Theatre in Wales

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Serious Topic Treated Without Seriousness

Governance of Arts Organisations

Lamentable Report on Widening Culture , Arts of Wales , September 10, 2021
Governance of Arts Organisations by Lamentable Report on Widening Culture The article below 31st August recorded the reaction to a report commissioned and commended by the Arts Council of Wales and National Museum Wales.

As a cultural episode it stands on its own and contains some rich ironies.

The authors declaim on a lack of accountability while keeping their identities secret. They make claim to speak for diversity while comprising apparently only monoglot speakers of English.

For a first time ever Russia Today came to omment on Welsh culture: "Far from pushing back and safeguarding their unique language, the Arts Council of Wales and National Museums Wales both eagerly accepted the report’s findings."

The subject was one of importance. One commentator, CJPh, said of the document: "It’s far too clumsy and full of lazy assumptions, and seems to have been written by someone completely unfamiliar with the Wales, (or even just Cardiff) of 2021".

It certainly makes for remarkable reading. The most obvious first impression is that the authors have no experience, nor much idea, of what is entailed in authoring a public report in the public domain. Since they are without any experience it raises the issue of the procurement process employed in the commissioning. The two bodies have after all diverted a large sum away from the arts.

These are various aspects:

MEETING THE BRIEF

The brief is set out in the Contract Award Notice of 20th September 2020.

"This work will involve engaging with a range of community groups and representatives to identify what these communities themselves would want from a programme designed to fund and/or support creative activity in their locality."

The report makes no notice of the brief. Twenty-two people were interviewed. No groups are identified nor are the representative functions of the interviewees revealed.

The reader is left not knowing whether the interviewees are citizens or those seeking to receive grants from the public source. This blurring is just one example of the methodological failure.

Surprisingly the interviewees have been paid: "£200 fee for your time and expertise. But "No ‘correct’ experience or fluency of the arts is required."

PRESENTATION

The software chosen uses American spelling. This does not happen in public reports in Britain. Thus : center, color, panelists. The misspellings are regular: indigineous, tokenstic, sexuaity, collabing, practicing, anymore, aslyum, Amegueddfa, pulbically.

Hyphens are done away with regularly: nonBlack, allwhite, coproducing, decisionmaking, lowincome, ringfencing

This shows that the commission has not gone to a bona fide consultancy. Consultancies proof-read their work.

STYLE & CONSISTENCY

There are false plurals like "fundings" and "from a working class backgrounds." The language is awkward, frequently verbose. Bullet-points and crisp summations are avoided. Take this sentence for its redundancy:

"Then, through the work of our second phase, we delved deeper into how Black and non-Black people of colour viewed the Arts Council of Wales and Amgueddfa Cymru through an intimate, qualitative consultation period."

"Delved deeper" is awkward. A verb needs qualifying with an adverb. "Intimate" is the wrong word. The research was carried out remotely. "Infer" is used awkwardly and should in any case be "imply."

At times the tone slips into informality "we felt it was appropriate." The reader is addressed direct. "they’ve been funded by you all along."

This is not the grammar of a public report: "What’s more is some participants noted that ACW suggested they partner with larger institutions for advice and mentoring." Jargon is common. Terms are employed that are not held in common understanding.

What does the following mean? "Seeks to acknowledge, value and honour personhood and self-identification as best practice" or "To keep...care at the core of our methodology" or "must invest in divestment" or "reviews the resourceful and non-extractive methodology undertaken throughout the entire tender" or "It seeks to make repeating the avoidable labour and traumas of consultation processes obsolete."

STRUCTURE & METHODOLOGY

The report comprises
"1. Report Outline
2. Summary of Our Intentions
3. Summary of Phase 1
4. Summary of Phase 2
5. Trends From Our Consultations
6. Our List of Demands
Appendices a. Phase 1 Literature Review
b. Phase 2 Briefing Document
c. Phase 2 Questions

It has no executive summary or recommendations. Instead the report page 27 asserts "Our List of Demands." Some are classed "immediate" meaning "these must be fulfilled within 14 days of receiving this document."

Some of the commentary is daft. The Government of Wales has mandated free entry to the national collections. Even so "families still have to pay for public transport and lunch."

Among the conclusions there is incoherent slush like:

"the highest funded APW organisations must be subject to a semi-annual budget review by external people that represent a cross-section of various diverse communities. Criteria will include actual benefit to communities/audiences, potentials and/or instances of harm, and inequitable pay gaps between the highest and lowest paid employees. The reviewers to work with an external, impartial professional consultant to decide on a new budget / impose a budget cap.

Organisations (including ACW and NMW-AC) with inequitable pay gaps between highest and lowest paid employees to be subject to immediate suspension of funding unless more equitable and horizontal working practices can be implemented. "

But the recipients of arts funding are independent companies governed by directors and trustees.

Most remarkable of all is the demand that Arts Council of Wales' money be separated from any obligation to make art. Public money is be diverted to private purpose, the beneficiaries presumably to be the anonymous authors.

"Funding to shift from being governed by ‘outcomes’ (including artwork production, public exhibition and ‘community’ workshops) and towards self-identified/ self-measured artist development..."

To read this report is to be made aware of several things. It adds nothing to a serious topic. A significant project has been given to authors who are unqualified. It is mooted that several tens of thousands have gone to people known to the commissioning bodies. The report has not fulfilled the brief. The standard of literacy, proof-reading has no equal as a public document. It raises questions about public procurement.

One phrase by the authors does ring true: "a calculated and repetitive pattern lacking accountability, as there is no incentive for accountability.

A document of this quality would not be tolerated in England or Scotland.

Postscript: The Western Mail of 19th August published an article co-authored by Phil George and Roger Lewis. Like so much in Wales' public life it was a press release cut-and-pasted with no attempt to add any editorial or journalistic input.

Running to 925 words it was pious, declamatory and vague. The commitment to implementing this report is repeated:

"Our two organizations will take urgent actions to respond to the recommendations set out in the reports."

The lack of interest and lack of confidence in the arts are manifest, the dilettante language preferring slogans and verbal porridge:

"We’re not talking about handing down cultural goods from a position of lofty privilege....But we have to learn to listen and learn, to value what people already value and to take seriously the obstacles they experience to participation."

"One of the great enabling features of Welsh society is the framework and vision of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. Wales is becoming a far more collaborative society."

There we have it. Fawning attitude to power. Assertion without evidence.

Press Release by Museum Wales

https://museum.wales/news/1239/Culture-belongs-to-all-of-us/

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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