BLOG Stanzi Collier-Qureshy

NWR Issue 110

Culture Hustings, Cardiff

The lecture theatre at the National Museum where the debate took place last Monday, 4 April, was incredibly grand; it felt more like we were waiting for a performance. But perhaps this was fitting for the first Culture Hustings to take place in Wales, the first to really question what the upcoming plans are for the arts and creative industries by the Welsh Assembly candidates. Common themes emerged at the outset, with all candidates agreeing on the power of the creative industries in creating social cohesion and to the fundamental nature of the arts in Wales, both in economic and cultural terms. In attendance were Ken Skates (Welsh Labour), Suzy Davies (Welsh Conservatives), Bethan Jenkins (Plaid Cymru), Amelia Womack (Wales Green Party) and Denis Campbell (Welsh Liberal Democrats). There were some cracking quotes in the opening speeches, with Womack declaring that in Wales it’s considered ‘macho to be a poet’ and Campbell arguing against the current tradition of schools creating ‘test-taking automatons’.

A key theme that was brought up by all parties was the issue of the arts in education, including the STEAM/STEM debate of the school curriculum. Particularly hot on this topic were both Campbell and Jenkins, with the former sharing his own experiences with his children and how schools should be aiming for a ‘moon-shot policy’ of reaching for the ideal. Jenkins, by contrast, shot down this viewpoint, saying we need to be realistic and start prioritising the arts at primary-school level, though her examples did seem to be predominantly focused on music with the example of free instruments. Apprenticeships were also brought up as an integral ingredient in the continuation of the economic and cultural growth of Wales, indeed being, according to some, the only way to stop losing skills, with Campbell urging for a more united sector. Davies’ focus was on reforming teacher training in order to remove the stereoptypes about science and maths being of more value than the arts. Womack also promoted a more integrated approach to education, with creative aspects of certain subjects getting the credit they deserve in more technical areas (eg architecture); she earned herself a round of applause with her plans to protect Wales from the instigation of ‘academy’ schools that has been recently announced in England.

When asked how to ensure the continuation of economic growth in one of Wales’ most economically successful areas, Davies claimed that with regard to this, there are currently no cuts planned in the Tory manifesto and that a cohesive government-arts-institution should provide support for small businesses. Skates, however, took a different route to the same end, claiming that we need to focus on getting funding for the arts from the local level as well as the national, in order to get enhance local arts budgets. Another issue mentioned, by Davies most clearly, was the need to get other sectors’ budgets such as health supporting the arts, since for example they have proven benefit for mental health, particularly through therapeutic approaches and community-level participation. Jenkins talked about building confidence in the arts as a potential route to work, again in the younger generations, in order to promote jobs in those industries. Womack seconded this, declaring that ‘being an artist should not be a risk’ while Campbell argued for more of a cross-generational discussion in order to share skills and knowledge.

In the debate, one buzzword was that of the issue of a ‘silo-mentality’ with regard to the arts, first raised by outgoing Arts Council of Wales Chair Dai Smith as a description of artforms operating separately from each other, from science and broader society and from the political world it ultimately depended upon. A question from the audience asked whether there should be a Minister for the Arts and Creative Industries? Skates rather brought the debate onto himself with his denial of the existence of a silo-mentality, while Jenkins proclaimed, ‘Of course it exists’ and remaining adamant that ‘this role should be at the table’, to which the other candidates, including, eventually, Skates, concurred. Womack argued for stronger regional boards and consultation across the levels, while Campbell stated that we need stronger partnerships in the creative industries. The issue of getting super-fast fibre optic cable broadband into the most rural areas was also considered a necessity, particularly by Womack and Campbell, because of its ability to spread online learning and skills in the ever-expanding digital arts.

Also brought up by audience questions were the two connected fields of diversity and inclusivity in the arts and the matter of volunteers and opportunities in the creative industries. The former was covered by all agreeing to tackle the problem at school level with Davies declaring we need more diversity in apprenticeships and to abolish gender-stereotyping, Jenkins promoting the idea of role model figutes going into schools and Skates urging for the establishment of ‘young ambassadors’. Womack rather poetically emphasised the arts’ already existing power to spotlight issues of discrimination, while Campbell called for more socio-economic equality in gaining exposure to the arts. On the topic of volunteers, while appreciating the debt owed to these, both Womack and Skates called for more paid jobs in the sector. Jenkins again mentioned that education is a great medium for creating opportunity, and Davies called volunteering a form of ‘social capital’, winding up proceedings by detailing the importance of creating more partnership schemes.

Stanzi Collier-Qureshy is a NWR blogger-in-residence as part of her Cardiff University School of English, Communication & Philosophy placement.




       


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