NWR Issue 22

The National Centre for Literature

The National Centre for Literature was the imaginative centrepiece of Swansea's successful bid to host the Arts Council of Great Britain's 1995 Year of Literature, and one of the main reasons it was able to beat off the competition from other parts of the UK.

Setting out Swansea's stall, the bid document declared: "Ty Llên -The National Centre for Literature will be the first major dedicated writers' centre and literary complex in the UK. The centre will be a permanent facility, and a memorial to the Arts 2000 venture...developed along the lines of the Dublin Writers' Museum and Living Writers' Centre, the Berlin Literaturhaus and the Archives et Musée de la Littérature in Brussels.

"It will provide a geographical base and a focal point for literary activity during 1995,with a full range of support facilities. Itwill be a 'shop window' for the display of works of literature, with changing exhibitions and education and outreach programmes. Many of the (1995) events will be held in Ty Llên and its opening well constitute a major event and fillip to the literary community in Wales."

Translating those fine words into deeds however has been proving somewhat more difficult and the reason is, as usual, money.

Finance for the 12 months of the Year of Literature should be reasonably assured. It is underpinned by the £250,000 grant made available for the year by the Arts Council of Great Britain. Additional support is likely to be coming from the Welsh Arts Council particularly for the build-up towards 1995. The private sector and other public sector organisations will hopefully also persuaded to support the year, once the programme becomes available. But what about the costs of running Ty Llên from 1996 onwards?

This issue has come to the fore because the debate over the location of the new centre has finally been resolved. It is to be housed in the Old Guildhall, a listed building which is to be radical refurbished in time to be officially opened on March 1,1993. More pertinent still, Swansea City Council has formally invited the Welsh Academy to take over the running of the centre, posing in stark terms the revenue implications.

The present activities of the English and Welsh sections of the Academy generate a turnover of some £200,000 a year, of which roughly half is granted-aided by the Welsh Arts Council and half from private sector sponsorship and revenue from literary events. But a National Literature
Centre worthy of the name and with a level of staffing necessary to fulfil its role will require funding of at least double that figure.

Not surprisingly, the Academy is hesitant about confirming its original commitment to transfer its offices from Cardiff to Swansea were Swansea's bid successful. The Welsh Arts Council, faced with a 2 per cent reduction in its budget next year, is hardly in a position to fund a significant new commitment out of its existing budget. As anyone involved in the field of literature will vouch, existing resources for literature are already severely stretched and meagre compared with the sums available to other arts.

The fact is that the new centre is planned as a national resource - a national literature centre not just for Wales but for the whole of the UK - and should be recognised as such by the Government. From April next year, responsibility for funding of the arts in Wales will pass from Department of National Heritage to the Welsh Office. The equitable and most sensible arrangement would be for the national literature centre to be funded directly by the Welsh Office in same way as the National Museum of Wales. Literature centres in other European countries are successful because they enjoy national backing. And if generous Government support can be found for Manchester's Olympic Games bid, then why not for Swansea's National Centre for Literature?


previous editorial: William Shakespeare's Welsh connection
next editorial: Swansea's Year of Literature


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