UK: Are Welsh arts enjoying a feast or famine?

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Sep 10 15:15:39 UTC 2008

Are Welsh arts enjoying a feast or famine?

Sep 10 2008 Western Mail

Tony Bianchi , a writer and former Literature Director at the Arts
Council of Wales asks whether artistic activity in Welsh is getting
its fare share of public funds So, the National Eisteddfod has been
and gone. I managed to get to a dozen or so of the hundreds of events
on offer, taking in drama, dance, art, song, and, to round it off, a
wonderfully anarchic and hilarious poetry slam. Any outsider wandering
innocently into this mind-spinning jamboree would have thought, I'm
sure, that Welsh language culture must be in pretty good shape.
However, I know more than a few insiders who saw, once again, only a
feast in the midst of famine.

Where does the truth lie? How is Welsh language culture really faring,
not just during this one week at the beginning of August but for the
whole year? This is a stab at answering these questions.

To begin with, Welsh speakers clearly have a healthy appetite for the
arts – 85% of those with some competence in the language attended arts
events in 2004-05, compared with 72% of the rest of the population.
But why, then, did only 33% of this high figure engage in activities
in Welsh? Is it ignorance of what's going on? Are they dissatisfied
with what's on offer? Or is there simply insufficient activity to
satisfy demand?

There has certainly been criticism of the lack of visibility of Welsh
language events – that you don't find out about them unless you're
part of an "in-group". Also, many Welsh speakers are nervous that
Welsh language books and plays might be too difficult. Of the 21% of
the population who claim to speak Welsh, only 57% regard themselves as

But there is also evidence that investment in the Welsh language
sector is, in some important respects, simply inadequate.

Some traditional activities do relatively well. Writing in Welsh,
funded mainly by the Academi and the Welsh Books Council, certainly
punches above its weight. But in other word-based media, the picture
is less rosy. Film suffers most, and as going to the cinema is the
most popular of all cultural activities, this skews the figures
considerably. Welsh language drama, after declining to only 10% of
Arts Council revenue-funded output, has recently taken big steps
forward through the new Theatr Genedlaethol. However, Sandra Wynne,
the Council's senior drama officer, stresses that this is a small,
highly pressured economy, competing with TV for actors and still
lacking in strong, original work which can play in the larger venues.

Siân Tomos, director of the Arts Council's North Wales office, echoes
this view: "Gone are the days when Welsh speakers will go to an event
just because it's in Welsh. We need more mainstream productions which
can stand side by side with English language work in its audience

The Achilles' heel is almost certainly the funding system's provision
for youth arts – a critical arena for the future of creative
engagement in the language.

At school, levels of activity are healthy enough, with excellent
Theatre in Education work being done in all areas. Outside school,
however, the Arts Council's latest survey of revenue-funded
organisations shows that fewer than 7% of 13,931 workshop sessions
used Welsh at all, and a majority of these were bilingual. As young
people's participation is overwhelmingly in the major growth areas of
drama and dance, this is a discouraging scenario.

Einion Dafydd, who co-ordinates the Arts Council's Welsh language
Monitoring Group, says in mitigation that participatory activities
will always tend to drift to the lingua franca. Also, some disciplines
– dance, in particular – have grown in an overwhelmingly English
language milieu, so that there are few practitioners able to work in

Pauline Crossley, director of the National Youth Arts Wales
consortium, argues that we should pay less attention to "crude
linguistic divisions" and points to the innovative bilingual
productions of the National Youth Theatre.

But Efa Gruffudd Jones, chief executive of Urdd Gobaith Cymru, is less
sanguine. Although her organisation is the most important gateway
through which young Welsh speakers become active in the arts, it has
no place at the table alongside other members of the national
consortium, as it is not a revenue-funded client of the Arts Council.

"With a few exceptions, it's as though we and the Arts Council live on
different planets," she says.

This is a concern shared by Dr Ian Rees, one of only two
first-language Welsh speakers on the 16-member Arts Council.

He believes that greater efforts must be made to bring all parties together.

Will this happen? On paper, at least, the Welsh language has a central
place in the Arts Council's policies. The problem lies, perhaps, more
in the ethos of the organisation at its highest, policy-making levels.

For their part, some in the arts community would like to see the Urdd
venturing further outside its traditional comfort zones. Talking is
clearly needed.

This will be a challenge to Nick Capaldi, the Council's new chief
executive, as well as the current chairman, Professor Dai Smith, who
expressed a "determination to move the Council forward on all fronts".

The challenge must be met if the long-term prospects for Welsh
language arts activity are to be safeguarded, if we are not to turn,
once more, from the feast to the famine.

N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to
its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner
or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal. (H. Schiffman, Moderator)

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list