Arts and Devolution by Rebecca Gould
This blog is a transcript of 5 mins talk given at What Next? London in February 2021, inspired by Jane Davidson’s brilliant book Future Gen – Notes from a Small County. Which charts the beginnings on the Well Being and Future Generations Act.
Since devolution twenty years ago, Wales has created for itself, or grabbed hold of and developed from elsewhere, several brilliant big social and cultural ideas. Some were devised specifically to assert its identity, culture, and language; many, unsurprisingly given that the Labour party have been in power since devolution, are concerned with social justice and tackling poverty. I would say there is a huge desire to project to the world the idea that Wales has its own values and this is seen and felt very obviously in the way it cares for its ancient indigenous language. In 2019 the First Minister announced a drive to double the number of Welsh speakers to one million by 2050.
Education is devolved in Wales, and therefore it didn’t benefit from Westminster’s huge investment in Creative Partnerships from 2002 -2011 or other schemes such as Building Schools for the Future. So the flagship programme from Welsh government and the Arts Council of Wales, ‘Creative Learning through the arts’ – a £10 million funded programme – was VERY welcome when it came. Out of this programme, and the Donaldson Review of Education that ran before and alongside it, came the new curriculum for Wales. For those of us who have worked in Creative Education it’s like a dream come true. The curriculum aims to ensure that the Welsh Education system produces creative, ambitious learners who are ready to learn throughout their lives, who are enterprising and up for playing a full part in life and work, who are ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world and who are healthy, confident, and ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society.
Another extremely important big idea of recent years has been the Well-being and Future Generations Act, passed into law in 2015. This is the first legislation in the world to ensure that the rights of future generations are considered alongside the current ones. It requires Welsh government ministers, and the organisations they oversee, to embed this commitment into everything they do.
Such a principle in itself is revolutionary, but perhaps what is even more important is that the act goes further, it tells us how we’re going to get there. It gives us the framework for collective action, and it gives us seven goals for living within our own environmental limits. These goals are about health, prosperity, resilience, and communities, but perhaps more unusually they’re also about language, culture, heritage, and Wales’s role in the world.
The Act recognises that Wales has paid an enormous cost for its centrality to the industrial revolution. That what it gave to the UK and the world, in terms of coal and steel, came at an enormous cost to Wales’s environment, the health and well-being of its people, and its Future Generations.
The ambition of the Well-being and Future Generations Act is luminescent, and as it becomes more and more evident that major problems of our time – energy environment, climate change, future security, financial security – cannot be tackled in isolation, what Future Gen does more than anything is advocate for the case that these are problems which are all interconnected and interdependent . Large societal or public institutions won’t solve them by looking at them in isolation, single organisations are not able to deal unaccompanied with this overpopulated globally connected world.
The Future Gen act is stirring stuff, essential in so many ways, but at the moment the huge ambition relies on converting people to its cause. Its legal leverage is limited, and not yet legislatively tested.
In terms of Wales’s cultural and artistic output, you could be forgiven for thinking much of it is connected to projecting Wales’s identity as a nation Certainly my experience of working internationally is that people are extremely curious and interested in Wales, but perhaps not quite as interested in discussing Welsh identity as we are – but this is a discussion for another day.
I strongly agree with the idea that Welsh culture is most vibrant and most interesting when it is in conversation with other cultures, other places, and other languages; because of the ways it’s funded in Wales – the relationship between the Government and the Arts Council was described recently as a kind of Tyrannosaurus Rex arm’s length. It means often that arts organisations, especially the larger ones, happily follow and join in with government agendas and initiatives. Not necessarily a bad thing. But making work in Wales that is totally unconnected to Wales’s values, language, culture or national identity is in many ways a kind of revolutionary act. And while many artists in Wales couldn’t give two hoots about how this compares to English artists, it is perhaps more than anywhere else where we stand apart from England.
What Next? Cymru © 2021