areas where opportunities have been previously limited.

* The future development of theatre in education has been a controversial topic for discussion in Wales for several years, and ACW is pleased to have worked to secure agreed proposals, which were developed in part-nership with the sector, and envisage a future provision based on the entitlement of all school children to have access to theatre in education during each of the key stages. The announcement by the minister that funding will be made available to begin implementing these proposals in the coming year is most welcome.

* This is the Year of Cultural Diversity in the arts, and ACW has recognised this by investing more than £60,000 in projects to take place during the year. Highlights include the production and touring of a theatre in education piece, designed to help children recognise and combat racism, and a grant to a young black artist to enable him to move into film-making.
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