Revenue projections will be demanded for capital investment bids under ACW’s draft Capital Strategy

Dreams of a new national gallery for contemporary visual arts in Wales are unlikely to become a reality under a new Lottery capital strategy for the arts. Preliminary research has indicated that over £35m would be required for such a project, and the Arts Council of Wales (ACW) has “reluctantly had to conclude that this cannot be a priority in the coming few years, although the longer-term ambition remains”. The whole issue of a national home for the visual arts in Wales has been a hot potato for more than a decade, since a bungled attempt to sustain a dedicated contemporary visual arts venue in the centre of Cardiff ended in financial disaster within a year when visitor numbers failed to reach targets (AP14). Subsequent plans for the development of the National Museums and Galleries of Wales (AP36) failed to prioritise a base for contemporary art, and the question of how to provide a permanent platform for Welsh artists to display their work in an international context has remained ever since.

The decision to sideline proposals for a visual arts centre has been partly driven by budgetary constraints. Although ACW is yet to decide the level of Lottery funding that it will allocate to its new Capital programme, it has made clear that “there will be no repeat of the high levels of funding seen in the early days of the Lottery,” and indicated that a figure between £25m and £30m from 2012 to 2017 would not be unrealistic. Still conscious of the mistakes made in the very early days of Lottery capital funding, ACW will be exercising special caution in the allocation of funding during this period, especially the revenue funding implications of any investments. The draft strategy makes it clear that “if capital investment is to have a positive rather than a negative impact, any new or additional revenue must be identified and given full consideration by all stakeholders at an early stage in the development of any new scheme or project”. The cash squeeze facing local authorities is recognised as potentially having a significant impact on the financial viability of the existing arts infrastructure, and ACW recognises that it should be prepared to consider how its own capital investment can help to ensure the continued investment of other stakeholders in arts provision.

With this in mind, under the new strategy a greater priority will be placed on the refurbishment of existing facilities rather than new build schemes, and co-funded projects involving other Lottery distributors, the Welsh Assembly Government and other agencies will be favoured. A particular emphasis will be placed on helping revenue-funded arts organisations to realise the full potential of their existing facilities. Projects that will fill in geographical and cultural gaps in national arts provision will also be given high priority, including the development of the arts in Wrexham and Heads of the Valleys. The completion of a facility currently under development in Bangor, and the refurbishment of Theatr Clwyd are also seen as “imperative to maintaining an effective infrastructure in North Wales”. Special consideration will also be given to projects “of sufficient quality and strategic importance” in Powys, since an earlier scheme to refurbish Theatr Hafren was shelved.