EDITORIAL NWR Issue 21
Swansea's Year of Literature
Is there to be a Year of Literature and Writing in Swansea in 1995? A casual observer could be forgiven for wondering if this Arts Council of Great Britain project - secured by Swansea on the basis of a proposal put forward by the Welsh Academy - is either not going to happen or is going to end in tears.
Over two years have passed since the idea was first mooted and 18 months since ACGB announced that Swansea's bid had been successful. Yet with less than eighteen months to go before the start of the Year, there is no sign of a programme of events for 1995 and still no decision on the siting of a national literature centre - a cornerstone of the bid. As the NWR goes to press, the Academy has written to Swansea City Council expressing its alarm at the lack of progress and demanding an emergency meeting with senior councillors.
If this were merely as momentary panic, there would be less cause for concern. But by all accounts the project to date has been characterised by a war of attrition between writers' organisations and the council, rather than a spirit of cooperation and joint endeavour.
The City Council can quite rightly point out that, so far, it is the only partner in the project to have put up hard cash - this year its funding of a Year of Literature Office, with its four staff, will cost around £100,000. The £250,000 from ACGB will not be available until 1995 and the response from other sources has so far been disappointing. But if the year is to be a success, it
also needs the active participation of Wales's literary community.
In practice, apart from there being a general atmosphere of mutual suspicion and hostility, specific incidents have also caused great anger and upset. Having encouraged a public debate on alternative proposals for a national literature centre, the council then pre-empted that debate by deciding to reject the new building proposed by international architect, Will Alsop, just two days before a public meeting called to discuss the issue. The council has opened itself to international ridicule by removing some pioneering street poetry, because of some crass, ignorant criticism in the local tabloid press, which the council itself had commissioned for the refurbished city centre from 3 well-known Welsh poets. This is hardly the kind of action expected of a city renowned for its poets and writers at any time, but most certainly not by a city preparing to host a celebratory Year of Literature and Writing on behalf of the United Kingdom as a whole. At best, it suggests the right hand is not aware of what the left hand is doing. At worst, that an effort is being made to sabotage the project. Small wonder, some members of the Academy are wondering whether they might not do better to extricate themselves from the project now.
The current concern over the lack of a programme should be answered in a few weeks time when the new artistic director, Maura Dooley - who, after all, has only been in post a couple of months - unveils a programme of events covering both 1994 and 1995.
As for the literature centre or Ty Llen, decision on the location of the national literature centre is now promised in early August - with a refurbished Old Guildhall in Swansea's maritime quarter now emerging as front-runner - which would allow the project to be completed in time to be opened on March 1, 1995.
But beyond that, it is vitally important that all sides recognise they must do all within their power to ensure fences are mended. Another run of bad press so soon after the recent adverse publicity about the Welsh Development Agency would be highly damaging to Swansea and the cause of literature but for the reputation of Wales as a whole.
previous editorial: The National Centre for Literature
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