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Artists call for emergency funding for Welsh National Opera in the face of cuts ‘imposed by England’

06 May 2024 5 minute read
Luke Evans, Katherine Jenkins and Michael Sheen have all given their support to the statement

Stephen Price

High profile artists including Luke Evans, Katherine Jenkins and Michael Sheen have signed a letter calling for emergency cross-border funding for the Welsh National Opera (WNO).

The orchestra and chorus are under threat of being made part-time following funding cuts, which supporters said would be devastating for the nation.

175 high profile figures from the arts and entertainment sectors – including Sir Simon Rattle, Ruth Jones and Catrin Finch – have criticised what they describe as the “dismantling” of Welsh National Opera.

Their intervention follows the publication of an online petition set up by the WNO orchestra in conjunction with the Musicians’ Union calling for WNO to be retained as a full-time company. The petition has so far received over 8,000 signatures.

Unique

A formal statement describes the perilous position the WNO has been placed in due to severe cuts to its financial support from both the Arts Councils of Wales and England.

The unique nature of the bi-national funding agreement for WNO, paired with the difficult financial landscape in Wales, the organisers say, necessitates a joint approach between England and Wales.

Bryn Terfel. Photo S4C

Other signatories of the letter include Bryn Terfel, Rob Brydon and Roy Noble. The letter says says that the “WNO currently stands on a precipice, having received cuts from both the Arts Councils of Wales and England that amount to 25% of its yearly budget.

“The potential dismantling of one of Wales’s finest national institutions would be devastating – for the nation, for the organisation and its 222 employees, and for home-grown cultural excellence.”

It goes on to describe the budget cuts as “clearly completely untenable”.

“Devastating”

It continues: “Welsh National Opera is the jewel in Wales’s crown. It is the only full-time opera company our nation has and our largest arts employer, created in the 1940s by a group of doctors, miners and teachers who wished to build a performing ensemble that would live up to our reputation as the ‘land of song’”.

The pending cuts to the orchestra and chorus would dismantle “one of Wales’s finest national institutions [and] be devastating for the nation, for the organisation and its 222 employees, and for home-grown cultural excellence”.

“The world-renowned quality of WNO’s output will be eroded, as the true ensemble nature of the company is undermined, with top musicians unable to sustain jobs in the orchestra and chorus on a part-time salary and no real freelance work in Wales with which to supplement their incomes.

“The cultural life of communities across Wales and England will be impoverished and diminished as a result.”

“The end”

The letter is being sent to Vaughan Gething, the First Minister of Wales, Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and Social Justice, Lucy Frazer, the culture secretary, as well as to Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, and Thangam Debbonaire, the shadow culture secretary.

Welsh harpist and composer Catrin Finch and award-winning Irish violinist Aoife Ní Bhríain

Its organiser, the soprano Elizabeth Atherton, urged Starmer and Debbonaire to persuade their Labour colleagues in Wales to open talks with Frazer and WNO about a cross-border funding agreement, adding: “If the moment is not grabbed it will be the end of Wales’s largest arts organisation and employer as we know it.”

The letter, signed by several former WNO directors as well as the country’s leading composers and conductors, said a failure to provide funds would be devastating.

“Not the answer”

Elizabeth told Nation.Cymru: “Whilst the inexplicable 35% cut from the Arts Council of England (which seemingly contradicts their own stated aims, potentially wiping WNO’s English touring venues off the map) has been devastating for WNO, one mustn’t overlook the part that the Arts Council of Wales has also played in this.

“Despite being cut themselves by Welsh Government, ACW did manage to give out £900,000 more in funding to arts organisations for this round of applications than the previous year, yet WNO was still cut by a further 11.5%.

“If the previous funding level to WNO had only been maintained by ACW, the proposal to make orchestral and chorus members part-time could technically have been avoided.

“One is also led to wonder why, when extra allocations to Welsh Government of £190m became available only a few weeks ago, the cuts that had been made to Arts Council Wales were not immediately reversed to enable them to secure their funding level to their core funded organisations.

“Everyone acknowledges that these are hard times financially, but cutting the Arts is not the answer, particularly when cultural spending as a proportion of the Welsh Government’s budget amounts to less than 0.15% of its total expenditure – one of the lowest rates in Europe.

“I sincerely hope that our leaders in Wales and England can now put their heads together and cooperate on a cross-border, emergency funding package that can secure WNO’s full-time future.

View the WNO petition here.

Read the statement in full here.

The full list of signatories can be viewed here.


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Y Cymro
Y Cymro
15 days ago

Cuts to Welsh National Opera is not good as any reduction in funding affects Wales far more than it does England , but do find it ironic the likes of Katherine Jenkins & Bryn Terfel bemoan any cuts seeing Jenkins once stated how much she loved Wales, would never leave, only to move to London, marry millionaire, and try to become a Royalist poor man’s Vera Lyn forces sweetheart singing “God Save The Queen” at the Night of the Proms and at England sporting events draped in a Union Flag. And less we forget that so-called passionate Welshman Bryn Terfel,… Read more »

elli
elli
15 days ago

Oh pleases !!!!!!!! stop overcharging for shows and you wouldnt need charity… or those rich nob heads moaning about a lack of funding should take some of their millions and fund the theatres themselves. WHAT UTTER HYPOCTIES 90% of the public would love to goto the theatre but cant afford it. Some havnt even been on holiday EVER in their life, but these lovies demand HOW DARE THEY!!!!!!!!!!!

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