Downloadable fresh fish everywhere

Lleucu Siencyn describes the process of taking literature to the Welsh public

The process of becoming Literature Wales began a couple of years ago when we played the game ‘fresh fish today’ with our full title at the time: Academi – the Welsh National Literature Promotion Agency and Society for Writers.

The game goes like this. A fish-seller at a market has written in huge letters on the blackboard, “fresh fish today”. A man walks past, and says he likes the sign, but he doesn’t think there needs to be as many words. “How come?” the fish-seller asks. “Well, you don’t need the word ‘fresh’ as it’s clear you’re selling the fish today, and that they’re fresh.” The fish-seller agreed, and wiped away the word. It now had: “Fish today”. The man looked and said, “You know, you don’t need ‘today’ either. As it’s obvious to all who’s passing what day it is.” The fish-seller wiped the board again. It now only said: “Fish”. The man looked at the stall, and said: “Actually, it’s pretty obvious what you’re selling…” And before he finished the sentence, the fish-seller had wiped his board clean.

Cultural Entrepreneurs

In a series of articles through this week we hear from the people in charge of some of Wales leading artistic and cultural organisations. Tomorrow, Andy Eagle sets the agenda for Chapter Arts Centre’s next forty years. This article appears in the current issue of the IWA’s journal the welsh agenda

The point is to work out which of the words you don’t actually need to sell your product, or to say who you are. We got rid of every word apart from the two essential ones: “literature” and “Wales”.

By doing this, it would be much easier for people to understand what we do: it is just as it says on the tin, the literature of Wales – for everyone. The word ‘Academi’ implied something you would be invited to join, and please knock first. On the other hand, Literature Wales is already out there; out and about in the fields, city centres, shops, schools, pubs. It’s downloadable and in big, big letters. We’re knocking on your door. And we’ll make sure, if you can’t come to literature, then literature will come to you.

So what’s changed, what’s different now?

As well as changing our name, the whole sector has been simplified in terms of funding. Literature Wales is now the old Academi plus Ty Newydd Writers’ Centre, while Literature Wales also looks after the funding for the Aberystwyth-based Welsh Literature Exchange, which facilitates translation.

Coming together was a key turning point. As individual organisations, we delivered very worthy and commendable programmes and activities, but perhaps we did not reach a wide enough audience. Together, following the same strategy and vision, we could do much more. Wake up the sleeping giant, was the challenge set for us by the Arts Council of Wales.

We’re all aware of the uncertainty facing charitable and arts organisations in the next five to ten years. How can the arts can survive through a period of cuts? Crucially, arts organisations must win hearts and minds. We cannot rely on previous good works, and expect to still be here based on past business models. At Literature Wales, we want to make sure that we engage with the public in an open and democratic manner. Listen to audiences, develop a public profile and presence, launch new and exciting initiatives that will spark the public imagination.

In the last six months at Literature Wales, we’ve seen the establishment of a Young People’s Laureate (covered by the Sun and the Daily Mail, thanks to celebrity endorsement by Charlotte Church). We took literature to Wales’ busiest shopping centre with a month-long pop-up shop, The Literature Lounge at St David’s Centre in Cardiff. We’ve also launched a new festival, in partnership with the National Trust and Coracle, in Carmarthenshire’s beautiful and historic Dinefwr Park and Castle. And we’re about to launch a bigger, better, splashier and muddier Literary Tours programme for 2012, in partnership with Cadw, the Church in Wales, several National Parks and others.

More opportunities and professional developments for writers will feature strongly in our programme during the coming years. In the autumn, a full programme aimed at writers will feature sessions on publishing, copyright, and the digital future – as well as networking opportunities for writers of all levels. We also want to ensure more opportunities for our writers to travel and perform abroad, and to create partnerships with writers and organisers all around the globe.

We’re literally getting out there. Shivering on windswept mountains, chatting to restless teenagers, partying in fields next to ancient white cattle. Literature is the most adaptable and flexible of all art forms. We do it every day – whether wittily on twitter or quietly on kindle. Literature Wales is there to connect it all, and bring it all back to its core audience, the people of Wales.

Fresh fish? No need to ask, it’s already there.

Lleucu Siencyn is Chief Executive of Literature Wales

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