ACW’s new five-year strategy rejects single artform strategies, defines the obligations of National companies and pledges to recognise the role of activity that straddles the subsidised and commercial sectors.

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Chris Boland

A radical new strategy will become the foundation of new programmes of work by the Arts Council of Wales (ACW) over the next five years. ‘Inspire’, a draft document laying out the challenges facing the arts in Wales and the strategies and objectives aimed at addressing these, sets out ACW’s vision for the arts as “fundamental to the future of Wales - not a ‘nice to have’ luxury, more a cornerstone in Wales’s 21st century renewal”. Described as “an enabling strategy” that doesn’t control or constrain, ACW aims to let the arts in Wales “be defined by the imagination of the artist, rather than by the label of type or category”, and sees artform silos as standing “in isolation from what now are the broader challenges, actions and impacts of the arts taken as a whole”.

The strategy has been developed following a Wales-wide consultation in 2012/13, during which a series of ‘Open Space’ sessions, involving the public as well as arts practitioners, sought answers to the question: “What sort of creative Wales do we want to see by 2020 and how do we get there?” More than 70 discussion topics developed during these meetings have now been framed as ten challenges that will provide the focus for ACW’s funding and developmental decisions. The strategy is summed up as ‘Make, Reach, Sustain’ – making inspiring art, ensuring it connects to communities and works economically, so that it has a durable legacy.

Fostering an environment for artists and arts organisations to create their best work is seen as key to this, and ACW’s goal is to “create the circumstances in which our artists can pursue viable sustainable careers from a Welsh base”. ACW will “set the broad parameters for our public and accountable role in investment and support” but artists and arts organisations will be encouraged to “flesh out how their work will contribute in this bigger picture”. The distinction between high art and popular culture, “with its zero sum game of polarities – excellence or accessibility, subsidised or market led, high or low” is described as “now mostly irrelevant”. And ACW explicitly recognises the nature and importance of the relationship with the creative industries and those areas of activity that straddle the subsidised and the commercial: “We’re as concerned with the fledgling as with the fully formed – the future of a young band on the verge of its first record deal as we are with theatres, orchestras and opera companies; and as interested in the playwright as the screenwriter for film or television.”

Wales’s national organisations will be expected to “start from the question ‘how are we national?’” and will be challenged to “touch even more lives than they have done to date”. The strategy points out: “being national is a responsibility, not an assumed right… If our national companies occupy a pre-eminent role in the cultural life of the nation, they do so only because they represent a pinnacle in terms of the creative reputation of a country.”

Commenting that “public funding is not an entitlement – it has to be earned”, the strategy also makes clear the expectation that funded organisations will be well managed and governed, and ACW will commit to supporting them to develop new ideas, markets and approaches to sustainability. But recognition is given to the dangers of a drive for commercial revenues, including “lucrative digital screenings of high arts events around the world [that] threaten to squeeze out work made and based in Wales”. The report concludes: “Getting the balance right depends on high levels of cultural entrepreneurship. But balance there must be if our country is not to fatally undermine the very vitality and sustainability of the artists who chose to live and work in Wales.”

The draft strategy is now published for consultation and views are sought on its ideas and proposals by 30 April. Council members will then consider all responses and publish a final strategy.
 

Author(s): 
Liz Hill