Rebecca Gould is Head of Arts at British Council Wales

Photo credit: Polly Thomas,  Artes Mundi 7 artist Bedywr Williams “Tyrrau Mawrâ€�

In April of this year, British Council Wales, in partnership with Jonathan McClory of Portland – who produce the Soft Power 30 – undertook research into how Wales’ Soft Power ranked against other areas of a similar size. We know that Soft Power builds a country or a region’s international influence through culture, public diplomacy and positive global contribution, and that countries around the world are using Soft Power to improve international relations and bolster trade and tourism.

Our research found that Wales was ranked sixth out of the ten countries/regions for Soft Power influence, behind Quebec, Scotland, Flanders, Catalonia and Hokkaido and ahead of Corsica, Northern Ireland, JeJu and Puerto Rico. It was however ranked second for sport, just behind Catalonia.

At the joint British Council – IWA Soft Power conference in April 2018, there was a collective feeling from those with an Arts and Culture background that Wales has an incredible offer in Arts and Culture and that this sector could join Sport in playing a vital role in cultural diplomacy, by highlighting shared cultures, histories and points of contact, but that the offer needed to be stronger, bolder and louder.

In May this year the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee’s report ‘Building Resilience: Inquiry into non-public funding of the arts’ concluded that ‘there were difficult financial challenges facing the arts sector, due to the pressures on government budgets and recent falls in income from the National Lottery’ and that ‘in order to meet these challenges, the sector has to pursue a range of other sources of financial support’.

The report stated that this should include commercial and self-generated income, but could also focus on international work, and on how the arts and creative sectors could be supported to develop new markets overseas which have potential economic benefit.

Furthermore, it concluded that this was consistent with the emphasis on ensuring that Wales ‘remains outward-looking and fully engaged on the European and global stage, fostering new relationships for trade and investment, and promoting the best of our nation world-wide’ (Prosperity for All national strategy).

In our ongoing discussions with partners Arts Council Wales/Wales Arts International and with the arts sector more widely across Wales, we agreed to have a closer look at showcasing the arts and cultural sector of Wales.

We commissioned Yvette Vaughan Jones, Chief Executive of Visiting Arts to identify different models which could support the development and exposure of Welsh artists and arts organisations to international industry, within what is now a crowded and competitive national and international landscape.

Yvette has 40 years’ experience of working in the international arts and cultural field. She has worked in Wales since 1994 and has authored many international policy documents, as well as setting up Wales Arts International. Her expertise was invaluable in exploring with us the options for showcasing the arts and culture of Wales.

The aims of the research were to consolidate existing showcasing research and apply it to a Welsh context; to map the current landscape inside Wales and best practice elsewhere; to provide recommendations based on sector consultation both inside and outside of Wales as to what the best approach to sector-led and industry-focused showcasing in Wales might be.

The research consulted widely with the arts and cultural sector in order to provide evidence-based recommendations that can act as a starting point for future conversations.

The resulting report is inclusive of the whole sector and looks beyond art form. As the report points out:

The debate around the best method of international showcasing is always a vexed question in small nations. There are fewer resources for the arts in Wales than in England and Scotland, and yet the costs of major events as well as infrastructure remain largely the same.

Wales has seen some great successes in showcasing its work abroad and in bringing the cultural spotlight to shine on Welsh talent. There have been initiatives led by Arts Council Wales and their international arm Wales Arts International, often in partnership with British Council or with other UK or EU international organisations.

Large-scale, high-profile interventions aimed at showcasing the best of Wales to the world, such as Wales in Venice, Wales at London Book Fair, and the recent presence in Lorient Interceltic Festival in Brittany to name a few, have internationalised the reputations of artists and arts organisations from across Wales.

There are also a number of initiatives, both new and long-established, whose development has been supported by Arts Council Wales, such as Focus Wales, Green Man, Hay Festival, Festival No 6 and others. All of these high-profile, loud and bold festivals have attracted audiences, producers and promoters to Wales and to Welsh artists. They have definitely put Wales on the map.

The report highlights an issue which some feel also hampers the success of showcasing arts and culture, and raising the wider profile of Wales. This is the ‘lack of continuity and a strategic framework in the approaches of international agencies. There is a proliferation of international agencies in Wales which causes confusion and duplication’.

Unlike many small countries and regions/cities, Wales does not yet benefit from hosting its own major annual or biennial international culture platform.

Therefore, in order to give the artists and arts organisations of Wales the best possible chance of success, we need to work together better. Successful showcasing must mean working strategically across government, Arts Council Wales, British Council Network and the arts and cultural sector to bring work to the attention of those people who are in the business of promoting, participating in or purchasing it.

The report asserts that this could be in the form of: ‘an annual or biennial international showcasing event in Wales. Alternatively, it could be the development of a roster of Welsh artists and performers that are ready to perform at other showcases such as Tokyo Performing Arts Market, International Society for the Performing Arts, Shanghai Performing Arts Festival, Dublin Theatre festival, South by Southwest and so on.’

The following options were put forward for consideration:

  • Large cross-sectoral public-facing and/or festival events in Wales.
  • Sector-specific festivals/trade fairs in Wales or overseas.
  • International delegations brought to Wales to see work.
  • Attendance at overseas festivals, trade fairs and showcases.
  • Attendance at other trade missions or political events not focused on arts and culture.Creating opportunities to showcase Wales in major cities such as London, Manchester, Berlin, and New York.
  • One-off ‘showstopper’ works that can act as a catalyst to attract international promoters.

We hope that key stakeholders, potential funders, international programmers, producers, curators and managers will use this report to start conversations.

While both globalisation and devolution present major new opportunities to countries such as Wales, as well as to the arts and cultural sector here, we do not have the same powers as nation-states to operate on the world stage.

Alongside diminishing resources for arts and culture and the challenge of Brexit, this means that we have to create a better infrastructure and a much more strategic international plan for showcasing Wales’ brilliant arts and culture to the world.

All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

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