An atmosphere of quiet, if not of calm, has descended over the Arts Council of Wales as news has emerged of the Welsh Assembly Government?s plans to adopt some of its role and function. The quiet has, in part, been induced by the studious attention to detail which is being paid by all concerned to what is exactly going to happen and some mumblings about how much difference the changes will actually make. First Minister Rhodri Morgan has made it a personal crusade to slash bureaucracy and burn the quangos and, in the process, to consolidate power in the hands of the Assembly. The irony of a recently decentralised government frantically re-centralising power and influence appears lost on the First Minister.
There?s noise aplenty in Northern Ireland about plans, originated in Westminster, which could see arts funding cut by 10% in little over a year. With limited local consultation, the proposals were originally published in October and finalised plans are expected by Christmas, just two weeks after the end of the consultation period. Such a swift turnaround suggests scant regard for local and expert opinion and a pre-determined outcome. Fears are growing of a talent drain of artists away from Northern Ireland and what one senior arts practitioner describes as a ?withering on the vine? of the Northern Irish arts scene. Perhaps understandably, this is not the first concern of a Government picking its way through the peace process and power sharing; but it does reveal a disturbing willingness to allow Northern Ireland?s cultural future to hang in the balance.
For all that artists moan about arts councils, they have, for over 50 years preserved the independence, influence and funding of an arts sector in the UK which is envied around the world. Stripping that structure away or, in the case of Northern Ireland, simply ignoring its demands is petulant at best, if not an act of cultural vandalism.