BLOG Jemma L King

NWR Issue 100

Resist the Pie-Chart. Funding for English Periodicals in Wales

In a matter of weeks, the Welsh Books Council’s Publishing Grants Panel will be announcing their response to a review, led by Tony Bianchi, regarding the funding of WBC-supported English language magazines in Wales. To simplify, what this means is that some of Wales’ most important arts and literature magazines, such as New Welsh Review and Planet, could potentially lose a significant proportion of their funding. And let’s be clear, these magazines are already operating on what Gwen Davies, the editor of NWR terms a ‘meagre budget’. Both NWR and Planet consistently produce high quality periodicals that are of the utmost importance, both internally and externally to Welsh culture.

It seems to be the knee-jerk reaction of UK government bodies to look to the arts in a bid to ‘slash’ public funding which is something that should concern us all. Unfortunately, the motivating factor (in my opinion) for such a laissez-faire attitude towards this sector is born of the (seemingly) immeasurable contributions that the arts provide to society. We live in a moment of time in which everything must be measured, classified and demarcated against x and y, pie-charted and orthographed into oblivion. This leaves the arts vulnerable to attack because our collective reach (I address writers and visual artists in particular here) is subtle. In her editorial letter in issue 100 of NWR, Davies writes that her concern regarding the possible financial outcome of the review was piqued by the reflective revolutions of Alyce von Rothkirch (a member of the review panel) around the theme of monetary correlations, in a review also published in issue 100. Davies is rightfully concerned that if we are routinely forced to ‘follow the money’, that the lowest possible common denominator will always win out. Consequently, on a world stage, our presence will only be represented by the empty calories of money-spinners such as MTV’s series ‘The Valleys’ (to steal Davies’ apt example). Is this what we, the Welsh, want our contribution to British culture to be?

A report by Joshua Guetzkow for Princeton University reveals how hollow the myth of the art’s insubstantial economic contribution to a society, really is. He details the innumerable ways that the arts impact positively on an economy. For one thing, they become an ‘export industry’, drawing outsiders to the area (this immediately calls to mind the successful series of Literature Wales’ Literary Tourism Events). A thriving arts scene invites high-skilled workers, tourists, businesses, promotes community image and status. A thriving arts scene is, in other words, the barometer by which the economic health of a community can be measured.

I’m not saying that by itself, NWR can do all of the above, but viewed as part of a vital package of financial stimulation for the arts sector (grants towards community projects, individual projects, support for publishing houses and galleries, etc), the magazine’s importance becomes self-evident. In time, if the sector is nurtured, it will become ever-more self-sustaining. It’s a slow process and I hope that the panel take that into consideration. Davies writes that ‘our books industry, thanks to post-devolution public funding, is only just creeping out from a blanket of amateurism.’ This is exactly right. We are only just now beginning to compete with our slicker London rivals, but compete we do. Our list of award-winning, globally impacting literary heavyweights grows annually. Dannie Abse, Gwyneth Lewis, Rachel Trezise, Niall Griffiths, Owen Sheers, Gillian Clarke… all of the above have contributed in some form to NWR. It promotes them, it promotes Welsh culture, it promotes us. To not have a forum that champions and celebrates talent in other developed countries would be unthinkable. The ‘kitchen table’ scenario envisioned by Davies, whereby our only cultural output is relegated to the extra-curricular activity of a pocket of enthusiasts, is likely to only appeal to a small demographic and it absolutely must not be allowed to happen.

Equally, we must not allow all of our art/lit magazines to migrate, wholesale, to the environs of cyber space. Of course an online presence is crucial to remaining relevant, but part of the joy (and let me bring this down to an entirely personal level here: I’m not a conglomerate or a government body) of purchasing NWR, is to leaf the pages whilst in the bath or up a mountain, disconnected from the noise and thrum of the World Wide Web.

My most pressing point is this, though: away from the immediate economic benefits of publishing arts and literature magazines (which, by the nature of the argument I suspect is coming our way, I had to address), a publication like NWR is valuable because it democratises, celebrates and fosters new talent and ensures that existing talent continues to have a platform. It presents burgeoning and established talent side by side on an equal footing, allowing those difficult few steps up the ladder a little less impossible. As a writer, NWR has always been supportive of my work. And as a writer working in rural Wales, this support has provided me with a sense of a relationship to a wider ‘scene’, and an affirmation of my chosen vocation. A magazine like NWR isn’t a closed elitist door. It is a publication that acts as one of the major arteries that connect author and artist alike to the audience and to the attention of publishers. It provides a hub by which the widely dispersed talent of Wales can be centralised and connected. And there isn’t a pie-chart in the land that can measure the benefit of that.

Jemma L King’s debut poetry collection, The Shape of a Forest, was published last month by Parthian.

It is expected that the outcome of the periodicals’ review will be made public in early July.

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