BLOG Jemma L King

NWR Issue 103

Arts Council of Wales Strategy for Creativity and the Arts

'Inspire', the Arts Council of Wales’ ‘Strategy for Creativity and the Arts in Wales’ (March 2014) is less of a strategy and more of a manifesto. It could be summarised as an air-punching call to arms, and at times, the language becomes downright evangelical. The arts in Wales, the report argues, could ‘move us onto a different plane of existence’! I had imagined, approaching the strategy, that I might be analysing/criticising financial plans but it just isn’t that kind of beast. Instead, it sets out a plan to overhaul the psychology of this nation in order to foster a healthy arts industry and to re-brand Wales as ‘The Creative Country’.

The ACW rightfully asserts that ‘challenging times call for determined action’ and sees that post-industrial Wales needs to shift the arts to the very centre of its commercial life. The report itself admits that this is an ambitious proposal but seeks to address obstacles rather than asking where the money is going or not going. This is a significant change of approach, and an exciting proposition too, but how can it be done?

A micro-to-macro approach is foregrounded – that local enterprise should be supported over international enterprise, and that Wales should promote itself more aggressively than ever before. The grassroots level of this approach is to start with schools and build upwards. They point out that

The arts can nurture a young person’s ability to question and make connections, to develop the capacity for independent, critical thought… challenging poverty of aspiration and breaking the cycle of deprivation. This can be the key that unlocks the door to further and higher education, and in time, employment.


For me, this is a key issue. At the time of writing, Ceredigion County Council won’t release the latest GCSE English Language figures, deeming that the numbers wouldn’t be useful. The pass-rate is rumoured by the local paper, the Cambrian News to be as low as 5%. Although this is not the place to go into cause-and-effects, I feel that there is a correlation between the ‘coaching to exam’ strategy currently favoured by the education system. The prioritising of GCSE English and maths results over, say, the encouragement of creative writing, is not just lacklustre for children, but also for teachers too. I happen to know that the school that I attended is still teaching the same book for GCSE study as my year group also studied. Considering that the (same) teachers have been teaching this book for at least fifteen years, how inspired and indeed inspiring can they possibly be? The ACW suggest ‘re-igniting the creativity of teachers themselves’ and clearly, this is essential. To my mind, the only way forward is to allow schools to untether themselves from a restrictive curriculum and to revalue creativity. None of this will happen without a systematic renovation (and yes, this runs in the opposite direction to Michael Gove’s vision of how the education system should work) but nonetheless, this again indicates the necessity to ‘take the long view’.

Enmeshed into the above argument is the problem of how to prove to young people that an arts career in Wales is viable. ‘Fish are only as healthy as the water they swim in’, the strategy argues. How can we renew and retain the talent pool? This problem faces every artist working in Wales. The ACW seeks to enhance our ‘presence on the world stage in Biennales, Festivals and Showcases’, ‘win events for Wales’, and ‘develop partnerships with the Welsh Government, the British Council, and other Wales-based partnerships.’ The objective is to create sustainable careers in Wales that can be well linked internationally. The ACW identifies issues – the digital revolution in light of ‘a Wales only part plugged in’ – and imagines how the infrastructure could be improved. It aims to fund less traditional enterprises – the boyband on the cusp of a record deal or the first time film maker. All of this is to promote real growth in the Welsh arts industry.

But there is a negotiation here, and it would be naïve not to address the difficult economic climate within this context. On our part, whether we are individual artists or regional art centres, we must be supportive of Welsh initiative and originality. To bring business to Wales, we must first celebrate and encourage our own home-grown arts base. Arts centres, for example, are encouraged to cut back on the ‘digital screenings of high arts events [from] around the world’. Additionally, the ACW warns that ‘public funding is not an entitlement – it has to be earned’ but that they promise to continue their support of organisations that most fully align themselves with the keynotes of this strategy. Because, in their estimation, ‘intelligent management of public investment allows the arts to flourish beyond a dependency on subsidy alone.’ An arts economy is envisaged that can fight its own, one that will eventually redefine Wales as ‘the creative country’. Can it be done? I guess it’s up to us.

Jemma L King won the Terry Hetherington Award for young writers in 2001, and her poetry collection The Shape of a Forest was longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize in 2013. This year she was selected by Hay Festival to be a partner in the international Scritture Giovani scheme.

ACW 'Inspire' Strategy consultation ended on 30 April.

Buy this book at gwales.com



       


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