EDITORIAL NWR Issue 24
The year of literature 1995 - and beyond
Sean Doran, the new Director of Swansea's UK Year of Literature 1995, has made a good start on picking up the pieces after the disasters of the past two years. Within days of his arrival in Swansea he had called a meeting of local community groups and announced the setting up of a local fund to support events which they might wish to stage. "Our door is open to anybody who wants to be involved," he declared.
Since then there has been a London launch and a rapid recruitment of staff - it will have 10-11 staff members by the end of this month - with the aim of putting next year's planned year-long celebration of literature back on the rails.
Mr Doran himself is well-equipped to succeed having had the rare experience of running a year-long arts festival already - for Derry City Council and the Department of the Environment in his native northern Ireland. And he quite rightly emphasises that whatever the difficulties of the past, Swansea's hosting of the 1995 Year is a unique opportunity for Wales to celebrate its literatures which should be seized. He wants to see 'beacons of activity' outside Swansea and stresses that an exceptionally large sum of money by literary standards - £500,000 - is available for pure programming over a 12 month period.
As the same time, he notes that the success of the year will need to be judged by the extent to which it has stimulated literary activity in 1996 and beyond on a more permanent basis.
It is in this context that Swansea's proposal for Ty Llen or the National Centre for Literature was put forward as a centrepiece of the city's bid to host the Year. It is to occupy a radically refurbished Old Guildhall and be officially opened on March 1, next year. It will serve as a key venue for many Year of Literature events. However a big question mark now hangs over the extent to which, in practice, it will become a permanent facility dedicated to fostering and celebrating the literary arts.
Swansea's original bid document held out the promise that writers' organisations like the Welsh Academy, the Welsh Union of Writers (and, even, the New Welsh Review) would be offered accommodation in the centre at a peppercorn rent. However, the Welsh Academy was told a few weeks ago that if it wanted to take space in Ty Llen it would have to pay £65,000 p.a. in rent and £35,000 in rates. Since the Academy presently pays a total of £3,000 p.a. in Cardiff, it has not surprisingly decided against moving to Swansea and initiated a study into establishing a writers centre in the capital city. Other writers' organizations are similarly unable to contemplate the rents proposed by Swansea. What future in those circumstances for Swansea's Ty Llen?
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