Theatre in Wales

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Governance of Arts Organisations

Boards, Artists, Chairs, Critics , Art & Culture in the Public Sphere , June 27, 2024
Governance of Arts Organisations by Boards, Artists, Chairs, Critics On 26th June the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee issued a report that addressed the governance of Amgueddfa Cymru/ Museum Wales.

The report opened:

“The Committee was extremely concerned by the evidence heard about the governance arrangements that were in place at Amgueddfa Cymru.

“...We have grave concerns about the processes that have been adopted...not least in the interactions between Amgueddfa Cymru and the Welsh Government. More work needs to be done to ensure that this situation is not repeated at Amgueddfa Cymru, or any other public body.

“In the context of these major issues, it is hugely concerning that the Welsh Government’s Tailored Review programme is in the process of being adapted to a self-assessment style of review. The Committee is concerned that this approach will prove to be inadequate in identifying and resolving potentially serious governance issues, such as those exposed by the situation at Amgueddfa Cymru.”

The report of 75 pages is deserving of scrutiny and explication.

The governance of public culture has been a recurrent topic across Wales, Scotland and England. The articles to date in this sequence “Governance of Arts Organisations” can be read below:

30 May 2024 John Tusa “On Board”

“All organisations find it hard to devise a genuine and rigorous strategy. Instead we produced a “mission statement” but it was gibberish."

“My experience of working with arts leaders...absolutely obsessed...they simply do not put in the hard grind of translating ideas into efficient systems which are fundamental parts of management.”

6 February 2024 Yvette Nolan An Algonquin-Irish Theatre Director-Writer Speaks

“The boards are packed with nominees from the government of Wales. But to become a trustee of a cultural organisation is to be Thomas a Beckett. Accept the role and you cease to be servant to the king.”

“Theatres are what James Q Wilson calls coping organisations, “agencies (that) can observe neither the outputs nor the outcomes of their key operators” Wilson offers as examples teachers, police officers and diplomats, people whose work is ephemeral and largely immeasurable; one cannot measure precisely what and how a child learns, what crimes are not committed, or what conversations result in favourable foreign policy. In the same way, the work that theatre makers do is difficult to measure.”

18 January 2024 Government Reduction to Culture of Wales

“The Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport, and International Relations Committee published a report...weakly written, lacking in insight and analytical rigour. In language, style and quality the Civil Service under Welsh Government management is now in full divergence from its counter-part in London.

“The report uses casual and colloquial language. Plural nouns are followed by singular verbs and vice versa. Sentences occur without verbs, Words are omitted. Apostrophes are inserted before an “s” where the word is a plain plural.”

1 June 2023 Geraint Talfan Davies “At Arm’s Length”

“Few meetings of an arts council pass without a council member pleading for more time to discuss the art. Despite strenuous efforts, the agendas of arts councils are too often dominated by the encumbrances of our compliance culture in a way that can affect a council's creative relationship with artists and arts organisations.”

“National identity has both a political expression, through government, and a social expression, through culture” wrote Robert Hewison in his 1995 book about fifty years of Arts Councils “Culture and Consensus”.

“Talfan Davies recounts how often during his tenure he was faced with authority opposed to this distinction.”

4 May 2023 Dai Smith Memoir “Off the Track”

“The bloated size of its client list and various of its policies, including its continually ill-fated drama strategies, needed some profound thought.”

“This is not the usual style of language when public culture and public policy are being discussed.”

“In my view, this fight, ending in a kind of score draw, pitted constitutional principles against the power game of political willpower. There was, once it began, little chance of being settled by consensual goodwill. Instead, it became more and more heated and quarrelsome in its mode.”

“The culture portfolio is a merry-go-round with seven ministers in ten years. Of Carwyn Jones: “promised us everything and so was immensely popular as he floated free of any concrete responsibility.”

20 January 2022: Critical Retrospective on 2021

"The virtuous cycle of feedback between the public sphere and the state, vital to deliberative democracy, cannot take place. Wales' absent public sphere constrains cultural output, impedes the development of a collective civic identity, and hampers flourishing of the Welsh language."

10 September 2021: Lamentable Report on Widening Culture

"The most obvious first impression is that the authors have no experience, nor much idea, of what is entailed in authoring a public report in the public domain. Since they are without any experience it raises the issue of the procurement process employed in the commissioning."

31 August 2021: Speaking Welsh Is Racist

"The London press enjoyed themselves at the expense of Wales over a weekend this month. "Welsh language use "systemically racist, Arts Council warned" was just one headline in emblazoned print."

20 August 2020: Arts Council of Wales Corporate Plan 2018-2023

“The Plan, in making government and people synonymous, shrugs off its obligation to serve the public. It is in the public domain but the public are not expected to read it. The public is certainly not expected to comment."

16 February 2020 Arts Council’s Aims Should Reflect Welsh Government Policies

Jennie Lee, 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.”

October 2019: The Arms-Length Principle: State is not Nation

"On Jennie Lee: "She did not get in the way and she did not allow her minions to get in the way. If the Arts Council operates as it should, it has no need of ministerial control and no means of conforming to it. The Minister should exercise only the restricted functions that an autonomous Council assigns to him."

22 April 2019 More Treasure Trove Archaeology , Wales' Critical Past

“A Council Chair was put in “who not only lacked “any particular affection for artists but...regarded them as members of the community who could be dealt with on a summary basis.” Thus Raymond Williams wrote about the late Lord Eccles (1904-1999). Would that a Raymond Williams were with us still to cast his sharp eye upon Wales two decades after devolution.”

09 August 2018 Scottish Arts Council Loses Chief Executive

“Criticism of our artistic judgement. I won't tolerate that.” He declaimed that arts funding is in the hands of philistines and a cultural disgrace. True to this tradition, the arts in Scotland have had an explosive first half of 2018."

4 July 2018 Trouble in Scotland

“The organisation finds itself in the hands of a leadership which refers to the allocation of funds as the “boring bit” of its job.” The managers, ran the claim of Scotland’s artists, wanted to do “advocacy, social strategy and business development… demonstrably none of its business.”

“The divisions have led to what has proven to be a fatal lack of trust between leading artists and companies and Creative Scotland's senior management.”

28 July 2017: The Flint Ring Sculpture: CADW & ACW Discomforted

"The loser here is the Arts Council of Wales. Public arts subsidy has only one goal, that is excellence in art. To miss the meaning of the ring as metaphor displays an ignorance of art and history that runs deep."

22nd November 2014 John Tusa- A Pain in the Arts

“The real lesson from Whitehall is that bureaucrats and policy makers only respect those who resist and fight back…the weak and frightened are pursued and mauled; the strong are respected and accommodated. Ask any retired Whitehall veteran and they confirm that this is the prevailing mindset.”

Mark Ravenhill: “the arts deal in something very different: wisdom, a complex, challenging, lifelong search that can make you happy and furious, discontented and questioning, elated or bored. It doesn't educate or inform or make you a better citizen. We belittle art when we make it into information or luxury. Wisdom can hurt, but human beings will seek it out.”

“The arts are about the way a society feels about itself”, says Tusa. Nicholas Serota says “culture is ever more important than ever in helping us to understand our place in the world.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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