Theatre in Wales

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Much of Interest and Value Happening in Cardiff Bay

Arts Policy Report

ACW Consultation Document , Senedd Culture Committee , February 21, 2018
Arts Policy Report by ACW Consultation Document Theatre outside Cardiff has a rhythm to it. That rhythm is one of intermittent flourish and silence. This week there is nought on tour; next week Pena, MWO, Lurking Truth, Owen Shiers (the spelling is correct), Cwmni'r Franwen all perform over an interval of eight days. Thus, in this week of lull, attention turns to Cardiff Bay. The Culture Committee's enquiry into non-state cash for the arts continues. The sessions are of great interest.

Prior to the public sessions the Committee received consultation submissions from 22 organisations and 4 individuals. In length they varied from 2 to 40 pages. Unsurprisingly, Arts Council of Wales contributed the most substantial paper. It is not principally a document for the layperson. The bar charts on page 13 are beyond me, in part as they lack an explanatory label to the bottom scale. They look as if they aggregate data of very different type and scale.

But there is much of sense and value in the submission. The apostrophe is used colloquially as in “isn't”, “we're”, “we've”, “shouldn't.” There is one sentence where a single verb is used instead of a plural and “Sybrwd” is once misspelled. These small items apart it is a document with much explanation that elaborates terms and nomenclature, activities and case studies in the arts. Its range, for instance, extends to social impact bonds, community share schemes and timebanking.

ACW's authors hit the central point in their first paragraph. Of public subsidy “it's part of an inter-connected ecology of funding and investment that sustains a wide range of subsidised and commercial activities.” The word “symbiotic” is not used but it is the adjective that should apply.

“If the enemies of arts subsidy had seen two actors walking in a circle with cardboard boxes on their heads pretending to be horses at the taxpayer’s expense” Nick Hytner wrote in his memoir “they would have had a field day.” That workshop took British culture to the world, grossed £100,000,000+ and earned the theatre £30,000,000. The National Theatre of Scotland in 2018 is in co-production with Bill Kenwright.

ACW produces numbers to inspire and to dismay. Local authority support is down 59% but still there at around £4.6m. The attitude of small Flintshire is a contrast to many an authority in England. As for the great severance in thirteen months time “Between 2007 and 2016, over 150 projects in Wales are estimated to have received around £23m in European Union funding.” I visited last week Small World Theatre and saw the ambition, the circus rigging and the plan to bring new skills to the young in West Wales. The capital for the new building was European.

But the whole area of discussion is riddled with uncertainty. Chamber music of high quality in Lampeter and Aberystwyth is performed in part, possibly in very large part, due to an individual donation. The donor name is known to a few but not publicised. That respect for privacy is maintained here. Culture in Meirionnydd is a huge beneficiary of the Peter Saunders Trust, a donor body whose remit is geographically bounded.

And then there are the makers themselves. ACW notes accurately “One of the most significant sources of non-public funding in the arts is the unpaid time committed by professional artists and creative professionals to delivering projects that they’re involved with. When public funding is tight, arts workers will often absorb the costs themselves by reducing the fees that they take for their work. This isn’t public funding. Nevertheless, it represents a significant hidden ‘subsidy’ to the arts.”

It goes further. The performing arts is a sector where the producer interest is subordinate to consumer benefit. The distribution of income in most areas of work follows a similar bell curve shape. A few leaders are at one end with a tightly bunched majority in the centre. The arts is an example, like investment banking or sport, of a winner-takes-all labour market. The phrase means that a tiny minority sweeps a disproportionately big share of the overall income. Scour a bookshop drama section and the line of Faber and Methuen dramatists is impressive. Most of the names, if amortised over ten years, will earn royalties that are a fraction, and a small fraction at that, of average earnings, from writing alone. A Bartlett, who can do “King Charles III”, “Contractions” and “Trauma”, stands out for his very rarity.

If the consumer benefit needed illustration look only to the offer in the west next week: Theatr Pena, Mid Wales Opera, Lurking Truth, Owen Shiers, Cwmni'r Franwen...The question as to who ought to be the beneficiary of public sector support is another question altogether.

The original documentation may be read at

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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