Theatre in Wales

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More Sense & Toughness Needed

Arts Policy Report

Warwick Commission , Public Financing of the Arts , May 25, 2019
Arts Policy Report by Warwick Commission A senior member of the Foreign Office came to the Drwm at the National Library of Wales on 15th May. The occasion was a part of the fiftieth anniversary of the Open University. She was direct, clear, warm, a communicator of the first league. She opened with a quip from a Permanent Secretary as to their vocation “diplomacy is the art of letting other people have your way.” She was a reminder, and a reassurance, that the state is more, greatly more, than its surface noise.

The article of 21st February touched on my own view of public representatives “the universal impressions have been of industriousness and public-spiritedness.” The same extends to the civil service, a body which places high emphasis on the quality of its language. This is entrenched for two reasons. Firstly, better action is more likely to emerge from better language, Secondly, as part of the chain of policy-making, their papers might well ascend to Ministerial attention.

Those who write about the arts in a policy-formation rather than critical capacity are not members of the Civil Service. The language, lacking the framework of that institutional discipline, has a tendency to suffer a deficit in sharpness and rigour. Writing is determined by the reader. A likely cause of blurriness is the knowledge that it will not rise to the attention of a Minister. Whether this matters greatly is moot. The arts as an entity are glorious but perhaps stronger thinking might enhance greater glory.

Certainly assertion needs to be tempered with fact-checking. The fact of not fact-checking is probably explained by the nature of the writer-reader relationship. Essentially policy-deciders are writing for one another.

Obviously reviewers have it easier. They have a book, a show, an exhibition before them. Extrapolation to a more general cultural view is not required and, when done, frequently lacks cogency anyhow. But those who aspire to write more broadly on the arts should better be guided by a few precepts. Firstly, be clear, and make explicit, what are the values in contradiction. Since everything in being is an expression of values in opposition, they are better at being made declarative rather than kept tacit.

A good start is the declaration of non-knowledge. It is the root of wisdom from Socrates to Nassim Nicholas Taleb. These twin themes of assertion and unclarity can be seen in the treatment of inequity. In 2018 parliamentarians in Westminster, led by Tom Watson, sought to establish the postcode association between lottery receipts and lottery expenditure. The data was not held, they were told. In the meantime committee language can come up with a line like: “ At the same time, limited access to the means of creative expression, especially at professional levels, hinders the broadening of the potential market for, as well as the supply of, cultural and creative experiences, and this diminishes the potential for cultural and creative growth.”

The clarity index is,as it says, a means for enhancing expression. This sentence busts the clarity index by a factor of 15. It is a mish-mash, which obscures its meaning. It may be intentional; were its content to be expressed clearly then it would be contested. It seems to mean that consumption would rise if the supply side were improved. But this is a non sequitur in a climate of cultural surfeit. “Cultural growth” appears to refer to the economy where “creative growth” is to individuals. Where there is too much to choose from, winners need to be better. .

This is taken from the Warwick Commission's “Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth”. A report of a few years ago ought not to matter much. But it raises a concern that its tone and approach might be mirrored in the inner councils, the meetings, that determine the things that happen or not. And that would be cause for worry.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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