When facilitator Phelim McDermott opened the Open Space event for the Arts Council of Wales in Cardiff recently, he said: “Problems and challenges arise because a real conversation didn’t happen.”
Wise words, and it’s encouraging to hear that the Arts Council of Wales (ACW) and Creative Scotland (CS) have both taken them to heart, setting out their stalls on the basis of listening first to the views of their stakeholders before planning their policies and strategies.
ACW appears to be doing this entirely of its own volition. In a rare spirit of humility and solidarity, it has opened a very inclusive dialogue about the kind of creative Wales people would like to see by 2020, and how this might be achieved. “We lead because you lead us,” said ACW Chair Dai Smith – how often do we hear words like that from leading figures in public life, let alone in the arts?
Scotland has a little further to go, but following a rather humiliating attack by an angry sector, a concerned Government and an engaged national press, Creative Scotland is giving the wider public the chance to have a say on its own operational and policy direction: “A vital part of this process is listening. We want to hear directly from those we are here to support.’
Meanwhile in England, another conversation, along the lines of Wales, is also about to take place but with one very significant difference: the absence of Arts Council England (ACE) in the process. Arts professionals, keen to fill a very obvious vacuum, have taken it upon themselves to run an event at which they aim to open a dialogue around “new ways to champion the arts and culture”.
The great and the good have put their names to it, though individual artists, arts education providers, local authorities, community arts workers, arts students and the public are at the moment in the minority – or entirely absent – from the list of What Next? supporters, as is ACE.
Which is a shame. Because the ‘real’ conversation needed in England should be taking place, not just among the close-knit fraternity of the funded arts sector, but between the entire breadth of the arts community and the so-called arts development body that is closest to Government.
What Next? A national conversation on new ways to champion the arts and culture, takes place on 29 April 2013 at The Palace Theatre, London. For more information and to book a place, click here.
This article was originally published by Arts Professional.