Voluntary Arts Wales response to the Arts Council of Wales consultation: Inspire our strategy for Creativity an the Arts in Wales.

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1 Voluntary Arts Wales response to the Arts Council of Wales consultation: Inspire our strategy for Creativity an the Arts in Wales 30 April Voluntary Arts Wales 1.1. Voluntary Arts Wales (VAW) promotes participation in creative cultural activity. It recognises that the drive to creative self-expression is universal, and that a supportive operating environment in which self-led creative cultural activities can thrive is the mark of a healthy and progressive civil society VAW is part of Voluntary Arts, which is active throughout the UK and Republic and Ireland in advocating, on behalf of the voluntary and amateur arts sector, to policymakers and funders, and supporting the sector through a programme of information, advice and training. 2. Preamble 2.1. VAW welcomes the opportunity afforded by this consultation to contribute to the Arts Council of Wales (ACW) strategy for the next five years. It shares the belief that creativity and the arts will be a cornerstone of Wales twenty-first century renewal, and that, as well as being projected internationally, this will be a creativity rooted locally in the community VAW agrees with ACW that everyday creativity and participation in the arts on an individual level is an important part of the creation of human capital, helping eradicate the poverty of opportunity that faces many disadvantaged communities VAW feels that, whilst this draft strategy focuses disproportionately on the role of the professional artist, a series of simple yet important changes in emphasis would provide ACW with the opportunity to radically rebalance the way in which the artistic landscape in Wales is described and understood, fully recognising the value and unique qualities of everyday creativity undertaken by individuals in diverse communities on a part-time, voluntary and amateur basis VAW welcomes the statement that [t]he old comparisons between high art and popular culture with its zero sum game of polarities excellence and accessibility, subsidised or market led, high or low have always been contested and are now largely irrelevant VAW would add to this observation that the conventional polarities of professional and amateur are equally becoming eroded as the creative citizens of Wales increasingly adopt portfolio lives, combining paid work, voluntary activity and enthusiastic participation in a variety of interests with robust dedication and a commitment to quality a hallmark of their endeavours. They are, at different times in their lives, inhabiting any or all of the categories of professional artist (subsidised), professional artist (commercial), small creative business, playing/making for fun, teacher/trainer/coach, pupil/learner/student, group member, voluntary organiser, and so on Whilst VAW feels that this recognition is eluded to in the Inspire document, making it explicit in the ways suggested below would indicate a true step-change in ACW s approach, from a positive affirmation of the role of professional artists and cultural institutions, to a substantially more emphatic statement of the democratic and transformative potential of active cultural participation to enrich and empower the people of Wales.

2 2.7. VAW strongly supports the recommendation of Baroness Andrews recent Culture and Poverty report that Welsh Government, cultural organisations and voluntary sector investigate scope for a national cultural volunteering strategy and suggests that ACW and VAW might together be instrumental in pushing this agenda forward, and co-author such a strategy with Welsh Government. 3. Specific points 3.1. Approach of this strategy VAW is accepts the change of approach from a prescriptive list of actions to an enabling strategy, but would note that a more conventional approach, outlining specific proposals and plans, tends to enable a greater degree of accountability by which a relevant constituency can hold a policymaking or regulatory agency to task. VAW hopes that, once approved, this strategy will be accompanied by definitive action plans that will allow this level of accountability to take place VAW supports the tri-partite emphasis of Make, Reach and Sustain, but feels that Make loses much of its dynamism by being defined primarily by the work created by professional artists and cultural institutions, or as merely a source of inspiration for the general public. Make is a word that brings with it a sense of personal empowerment that is both active and democratic, and explanation of the concept should include specific reference to ways in which ACW can embed opportunities for everyday creativity in all of our lives, whether or not we identify ourselves as professional artists VAW would propose less emphasis on artists as a subset of the wider population, and more recognition of the term artist as an element of human experience that we can all identify with, and aspire to, as part of our creative cultural lives Wales as a bilingual culture There are many individuals and communities in Wales who participate in or express their creativity through the Welsh language. VAW celebrates ACW s commitment to the role of the Welsh language as a means to understand and enjoy the extraordinarily rich culture of Wales, and fully supports the emphasis on language equality Investing in potential VAW supports ACW s commitment to high quality, and does not feel this is at odds with a holistic approach, incorporating all levels and manifestations of creative cultural activity, provided that a broad definition of quality is employed addressing quality of experience alongside more closely-defined aesthetic considerations Nor does VAW disagree with ACW s emphasis on risk-taking, recognising that amateur activity, with its relative freedom from the mainstreaming effects of market-forces or funding trends, is often on the cutting-edge of innovation, with much to teach the wider arts sector Of the self-governed volunteer-led groups that are the means through which tens of thousands of people access creativity cultural opportunities in Wales, many are financially selfsustaining, through membership fees, subscriptions and ticket-sales These groups are often most likely to find themselves in need of public or private funding at times of developmental change, when they want to take their activities to the next level, explore new opportunities for partnership and collaboration, or become more accountable to their

3 community by constituting their group. It is at these times that a sophisticated appreciation of the specific qualities of this kind of volunteer-led participation is required by funding bodies, values that are often quite different from those of large professional institutions Creating the right environment for the arts to flourish VAW is particularly pleased that creating the right environment for the arts to flourish forms the first of ACW s ten creative challenges, as it is acutely aware that participation in creative cultural activity is reliant upon a functioning and effective local cultural infrastructure The infrastructure of venues, networks and support agencies that nurtures such creative cultural activity continues to come under threat public funding cuts through Government departments and Local Authorities are causing significant damage across Wales, and the financial situation is unlikely to improve significantly in the immediate future In line with its three year strategic plan , VAW is engaging on a new programme of work to promote national awareness of the importance of improved local cultural infrastructure. This includes pilot work in four localities across Wales, focusing on three strands of activity designed to link up local agencies such as arts centres, Local Authority arts development teams, County Voluntary Councils, Volunteer Centres, healthcare institutions, heritage bodies, etc., to create a network of relationships that will reinvigorate local cultural infrastructure In doing so, VAW is working towards the fulfilment of Baroness Andrews recommendation that community and cultural networks should be developed, linking community and cultural organisations at a local level, to share knowledge and resources and plan joint initiatives to address the cultural deficit within communities VAW notes that ACW s view that the pressure on Local Authorities will demand a wholesale rethinking of arts in localities is aligned with VAW s own focus on the importance of local cultural infrastructure, and welcomes opportunities to discuss further opportunities to address this issue through the empowerment of the voluntary cultural sector VAW appreciates that creating the circumstances by which artists can pursue viable sustainable careers is an important goal of ACW, but is disappointed that this forms the main thrust of this section of the strategy, when creating an enabling environment for amateur arts participation is equally important, especially at this time of threatened local cultural infrastructure Being fit for purpose VAW supports ACW s intention to encourage the companies and organisations it funds to advance shared learning through opening out the creative process to others and its assertion that [t]his generosity of spirit in making creative work is seen as a vital way to build the community that is supportive and involved in the work made, and would recommend that opportunities for this be extended so that communities are not only involved in the work, but have a high degree of ownership over it Whilst understanding the financial pressures facing ACW, VAW is disappointed to hear that the pattern of funding is unlikely to be extended in the coming years, as, whilst many small voluntary arts groups are largely financially self-sufficient, they are only able to maintain this status with the continuing support of local, regional and national infrastructure organisations VAW would strongly recommend a gradual shift in funding priorities back to the support bodies that have historically provided the membership services and bespoke guidance that enables self-led voluntary groups to thrive Leading from the front our national organisations

4 VAW strongly recommends the addition of enabling active participation in local communities as an obligation of ACW s national companies in the seventh paragraph of this section Making more of our arts buildings VAW supports ACW s wish to make the most of Wales arts venues, and agrees with the assertion that these centres will need to continue to reinvent themselves, breaking down divisions between cultural and social engagement, and emphasising community ownership and habitation. VAW keenly anticipates greater detail about how this will be achieved, and would welcome the opportunity to be involved in these continuing discussions More people creating, enjoying and taking part in the arts VAW agrees with the need to encourage diversity in cultural participation, and is committed to promoting equality of opportunity throughout its work. It is currently engaged in a pilot project called Culture Guides, supported by EU Lifelong Learning Grundtvig programme, training volunteer guides or mentors to link people who do not regularly participate in cultural activities, with opportunities to do so VAW supports Baroness Andrews recommendation that Welsh Government establish a strategic Culture & Social Inclusion Board, made up of national strategic departments and cultural organisations, to connect cultural policy across government agendas Putting communities first VAW is committed to the Welsh Government s priority to relieve poverty within Wales, with a particular focus on children and young people, and supports ACW s assertion that this should encompass poverty of aspiration as well as material circumstances VAW agrees with Baroness Andrews recommendation that ACW revisit the Reach the Heights arts participation programme to offer cultural activities to 9-13 year olds at risk of becoming NEET VAW is particularly pleased with ACW s statement that the best community art is about change, authorship and ownership. VAW celebrates Wales strong tradition of commitment to professional-led community arts initiatives, whilst recognising that the benefits of these initiatives can sometimes be short-lived, when at the conclusion of the publicly funded project the participants struggle to bridge the gap between their continuing desire to create and the apparent absence of opportunities to do so VAW s new pilot project Putting Down Roots, which is supported by ACW and the Spirit of 2012 Trust, looks at the potential of the voluntary and amateur arts sector to improve the sustainability of professional-led community arts initiatives, by linking participants with opportunities to join, or set up their own, self-governed voluntary groups, thus creating opportunities for ongoing participation Our digital times VAW recognises the changing role of technologies in the creative lives of the people of Wales, and last year instigated a series of discussions around the new amateurs, those individuals using digital technology to manifest and express their creativity online.

5 VAW believes that we are living through the largest increase in the creative capacity of individuals ever, the complex landscape of amateur production radically altering the way we see the division between producer and consumer, amateur and professional, volunteer and employee. These categories have become fluctuating behaviours rather than permanent identities After a century mainly given over to consumption, the process of production in which culture was created by a small group of professionals for a large group of consumers is over, and all of this has implications for the support we provide for voluntary arts activity in Wales. 4. Make 4.1. VAW reiterates its view ACW s description of Make should include more explicit reference to ways in which ACW can embed opportunities for everyday creativity in all of our lives, whether or not we are deemed artists or are members of arts organisations By putting less emphasis on artists as a subset of the wider population, and instead recognising that arts and creativity are driving forces with all of us, as much as they are identities, VAW feels that this section could be immeasurably strengthened VAW recommends that the contribution of voluntary and amateur cultural creative activity is recognised throughout the list of Make actions, in ways suggested in this response VAW also recommends the inclusion of: Make we will support amateur arts activity throughout Wales by helping to create an enabling environment for volunteer-led groups to thrive, and by celebrating the contribution of these groups to the cultural life of Wales. 5. Reach 5.1. VAW recommends that the contribution of voluntary and amateur cultural creative activity is recognised throughout the list of Reach actions, in ways suggested in this response VAW also recommends the inclusion of: Reach we will develop ways to extend the benefits of existing voluntary arts activities embedded within a range of diverse communities of interest, identity and locality by brokering links between these communities. 6. Sustain 6.1. VAW supports ACW s emphasis on sustainability as one of its three core strategic elements, and would point to its Putting Down Roots pilot project as an exemplar of this. It believes that, by developing a successful methodology, this approach can become embedded in a wide range of publicly-funded community arts initiatives, increasing social return on investment, and providing an empowering and democratic means for participants to take control of their own creative potential VAW recommends that the contribution of voluntary and amateur cultural creative activity is recognised throughout the list of Sustain actions, in ways suggested in this response VAW also recommends the inclusion of: Sustain we will support initiatives to work with the voluntary arts sector to improve the sustainability of funded arts initiatives, thus creating greater opportunity for ongoing participation. 7. Inspiring success

6 7.1. In the penultimate paragraph, VAW recommends the inclusion of A Wales where everyday creativity is valued and celebrated, as part of the increasingly complex and vibrant pattern of portfolio lives, combining both professional and voluntary participation. Voluntary Arts Wales 121 Cathedral Road Cardiff CF11 9PH Tel: Website:

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