Cultural Playing Field

‘Charting a course for the voluntary arts’ by Robin Simpson
March 25, 2011, 9:57 am
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , ,

Last Friday I was at the Theatr Powys Drama Centre in Llandrindod Wells for the Voluntary Arts Wales consultation meeting ‘Charting a course for the voluntary arts’. This was the third meeting we have organised to look at the state of the sector in Wales since the changes to Arts Council of Wales core funding were announced in June 2010. In September ‘A Piece of Your Mind’ at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea looked at the national voluntary arts umbrella bodies and support organisations. Our meeting at Chapter Arts in Cardiff in February focussed on the future of Voluntary Arts Wales itself. Last week’s meeting concentrated on the effects of changes in funding and the financial climate on local, grassroots, voluntary arts activity across the country. Although most local voluntary arts groups receive little or no public funding, reductions in funding to the bodies that support and advise them, and to the venues and facilities they use, will clearly have an effect on their activities. We wanted to build a clear picture of the nature, scale and scope of these effects in order to be able to provide the best possible support for the sector over the coming years and to be able to build a strong case for funding for this support. In advance of the meeting we had asked people to complete a short questionnaire about the state of the sector at grassroots level and we used the questionnaire responses as the starting point for our discussions. The meeting was attended by a good mix of people including local authority arts officers, representatives of voluntary arts umbrella bodies, the organisers of local grassroots voluntary arts groups and officers from WCVA and the Wales Assembly Government Heritage Department, Arts Branch. Interestingly, we concluded that the numbers of participants and audiences for local voluntary arts groups are still very healthy, with some showing distinct increases over the last 24 months. The effect of cuts to the facilities or venues used by voluntary arts groups and cuts to the organisations they turn to for support (eg umbrella bodies, local authorities) have yet to be really felt at the grassroots, though there is much concern about what will happen over the coming years. There is even more concern, however, about how local voluntary arts groups are being affected by changes to regulations and legislation and this seems to be increasing the support needs of local groups at a time when the organisations they turn to for support are losing capacity. The meeting heard some passionate and inspiring defence of the importance of voluntary and participatory arts. It was a fascinating day characterised by intelligent and thoughtful conversation and people really listening to each other’s points of view. By the end of the day we had identified a number of ways in which we might all be able to work more closely together to alleviate the problems we had identified. I think we all came away from Llandrindod Wells feeling encouraged and inspired.

Robin Simpson.


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