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Cardiff arts funding cuts: Survival of the fittest

Community arts groups have to prove their worth or risk becoming the next victim of the budget cuts

Christmas is fast approaching. Every afternoon lines of giggling children spill out of Cardiff’s theatres waving wands and re-enacting their favourite moments of the pantomime. In the evening lines of animated adults spill out of the theatre discussing the best bits of the ballet or play they have just seen. This scene is not unique to Christmas however. It is becoming a more and more frequent scenario throughout the whole year. People are increasingly going to the theatre and indulging in dance, drama and music.

The Welsh Arts Council are 'delighted' to only have a 4% budget cut given the economic situation

It is strange then that since 2008 all we’ve heard is doom and gloom about the economic downturn. It has been a hard couple of years with many people losing their jobs, their savings and having to significantly tighten their purse strings. Some industries however have turned the recession to their benefit and made profits out of it. It may come as a surprise to learn that the arts industry has become a most unlikely member of this lucky club. It appears from a recent survey conducted by the Arts Council Wales (ACW) that far from saving money many people have decided to entertain away their financial woes and as a consequence more and more people have turned to the arts for some light relief.

Wales Millennium Centre has a constant stream of theatregoers

In Cardiff you only have to walk past New Theatre or The Millennium Centre at the end of a show to realise that this is true.

A survey recently published by the Arts Council Wales (ACW) reveals that the arts in Wales are more popular than ever. The survey states, “Overall, the amount of people attending arts events at least once a year has increased from 76% in 2005 to 86% in 2010.”

Not only has the appreciation of the Welsh public increased towards the arts but the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) has shown that it too understands the importance of the arts for society. In spite of the financial downturn the WAG announced on 17 November this year that the Arts Council’s Budget would only reduce by 4% over a three-year period starting 2011/12.

ACW were extremely pleased considering the budget cuts of October had been so severe in other sectors. ACW responded,

“In this straitened time we are delighted that a distinctive policy towards the arts has been understood and followed by the Welsh Assembly Government. We will make every pound entrusted to us work all the harder for the people of Wales, across Wales and in all our communities, to the benefit of the nation.”

Bittersweet news

For eight Cardiff community arts groups this obvious delight may sting a little. Despite the survey also revealing that participation in the arts has grown to record levels over the past few years, rising from 20% in 2005 to 39% in 2010, the ACW has cut funding to eight community arts groups in Cardiff. Some of these extremely valuable community groups have had to shut down due to the cuts after failing to prove their worth to the ACW. In explanation, Sian James of ACW said, “We will recognise, and back, artistic quality.” This will be of little comfort to the organisations already irreversibly damaged by their funding cuts.

Larger professional companies such as The Welsh National Opera have seen a rise in funding which has caused outrage among the smaller companies

One of the casualities of these cuts is the Women’s Art Association based in Cardiff Bay. Their office full of packed up boxes cut a stark contrast this week to the busy offices just around the corner of the ACW. The women who run the association said it was a very sad time for them and in the future their association would have to rely on volunteers to survive. For Spectacle Theatre in Tonypandy the repercussions are even worse as the company will close from 31 March 2011. Artistic Director, Steve Davis said,

“ACW has abandoned their strategy for funding theatre in education. The decision jeopardises the future of our work with young people and communities. A generation of young people will be disenfranchised from their entitlement to access the arts in their community.”

In 2009 – 2010 Spectacle held 273 workshops involving a total of 12,378 young participants. With Gwent Theatre being another casualty of the cuts, involvement in theatre for the South Wales community looks set to dry up.

Welsh Independent Dance can no longer support community involvement in dance.

Welsh Independent Dance, which has provided support for Welsh student and professional dancers is another Cardiff-based company that has no choice but to close following the announcement of the cuts in June 2010. Chair, Kate Long spoke of the difficult decision to wind up WID when the company had always supported and developed excellence in dance and dance artists based in Wales. Furthermore Hijinx Theatre Company, which aims to provide accessible high quality theatre to small communities in Wales, is calling an end to its annual community theatre tour.

Hijinx are having to stop their community tour because of the funding cuts

Cardiff’s increasingly enthusiastic arts based community might have to content themselves with watching rather than taking part in their chosen art from now on. The crowds of theatregoers in Cardiff may not diminish but in several previously vibrant and creative corners of Cardiff there will no longer be the sight and sound of communities creating dance, drama, art and music, but the complete silence of empty studios.

Findings of the Arts Council Survey

  • Arts in Wales are more popular than ever before.
  • Access to the arts has broadened irrespective of a person’s social background or where they live.
  • The amount of people attending arts events at least once a year has increased from 76% in 2005 to 86% in 2010.
  • The number of people taking part in arts activity has risen from 20% in 2005 to 39% in 2010.
  • More people are watching films, going to live gigs, art galleries, exhibitions, plays, musicals, and taking part in visual arts, crafts, music and dance than five years ago.
  • Arts attendance and participation levels are generally highest among those who have a comfortable lifestyle, have received higher education or young people between 16-24 years.
  • However people in the lowest social groups are now twice as likely as they were five years ago to take part in the arts.
  • People who are from a black or minority ethnic background and people living in the most disadvantaged ‘Communities First’ areas now have attendance and participation levels that are either the same as the general population or higher.

Article: How dance benefits society.

Map of six of the Cardiff based arts organisations that are suffering because of cuts to their funding.

A number of people in Cardiff were asked the question: The Arts Council Wales has only had its budget cut by 4%. Do you think it is fair that the arts have retained so much funding when major budget cuts have been made to frontline services such as social care and child protection?

  • This is that they thought:

Audio for online by user3389350

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