Theatre in Wales

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Report of the Art and the Art and the Assembly Elections , Chapter, Tuesday 15th April 2003     

Chair: Chris Ryde (Wales Association for the Performing Arts)

Lorraine Barrett (Lab, Cardiff South & Penarth)
Jenny Randerson (Lib Dem, Cardiff Central)
Owen John Thomas (Plaid Cymru, South Wales Central)
Paul Williams (Conservative, Rhondda)

The meeting was attended by a cross section of artists, arts organisations and interested individuals. A delegation from the National Campaign for the Arts - who launched their Welsh Cultural Manifesto - also attended.

Chris Ryde welcomed everybody to the event which was organised by Wales Association for the Performing Arts, the Presenting the Arts Group and Visual Art Group Wales. He introduced the panel of candidates and invited each to speak very briefly on their party's priorities for the arts in Wales in the next 5 years.

The Party positions

Lorraine Barrett said that the arts were not a luxury, but an economic driver which needed serious investment. The Capital of Culture 2008 bid would put a focus on art in Wales.

Jenny Randerson (Culture Minister) reviewed the impact of the first culture committee; key points being funding for the general culture budget doubling from £50m to £100m and development of the first arts strategy. Future priorities should be:
· The development of an English language national theatre.
· The development of a broad range of musical excellence.
· The development of dance training.
· The stabilising and development of Welsh festivals.
· The development of the Wales Millennium Centre as a catalyst for the progress of performing arts in Wales.
· The development of Wales' reputation abroad.
· If successful in the Capital of Culture 2008 bid, Cardiff should build up the Visual and Performing Arts. If unsuccessful, Cardiff should ensure that the level of excellence achieved for the bid does not slip.

Owen John Thomas spoke to the Plaid Cymru manifesto section relevant to the arts.

Paul Williams said that it was important for the arts to engage at all stages in our lives, in health, education, economic and community levels. A National Gallery would be a priority.

The panel answered questions from the audience. The main topics were:

Cymru'n Creu

The need to revitalise Cymru'n Creu (the Culture Minister's group which brings together public bodies concerned with culture). Owen John Thomas said that activity was currently limited as it was based on goodwill - there should be a permanent dedicated secretariat to progress the group. Jenny Randerson said that there were already civil servants managing the group, which had only just got under way. It had taken its first year of activity to find its own ethos. It was early days and current activity would need to be maintained and monitored.

Who should decide grants - Assembly or Arts Council?

Whether ministers should have the authority to intervene in funding issues - the question of the "arm's length" principle. Also, what the future relationship should be between the Arts Council of Wales and the Assembly. The example of funding for chamber orchestras was raised, where the Finance Minister had announced an Assembly grant to a particular Swansea group.

Lorraine Barrett said that AMs and ministers were frequently lobbied and asked to write letters of support for arts activities. She had concerns about the implications of ministers being able to make funding decisions. Paul Williams said that ministers did not need to be involved in actual art and grant decisions, their role was to develop overall strategy. The artists should prioritise funding needs, but ministers could intervene in larger issues and emergencies, as they had done for the Brecon Jazz Festival and the reclamation of the medieval ship at Newport.

Owen John Thomas said that there were many unanswered questions on the issues of Assembly arts funding - e.g. the chamber orchestra decision - and that there was now a budget specifically for allocation by the culture committee but the expenditure was unclear. Jenny Randerson said that the money was for allocation by the minister and not the committee. The budget was divided into funding for the running costs of ASPBs (quangoes) and the remainder was used for their projects.

Jenny Randerson said that the people present at the meeting had a political interest in the arts because they lobbied AMs for funding for their own causes and projects. A member of the audience said he was insulted by that suggestion; he lobbied on behalf of the arts in general, not his own projects. Another audience member commented that they now approached the Assembly directly for money where the Arts Council was unable to help.

The audience felt that there was confusion between the roles of the National Assembly and the Arts Council of Wales (it was noticeable that none of the speaker's addressed the question of the Arts Council's role head on). Jenny Randerson said that the arm's length principle stood, but the arms were shorter. The old system had led to standstill funding.

The £2 million "Wales Millennium Centre" money

How short those arms now are was then illustrated by the differing perspectives of the Minister and the Arts Council of Wales regarding the expenditure of the £2m to be allocated around Wales in response to the impact of the Wales Millennium Centre. The £2m was described as having "bought off" Assembly opposition to the Centre.

Jenny Randerson said that there had been no decisions on the allocation of the funding as yet, what the policy would be or who would distribute it. . There would be a consultation following the elections and the money would be distributed later in the year. Chris Ryde said it had been understood that the Arts Council of Wales - who had consulted widely on the matter - would have the money and decide on the policy.

Jenny Randerson was not aware that there had been an Arts Council of Wales consultation on this issue. An audience member confirmed that the Minister's office had been told. Audience members expressed confusion.

The development of an English Language National Theatre.

All parties agreed that there should be a national theatre, but a great deal of consultation would be required to establish how that status would be achieved and what obligations a National Theatre would have to meet. An audience member asked why this National Theatre was to be split in two instead of being one company with two languages.

The development of a National Gallery.

All members agreed that there should be a National Gallery, but opinions varied as to where it should be situated. Opinions were unclear as to what kind of gallery it should be. Jenny Randerson said that there should also be a chain of galleries across the country for touring exhibitions and the "Sharing Treasures" programme should be developed. The budget for museums had risen from £700k to £2m to develop strategic advice and support. Jenny Randerson said that it was also important for Cardiff to have its own museum reflecting the city's history.

Chris Ryde thanked the politicians for attending and Chapter for hosting the event.
Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff  
web site
: www,chapter,org
Janek Alexander
Wednesday, April 16, 2003back



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