Theatre in Wales

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Why So Much Effort Ended Up Saying So Little

Arts Policy Report

Culture, Welsh Language & Communication Committee , Diversifying Arts Financing in Wales , February-21-19
Arts Policy Report by Culture, Welsh Language & Communication Committee The shelf of public documents is close to being cleared. The CWLCC Report on reducing the state proportion of arts funding is the last-but-one official document. There remains just the “Strategic Plan” of the Arts Council of Wales to be looked at, a melancholy prospect.

Three personal points by way of preface: firstly, I do not share the view of cynicism and dismissal that is frequently expressed towards those in public life. I have had conversations, of a slight kind, with many elected representatives and members of the civil service. The universal impressions have been of industriousness and public-spiritedness.

Secondly, the Select Committees in Westminster are less than forty years old, the most important constitutional change over recent decades. In Wales the Public Accounts Committee in the Senedd published this month its report on the Government's dealings with Pinewood and the studio at Wentloog.

The result is a model of how the legislature should interact with the executive, although not the converse. Anyone with an interest in the political culture of Wales would benefit from reading it and the link is provided to the bottom of this page.

Thirdly, on 4th February, in a gallery two minutes' walk from Trafalgar Square, I looked at a scintillating picture of five varieties of flower. Cedric Morris had found them in a Mediterranean location, taken them to his garden in Suffolk, and painted them to glorious effect. Morris in his lifetime made a living from art. The price is now £200,000. On the same day I went on to see “Home, I'm Darling” which has around £2,000,000 of tickets to sell between now and May. There is money to be had in the arts. It is elusive and haphazard, but cultural policy can be a nourisher or an inhibitor. But cultural policy itself is rooted in culture and the deep assumptions of culture are often unaddressed.

Wales' share of overall UK box office is far below that of Scotland. This is not because actors, writers, directors of Wales are inferior. But the cultural policies of government and its proxies are not conducive to an enabling environment. Wales frequently demonstrates a higher state cost-to-revenue ratio in the arts than elsewhere. At its most extreme it is the highest in the world.

There is no sentiment, on the public record at least, that public subsidy is part of a symbiotic ecology. Thus tiny audiences, when they occur, are paraded not as failure of service to the public but as indicators of virtue. Wales runs a large balance of payments deficit in theatre. The WMC and Venue Cymru are filled with imported musicals. A country of such musical heritage is unable to create and export its own. Leeway and “Tiger Bay” are honourable exceptions which were created but not exported.

It is to be applauded that the Minister set the CWLCC the task of looking into this. The result was a disappointment. True to the way of media in Cardiff at the time of publication, March 2018, no-one took any interest. The arts are so small, compared to the other myriad social and fiscal challenges, that political interest is understandably low. A point of view written this month by Delyth Jewell AM, fresh to her role, stands out all the more for its rarity. The link is given below.

To the lay reader several aspects appear to have contributed to the flatness of the report. There is one that is most obvious. The Ministerial instruction was written: “Terms of Reference: The effectiveness of efforts to increase non-public funding of the arts in Wales by bodies including the Arts Council, local authorities and artists and arts organisations themselves. This funding would include: earned income; philanthropy; investment.”

This instruction was not reflected in the proceedings or rather was interpreted in a way very much in the tradition of Wales. It is probable that all concerned were unaware of this. Culture is at its most powerful when it works invisibly.

(To be concluded)

The following are recommended:

The Public Accounts Committee report on the Government and the film industry can be read at:

http://www.assembly.wales/laid%20documents/cr-ld12165/cr-ld12165-e.pdf

Delyth Jewell AM writes on the import model in Welsh television and theatre at:

https://nation.cymru/opinion/the-pitching-in-disaster-shows-that-you-need-to-make-in-wales-not-just-set-in-wales/

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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