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Francis: Don't politicise the arts in Wales

Speech to the National Assembly for Wales

"So far, this administration has not fully or properly explained the reasons for bringing the Arts Council of Wales in-house.

Let us face it—it still has much explaining to do about its interpretation of a bonfire of the quangos.

The only thing that this administration has given the arts council to respond to in being brought in-house concerns how it would be absorbed into the civil service.

Currently, the two funding sources of lottery capital and project funding, along with Assembly revenue funding, are being used complementarily to generate a bigger return for the public, the arts, and government than would be possible if they were treated separately.

If these two functions were to be separated, I fear that the overall strategic vision would be lost.

Should this happen, will the well-motivated and effective staff team built up since the Arts Council of Wales restructured in 2002 also need to be divided?

Since they each have roles in respect of lottery and grant in aid, this would mean another complete restructuring.

Crucially, it could also mean that expertise in key areas would be unavailable, either to this Government or to the successor lottery distributor.

There has been no real indication from the Assembly of any potential benefit to the development of the arts and cultural industries of such major revision to this funding base.

In 2001, the Wallace and Twine report was charged with looking at developing the work carried out by the arts council in a more integrated way.

Its findings were then supported by Welsh Labour, so why this u-turn? Recently, much time, effort and money has been spent in reforming different aspects of the arts council's operation.

After an almost continual period of change, most arts organisations believe that the Arts Council of Wales now needs stability.

Where would arts expertise come from if the arts council were to cease to exist?

I concur with Leighton Andrews: the distribution of grants to arts and artists should not be subject to political interference.

This principle is important to the public, for the arts and for proper government, too.

I am old enough to remember, as are many other Members, what happened in eastern bloc countries when the arts were politicised.

By their nature, the arts are not an instrument of government, but rather the expression of creativity. They are non-governmental, and, if the Western Mail of 5 October is to be believed, the First Minister thinks that as well.

Art is about risk, and it must be allowed to be unpopular and even awkward. Art is about the artist having the freedom to express truth as he or she sees it. Art adds to the health of society, sometimes by exposing underlying malaise.

Perhaps that is what this timid administration is really afraid of."

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