Theatre in Wales

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Arts Council’s Aims Should Reflect Welsh Government Policies

Governance of Arts Organisations

Nation and State , the Culture of Wales , February 16, 2020
Governance of Arts Organisations by Nation and State Bad action kicks off with bad thinking. Bad thinking more often than not arises from one of two causes. One thing is confused as being joined with another. Conversely there is a failure to distinguish one thing from another.

The arts are a part of civil society. The state is not the nation.

It is worth remembering the history. From the National Archives of Wales held in the National Library in Aberystwyth:

“The Welsh Arts Council (WAC) was established by Royal Charter in 1946. In 1994, the Council merged with the three Welsh regional arts associations to create the Arts Council of Wales (ACW).

“At the same time the Arts Council of Great Britain separated its responsibilities for England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. It was set up by Royal Charter, with four main objectives, to develop and improve the knowledge, understanding and practice of the arts; to increase the accessibility of the arts to the public; to advise and co-operate with other public bodies; and to work through the medium of Welsh and English.”

“Since 1999 the Arts Council of Wales has been an Assembly Sponsored Public Body (ASPB) and receives its money to fund the arts in Wales from the Welsh Assembly. ACW is therefore responsible to the Assembly for the way the money is spent.”

This is the remit for the arts. The Government of Wales does not feature, at least according to this record. The principle of independence dates back seventy years. Lord Goodman, regarded as a great Chair of the Arts Council, was clear:

“I accept, and I hope never will, government direction as to the utilisation of its money, and how to promote the arts. It does not impose on its beneficiaries any direction that trammels the use of that money, except so as to ensure proper financial controls, economies and the best spread.”

But the arrangement is far from constant. Wales produced no more acute observer and part-insider than Raymond Williams.

“The British State has been able to delegate some of its official functions to a whole complex of semi-official or nominally independent bodies because it has been able to rely on an unusually compact and organic ruling class. Thus it can give Lord X or Lady Y both public money and apparent freedom of decision in some confidence, subject to normal procedures of report and accounting, that they will act as if they are indeed state officials.”

“It is the incompetent political and administrative reflection of both confused and definitions and arts. The consequent muddle through its consensual tone has led to repeated attempts to accept the muddle, to take it as something that has to be lived with. There is one kind of duty to sustain their high quality; there is another kind of duty to make the best work generally accessible.”

The description of a compact class is true in Wales, its compactness strengthened by the fact of perpetual government and a media that lacks independence of spirit.

Jennie Lee was, in the record of history, a great Minister for the Arts. She mixed with artists. In the words of Lord Goodman:

“She had spent much time with artists of all kinds- musicians, writers and painters- and knew that the genuine artist was an uncompromising creature who would not relax his standards. She was not concerned to bring a mediocre amalgam of bits and pieces to a multitude unprepared to receive the unalloyed product.

“She was a forthright woman, given to plain statement, impatient of circumlocution, hating evasion and above all loathing any attitude of defeatism.”

The situation is not like that here. The Government is overt. “The Arts Council’s aims should reflect Welsh Government policies.”

But the arts are the domain of civil society. State is not nation.


National Archives:

Raymond Williams: “Resources of Hope: Culture, Democracy, Socialism” Verso 1989

Arnold Goodman: “Tell Them I'm On My Way” Chapmans, 1993

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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