State funding for the arts….or not?

Julian Ruck says the concentration of arts funding in Wales limits creativity.

The ‘Age of Entitlement’ is over.

And we in Western economies had better start getting used to the fact.

‘Living on Less’ has to be the new 21st Century mantra. Corruptions of Beverage humane but temporary social insurance are no longer viable, and the same applies to ancient and unrealistic Bevanite gratuity.

Credit cards have been maxed out. There’s no more room at the Inn.

Western economies are wallowing in a mire of stagnation and there is no easy exit, indeed this writer must argue that escape routes will not appear for at least a generation, or even two. Affluence was gratifying while it lasted, but like most good things it has come to end. The annihilation of middle class thrift and industry hasn’t helped.

Priorities have to change. The Welfare State and Social Justice have to adjust.

So, where does State funding for the arts fit in to this brave new world?

Put simply, where aesthetic deliverance is concerned: poetry and conceptual art, or more investment in the future and how Wales will prosper in a modern global economy eg more IT provision in Welsh schools and more foreign language tuition?

NB Only 22% of Welsh schoolchildren are learning a foreign language. 11% in some areas.

The argument for Arts subsidy has largely been won. The prevailing view in the Arts world is that non-commercial activity ie say opera, theatre, museums etc can be good for tourism, hospitality, local economies and so on, as well as driving inward investment and being a generally good thing for society.

Where Wales is concerned, the concentration of patronage for the arts is in the hands of one body ie the Welsh Assembly. This inevitably imposes some degree of standardisation on the character of taxpayer funded works. The only result being success for the mundane and mediocre and obstacles for the new and innovative.

The Arts Council of Wales, Literature Wales and the Welsh Books Council are the arbiters of who gets what when it comes to Welsh artistic endeavor.

Allow me to deal firstly with books.

There is an argument is there not, that publishing is a purely commercial activity and  brings none of the benefits as stated above eg inward investment?

Indeed, millions from the public purse going on Welsh books written in English (Welsh language books are an entirely different matter)  that don’t sell and no-one reads, hardly adds to societal fibre, does it?

And what about the ebook?

£80-100 will see it published on Amazon, job done as it were and at virtually no cost to the taxpayer. Whatever one’s romantic attachment to print books, they are on their way out. To quote Tom Wheldon of Penguin Random at the London Book Fair this year, “Print bookshops are disappearing.“ Not to mention the fact, that Waterstones are only going to last as long as its Russian owner is prepared to indulge in an expensive hobby.

In James Daunts (CEO of Waterstones) own words, results for 2012-2013 were “torrid.”

Poetry and conceptual art, or more investment in the future………?

It is apparent that the Arts Council of Wales has questions to answer and not only in respect of quality control where the Welsh publishing industry is concerned.

Its accounts are to be scrutinised by a Public Accounts Committee shortly, there are also at least two investigations into its management of public funds taking place by the Wales Audit Office as I write.

7 Arts Council of Wales officials (yes, that’s 7 in case anyone is thinking of taking a trip to Specsavers) going to the Biennale to support a Welsh artist exhibiting the recording of a man snoring in a telescope, each claiming £2000 (approx.) from the taxpayer for the weekend break. £25, 000 for a Welsh poet to seek out other poets in South America. £25,000 for another Welsh poet to remove himself from a place of comfort, in order for him to think and contemplate?

Thousands of pounds in bursaries/subsidies (some receiving multiple handouts) going to well-off Welsh celebrities, Welsh academics and Welsh media staffers and presenters eg BBC Wales, ITV Wales, Western Mail. All documented, all fully verifiable.

So much for an independent Welsh media?

The above are just some examples of ‘entitled’ preferment, and be in no doubt that there are plenty more. Indeed the above are just the tip of a towering iceberg.

These awards, these handouts do nothing for the Welsh economy, they do nothing for the betterment of society. In many instances though not all, a culture of entitled taxpayer subsidy for Welsh arts merely serves to suppress creativity:

“I’ll get my £10,000 anyway, so what the hell!”

In days gone by, those aristocrats of the Welsh working class, the miners, maintained some of the most magnificent libraries in the land.

Their blackened sweat and shovels paid for them.

They did not feel entitled.

Subsidised Welsh arts, forfeited any claim to noble intent a long time ago.

Julian Ruck is a novelist, broadcaster and columnist.

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