Theatre in Wales

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“Too quiet- needs to be clearer and bolder.”

Arts Policy Report

British Council & Visiting Arts , Arts of Wales , February-09-19
Arts Policy Report by British Council & Visiting Arts The review of “Home, I'm Darling” February 5th included a mention: “an 80-page heavyweight report was published last year about the projection of Wales afar through culture.” Over the period of writing about the productions of Wales, I read not one of the policy documents that lay behind their making. So, as part of the wrap, the full title of the one referred to in the review is “International Showcasing Strategy Strategy for the Arts of Wales Research Report 2018.”

It was commissioned by British Council Wales and produced by Visiting Arts. The result is a solid document, eighty pages in length. Focus groups were held in the spring of 2018 in four locations with forty participants, an impressive array of professional credentials across art forms and activities. The last part is given over to 32 graphs and charts.

It is admirable on the one hand that it is in the public domain, although its lay readership is likely to be small. The disadvantage of it not being a private consultant-to-client report is that it lacks pungency. The report makes any number of suggestions but they lack prioritisation and routes for implementation.

Consultants are commissioned for one reason. There is a gap and the test of a report is how it addresses the gap, how it grasps the start-point, articulates aspirations and proposes the means to bridge the two. The report has a lot of words, expressed in a form that often bypasses taut subject- active verb-object sequence. It takes patience but it reads as though the heart of it comes late, on page 35.

“There is an acknowledgement that there is currently a misalignment between the cultural sector and the government/public sector bureaucracies with a plethora of departments having an interest in the cultural sector’s international profile, and that there is a need to bring these together in a more co-ordinated and collaborative way to avoid duplication.”

The writing lacks force, at least for the lay reader, with the phrasing opaque and without specificity or example. The section includes this dichotomy:

“The Welsh Government recognises the role of culture in creating influence and soft diplomacy, particularly around the communication of Wales’ values internationally. They also acknowledge the need for culture to have breathing space to be itself and have its own relationships and modus operandi. They are keen to strike the appropriate balance between using culture to help in the promotion of Wales, making it an attractive place for relocation, investment, students to study, tourism and supporting the export of culture as an industry in its own right.”

Bad thinking is usually rooted in false bifurcation. I do not understand this dichotomy. The lack of understanding is not helped by a lack of notes or reference to policy documents. Punchdrunk, for instance, has been performing uninterruptedly in China for years. They do not represent the dichotomy in the above paragraph.

Page 12 lists the “cultural assets that are most widely known: Hay Festival, Artes Mundi, Wales in Venice, Green Man Festival, The collections at the National Museum of Wales, Festival No. 6, Festival of Voice, BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, Iris Film Festival.” Given the flower of acting talent this list suggests the theatre of Wales is not cutting it internationally. This is not wholly correct, omitting for instance the links between WMC and South Africa.

Critiques of cultural policy are not listed as a series of bullet points but are sifted throughout. Thus, the reader has to get to page 20 to find “When asking about the shortcomings in Wales, the most commonly cited failing was its invisibility in the field.” World music is booming but it takes until page 21 until “One commentator said the narrative of Wales is poor. He went on to say that Celtic music has become mainstream and Wales has not been able to capitalise on this.”

Wales cultural policy is distinctive in its preference for very high cost-to-income ratio. The report homes in on the habit of a restricted number of performances. It seems harsh, although wholly characteristic, that only Pontio is picked on. Page 22: “The Gentle Good” and ‘9Bach’ performing in Pontio is an example of great work being produced that that is unable to be re-staged and was only seen once.”

The recommendations: “There is a need to develop the right work that is export-ready and tourable... Ensure funding cycles allow for re-staging and showcasing rather than the creation of new work.”

If the many words are condensed into one sentence it is this one, which any reviewer can endorse. “There is an incredible offer in Wales but it is too quiet – it needs to be clearer and bolder.”

https://wales.britishcouncil.org/en/programmes/arts/international-showcasing-strategy-arts-wales

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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