Theatre in Wales

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A CULTURE IN COMMON     

THE WELSH CULTURAL SCENE

The cultural scene in Wales is rich and varied. There is much going on in both English and Welsh and, increasingly, in other minority languages. National professional companies are becoming very well known internationally, while voluntary arts activities are flourishing in local communities across Wales. The creative industries are ripe for take-off, and the film industry holds out exciting possibilities.

The Partnership Government has signalled its determination to support and stimulate the cultural scene by creating the Cabinet post of Minister for Culture, Sport and the Welsh Language. I am privileged to be the first holder of that post, which I want to exploit for the benefit of all those in Wales who work in the arts, and who enjoy having access to them. There is much to be done in the arts, but also much to build on, and a great deal to be proud of.

Festivals

Wales' national and international Eisteddfodau have long created a bond between competitors and audiences, have drawn international attention to Wales, and have provided the training grounds for some of our most talented celebrities. These festivals will need to adapt to meet the challenges of the new millennium, to sustain and improve levels of participation and attendance, and to gain and retain the interest and loyalty of new supporters. Local festivals, such as Brecon Jazz, the Literary Festival at Hay, and Sesiwn Fawr Dolgellau must be safeguarded if we are to hold on to the wealth and variety of experience that now characterises the festival scene in Wales. In all there are more than 65 annual festivals and over a hundred local Eisteddfodau in Wales. We must nurture and encourage them.

Dance

Dance in Wales is establishing a national and international profile. Professional dance has evolved with strong European influences and the last 15 years have seen a dramatic growth in dance and choreography stemming from amateur, community based dance artists and companies. Many companies and individuals from Wales tour internationally and can be seen at festivals in the UK, mainland Europe and beyond. As 'A Culture in Common' points out, dance is an area which faces many challenges if it is to reach its full potential, particularly in developing a coherent strategy and in improving the training available to new entrants.

Music

Wales has long held an international reputation in the field of music. We are known and envied for the quality of our performers, and the range of our music - from choral singing, opera, folk and traditional music to an explosive rock music industry. The Welsh National Opera won the Lawrence Olivier Award for best new production last year. Bryn Terfel is a sell-out wherever he appears around the world, and Welsh rock bands are filling the stadia of Europe. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales is acknowledged as a national treasure, and we have a history of traditional music which, with its many unique features, deserves to be cherished and passed on to future generations.

Theatre

Theatre audiences in Wales are provided with a good range of productions, by both amateur and professional companies. Clwyd Theatr Cymru attracts artists and directors of the highest international reputation, and receives regular acclamation for the standards of its productions. Other companies throughout Wales regularly put on innovative productions, and have built up a loyal following. Companies from outside Wales also bring their productions here, as did the Royal Shakespeare Company with its mobile tour of the 'Taming of the Shrew' at Ebbw Vale.

The Arts Council face a considerable challenge over the next few years in strengthening grass roots activity in theatre across Wales, and in reviewing its own drama strategy. I myself am convinced of the importance of a vigorous theatre sector, which must be encouraged and developed.

Broadcasting and Film

Broadcasting and film possess a unique power to project Wales' image abroad, as well as to contribute to economic development within Wales. S4C, along with BBC Wales and HTV, have helped to generate a distinctive film and television culture, and have stimulated a whole new generation of film and programme makers, together with their ancillary support services. S4C productions have received Oscar nominations, and their animation work - particularly 'The Miracle Maker' - has been awesome. Sgrîn, the Media Agency for Wales, is carrying out valuable work to develop this sector, as is the International Film Festival. This sector has tremendous potential for development.

Visual Arts

There is general acceptance of, and pride in, the fact that the visual arts are thriving in Wales. We have a number of professional artists whose works are highly sought after. Sir Kyffin Williams' achievements, and his encouragement of fellow artists and sculptors, has been an inspiration to many to follow in his path.

The National Library, National Museum and local galleries own a wealth of art works which we can enjoy for their artistic merit, while also learning from them about our own visual arts tradition. These are artistic treasures which our national institutions hold on behalf of the people of Wales, and for the benefit of visitors who come here. They must be made more accessible to all of us, in all parts of the country, if we are to enjoy them and learn from them to the extent that we deserve.

Crafts

There is an increasing number of crafts people working in Wales, and they make a valuable contribution to our culture and to our economy. Some work in traditional ways with simple hand tools while others have adopted sophisticated new technologies; some make functional objects, while others create work which is close to fine art; some work full time in businesses which produce large volumes of their work, while others operate on a part time basis and sell their crafts at local fairs. Craft centres throughout Wales now display an impressive range of works of innovation and imagination produced by crafts people who are highly skilled. We have jewellers, musical instrument makers, weavers, dress designers, potters, 3-D artists, as well as crafts people who work in wood and ceramics. What is missing is an overall strategy to encourage and support those who work in these craft industries. This will be one of the challenges we face in developing this sector over the next few years.

Literature

Wales boasts one of Europe's oldest living literatures, and writing remains central to its cultural identity. The Welsh Books Council supports the publishing industry in Wales, markets books from Wales (including on-line marketing), handles distribution to booksellers and administers grants for Welsh language titles.

The Arts Council supports a wide range of literary activity including book and periodical publishing, writers' residencies and bursaries, festivals and readings, community writing projects and writers' organisations. 'Academi' provides support and information for its members, and organises and promotes a national programme of activities from conferences to literary awards. Publishers in Wales produce a wide range of academic and leisure books for adults and children. In spite of much excellent activity, there is a general feeling that the literary community is marginalised in relation to general cultural policy. That position needs to be changed if our writers are to be given the opportunity to develop and stretch their literary talents.

Community Arts

Community arts groups have a key role in encouraging people to take part in arts activities, irrespective of their age, background, education or income. Such activities help to bind local communities, by giving people a sense of belonging and a common purpose. The activities can help individuals develop confidence and self esteem, and release skills and talents which provide fulfilment for the individual and satisfaction and pleasure for the community.

Community arts groups must be looked after, be they professional companies, professionally led community groups, or amateur and voluntary groups. Our theatre in education companies have opened many a young person's eyes to the delights of drama. Community dance groups have allowed young people of all abilities to give rein to their creativity, imagination and social skills. Community Music Wales provides opportunities for people in Wales to create and play music - especially those who for reasons of disadvantage or disability are not usually involved in arts activities. Organisations such as CADMAD and Permanent Waves are opening up greater access to the arts for ethnic minorities and women.

The dedication of so many groups and individuals to community arts itself needs support. The further strategic development of community arts is one of the key challenges for central arts organisations and funders.

A Vision for the Arts

The report on 'A Culture in Common' sets out a comprehensive vision for the arts for the next 10 years. This is a vision worth aspiring to, and worth working for.

Within that vision, I believe we need to emphasise selected, but key ambitions if we are to achieve success in our cultural policy.

We should be aiming to develop Wales into a country:

which has a shared, rich, confident, distinctive and creative culture;
which stimulates high level of involvement at grass roots level;
where bilingualism is a growing reality;
where there are strong links between grass roots/community arts activity and our national cultural institutions;
where local authorities and the business community support the arts and creative industries;
where the creative industries are valued for their intrinsic merit and for their valuable contribution to the economy, and to branding Wales abroad;
where cultural tourism is recognised for the important contribution it can make to the economy.
A Culture in Common - Response to Recommendations

The Report has 104 recommendations - they are varied and wide ranging. They are largely uncosted and not prioritised. Some can be implemented easily and quickly, others will need considerable further analysis. Some can be followed up at no extra expense, others need to be costed and may only be achieved by extra resources or a re-prioritisation of existing resources. Some fall obviously to particular organisations, others will need co-operation between two or more partners. I am particularly conscious that many recommendations will involve a substantial number of extra tasks and initiatives for the Arts Council.

I do not expect the Arts Council, and the other organisations who have to deliver on the Report, to do everything at once. That would require them to spread their efforts too thinly. There is a danger that they would start on everything, and complete nothing - and certainly not do things well.

I am therefore providing ASPBs in this Response with clear guidance on those recommendations which I regard as the key to my cultural policy and to which I expect them to give priority.

For ease of reference, the response below follows the broad structure of 'A Culture in Common'.

Working Practices

The process of review and consultation which led up to the publication of the Report, and the subsequent creation of the post of Minister for Culture, Sport and the Welsh language, has provided the focus for a healthy and lively debate on arts and culture in Wales. I share the Committee's view that cultural ASPBs should hold regular events to ensure continued dialogue and consultation with their clients, and will ensure that they do so.

Principles

I endorse the broad principles set out in 'A Culture in Common'. I accept enthusiastically the recommendation that the National Assembly should set the policy agenda for culture and arts, and require the agencies and ASPBs to deliver on our policy objectives. This is the obvious way to ensure that these organisations subscribe to the Assembly's values and objectives, and prepare and deliver strategies which will secure those objectives.

ASPBs can no longer draw up those strategies in isolation from each other. I am encouraged that all the organisations represented at the first meeting of Cymru'n Creu, which I chaired, were keen to work together on practical down-to-earth projects. I am already utilising Cymru'n Creu to ensure that we meet the recommendation that agencies and ASPBs should work in partnership with one another and with others, to make the best use of resources and to realise the Assembly's policies and priorities.

I endorse, and attach considerable importance to, the recommendation that cultural ASPBs must conduct their affairs openly, accountably and transparently. Many organisations already utilise new technology very effectively to provide information to the public, and have well established procedures for communication and consultation. It will be one of my policy priorities, working with Cymru'n Creu, to consolidate and extend best practice in these areas. The publication on the Internet, by the Arts Council, of their discussion documents on restructuring illustrates the open approach which I want to see adopted by all culture ASPBs.

That openness will be fostered further by regular appearances by ASPBs in front of the Culture Committee.

I fully agree that the whole thrust of arts and culture policy should be to raise standards and expectations at every level and to strive for excellence. This will be a cornerstone of my cultural policy, and I will want all the cultural ASPBs to reflect it in their strategies.

Priorities

I am absolutely committed to moving cultural policy in the direction that is mapped out in 'A Culture in Common'. As recommended by the Report, my priorities will be as follows:

Young people must be encouraged to enjoy arts and culture if we are to pass on our values, traditions and artistic skills to future generations.
Local communities in all areas of Wales must have access to the arts, not least to help community regeneration.
We must respect and nurture cultural diversity in the arts and enjoy the variety and richness which it adds to our life.
We have to stimulate the creative industries which have so much potential.
And in all this, we must give people who take part in arts and cultural activities the opportunity to achieve excellence in the standards of their work.
Policies

My own policies will be designed to achieve the ambitions set out in 'A Culture in Common'. Those ambitions bear repeating. They are:

a rich culture in support of stronger communities;

a confident diversity - making the most of our positive distinctiveness and identity;

a learning country supported by a vibrant artistic and cultural activity;

enterprising industry, and a creative culture;

national ambition, and international reach.



RICH CULTURE - STRONG COMMUNITIES

I agree that cultural ASPBs should link their own strategic planning to support for community regeneration schemes, and I am asking them to plan on that basis. It is absolutely right that cultural activities should be regarded as an essential component of regeneration programmes.

Wales can be justifiably proud of the variety and quality of cultural activities which are undertaken by local communities. The activities enrich and enliven those communities, and have provided many of our national and international artists and performers with invaluable apprenticeships. Local volunteers and community leaders work hard to stimulate and sustain culture in the community. We must work hard - and much more effectively - to support them.

I have therefore asked the Arts Council to give high priority to the recommendation that the Council should work with other ASPBs to explore ways of providing more support and training to community arts and associated umbrella groups. I want to ensure that all community groups are aware of, understand, and can take full advantage of all sources of lottery funding, and of European financial support. The Arts Council will consider this issue during 2001-02.

I have already arranged for the Arts Council to review their procedures for grant applications with a view to achieving simpler, more straightforward arrangements; and greater consistency between the procedures for handling lottery and grant-in-aid applications. The Council's Review is being carried out as part of their general restructuring exercise, which is being overseen by my Minister's Group. The review will be completed by March 2002, with a view to implementation of the new procedures during 2002-03.



CONFIDENT DIVERSITY - POSITIVE DISTINCTIVENESS

My cultural policy will celebrate tradition, innovation and diversity. I particularly want to protect and promote cultural activities which take place in the Welsh language. We owe it to ourselves, and to future generations, to sustain and encourage the unique cultural traditions which are focussed on the language, while also respecting the wide diversity of the cultural scene in Wales.

This is in line with the Assembly's policy, and my own determination to ensure equality of opportunity for all minority groups. I am asking the Arts Council to work with the WLGA, the National Museum, the Council of Museums, the National Library and the Libraries and Information Services Council, to review their existing policies and plan in favour of equality of opportunity.

As recommended by 'A Culture in Common', I am inviting the above bodies to set realistic, but more challenging targets for achieving equality of opportunity. I will want those new targets to be incorporated in the draft Corporate Plans which these organisations publish in July 2001.



A LEARNING COUNTRY - A RICHER CULTURE

I am determined that the young people of Wales should have plenty of opportunity to take part in a wide range of cultural activities, and be able to enjoy performances by others. The majority of the recommendations in this section fall to my Cabinet colleague, the Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning, Jane Davidson. She is considering them.

For my part, I wish to see all those organisations which have a role in education and training, both of adults and young people, working together to provide them with an effective and coordinated service. I particularly endorse the recommendation in the Report that the careers service, education business partnerships and arts practitioners should collaborate to provide new opportunities for work experience (and more information about courses) in the creative industries in Wales.

It will be one of my priorities to encourage closer connections between the national youth arts organisations, the Welsh College of Music and Drama and companies with a national remit to encourage young people to develop their personal skills. I am asking the WLGA, WJEC, The Welsh College of Music and Drama, the national remit organisations and the National Museum to advise me on how national youth arts organisations can be better engaged and supported in the future.

I am asking the Arts Council to encourage existing arts practitioners and organisations to reassess their development and recruitment policies - to connect fully with the mainstream labour market in Wales; to make the most of opportunities for partnership under Objective 1; and to secure a step change in their own business planning, financial management and marketing capacity. The Council's proposals in this area will be incorporated in their new arts development strategy which they aim to publish by autumn 2001.



ENTERPRISING INDUSTRY - CREATIVE CULTURE

I intend to give close attention to the creative industries in Wales. They have enormous potential to boost Wales' economic output; to contribute to the skills development of our young people, as well as adults; and to raise Wales' profile abroad. For these reasons, as well as for their intrinsic value, the development of the creative industries are a cornerstone of my cultural policy.

The role of the Welsh Development Agency and the Wales Tourist Board will be vital in supporting the work of the Arts Council in stimulating the creative industries.

'A Culture in Common' identifies the shortage of up-to-date and rigorous statistical information on the performance of the creative industries in Wales. I have already taken steps to arrange for Cymru'n Creu to review the availability of statistics, and to suggest how deficiencies can be remedied.



NATIONAL AMBITION - INTERNATIONAL REACH

Wales is gaining increasing recognition abroad. This is due in no small measure to the high international reputation of many of our artists and performers, across many art forms. Welsh artists and performers who sell or work abroad gain the opportunity to test their own talents against the most rigorous standards. They develop their own individual skills, and are well placed to inspire, encourage and advise others in Wales to do the same. Experience of performing or selling abroad can provide individuals with new insights which are again invaluable in raising standards at home. We must increase the opportunities for both professional and amateur performers and artists to travel abroad.

I will therefore be giving priority to following up the recommendation that Wales Arts International should make greater use of the British Council's posts abroad to promote and support both amateur and professional arts performances, and that they should seek cooperation from the Wales Tourist Board in this endeavour.

I agree that Wales Arts International should be given greater impetus. I will be discussing how this might be done with the Arts Council and British Council. My aim will be to facilitate the close cooperation, and imaginative policies, which will provide the means for an increasing number of performers to benefit from international experience.

I will also be giving particular attention to the recommendation that all the National Assembly's cultural agencies should work together to create a striving and thriving environment for international cultural and economic impact. I have laid the foundations for this by the establishment of Cymru'n Creu, and know that its members will work together enthusiastically to help achieve this recommendation.

I also propose to give priority to examining festivals in Wales. Our festivals, from the National Eisteddfodau to local jazz and literary festivals and others, provide some of our most invaluable cultural assets. They enrich the cultural life of our local communities, and attract many visitors to Wales from the rest of the UK and abroad. The Arts Council will review, during 2001-02, its policy towards the funding of festivals, in liaison with the Wales Tourist Board and the WLGA.

I will be asking the Wales Tourist Board to consider the particular recommendation that more could be done to link festivals, accommodation data and other tourism opportunities in an annual programme of events for world wide publication on the Internet. We will take forward any new developments in consultation with the members of Cymru'n Creu.



ART FORMS

The National Library and National Museum, and many locally funded galleries and museums, hold between them a wealth of art works and other exhibits. I want to see more effective arrangements for placing these works on public display. I particularly want to see cooperation between national institutions and local galleries and museums to place art works on display around Wales. The National Museum and Gallery is well advanced with its preparations for a consultation exercise on its policies for displaying works of art. The President of the National Museum has agreed with my view that this should be an open and public consultation exercise, and that it should look at a range of options for displaying art works in the future, including the concept of a National Gallery.

I am giving close attention to the full range of recommendations on film and media arts. This is a complex area, but one which has tremendous potential to boost the economy, to attract film makers to Wales, and to raise the profile of Wales around the world.

I am committed to investigating the establishment of a Film Fund. Sgrîn and Finance Wales are taking work forward on this exciting possibility. I am also anxious to see the Film Commissions in Wales placed on a secure financial footing.

I noted earlier in this statement that the creative industries will have considerable attention in my cultural policy. Specifically, I believe that the craft industry is one which has very considerable potential for development. The production of imaginative, high quality, craft items requires artistic flair as well as manufacturing expertise - and both deserve encouragement. Such production stimulates the artisan sector, creates local employment, promotes exports, and helps to brand Wales abroad. The craft sector deserves more attention. I have therefore asked the Arts Council and the Welsh Development Agency to work together with the Wales Tourist Board to produce a craft strategy for Wales, that recognises the potential of that sector to contribute to cultural and economic growth.

Cymru'n Creu

The creative industries in Wales, and cultural and media organisations, can gain great strength from working together in unity and cooperation. They have much to learn from each other. They can do a great deal, by mutual cooperation, to eliminate duplication, and to identify gaps in services to the cultural sector which can, and should, be filled. The potential for collaboration to promote Wales' culture overseas is very exciting. This is why I regarded the creation of Cymru'n Creu as a priority, and chaired its first meeting in February. The Consortium has agreed to meet at least quarterly, and provides a unique opportunity for a partnership approach to cultural and media issues. Cymru'n Creu will be undertaking a number of projects to explore joint working, including the approach that should be taken to attracting major sporting events to Wales.

Funding

The detailed funding allocations to the cultural ASPBs will need to be negotiated during each budget planning round. I am delighted that the first budget from the Partnership Government provided significant increases for them.

I expect each ASPB within my portfolio to demonstrate clearly in their next Corporate Plans how they will support the National Assembly's values and objectives and, also, how they will deliver the policy priorities set out in this statement.

I will want the Arts Council, in particular, to develop forward strategies which will recognise the importance of community, grass roots voluntary activity in the development of arts and culture in Wales. As recommended in 'A Culture in Common', I will want them to do this while also protecting the position of the national remit companies. The flagship companies in Wales have a valuable role in developing excellence, and in promoting Wales' image within the UK and abroad. We must ensure that they are able to do so in cooperation with community arts companies, and not in competition with them.


Nattional Assembly for Wales  
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Wednesday, March 28, 2001back

 

 

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