Future of National Theatre Wales in jeopardy following appeal against defunding
The future of National Theatre Wales is in jeopardy following an announcement by the Arts Council of Wales that the company’s appeal against defunding had been upheld by an independent panel – but then overruled by the Council itself.
Founded in 2007 by the Welsh Government as part of a coalition deal between Labour and Plaid Cymru, the English language company has come under criticism in recent years for the alleged paucity of its theatrical performances. – an allegation denied by the company itself.
In September the Arts Council (ACW) announced details of its latest Investment Review covering the three financial years from April 2024. National Theatre Wales was unsuccessful in its bid for continued multi-year funding and appealed against the decision.
A statement from ACW has now said: “National Theatre Wales (NTW) submitted an appeal against ACW’s decision to discontinue its funding of NTW, that decision having been made as part of the ACW’s Investment Review 2023. At its meeting on December 13, and following the full appeal hearing of November 29, Council considered and discussed in detail the report and recommendations of the Independent Panel, appointed to consider the appeal.
“As part of this process, Council carefully considered the recommendations of the Panel both in relation to NTW’s appeal and the Investment Review generally. A detailed response has been sent to NTW and, in accordance with our commitment to transparency throughout the Investment Review, we provide a summary of Council’s decision.
“NTW submitted a very detailed appeal, which was shared with both the Panel and ACW officers in accordance with our published Appeals Process. In response, ACW made an equally detailed submission, which directly addressed each of the points of appeal. This was also shared with NTW prior to the hearing.
“The Panel’s report noted that, in its deliberation, it had not been possible to address all elements of what it referred to as a ‘detailed and complex’ appeal, and had therefore focussed its report on what it described as ‘relatively high level factors’.
“In accordance with our published Appeals Process, the Panel, whose role is advisory (and does not have the power to substitute its own decision in respect of NTW’s funding application), made a recommendation to the Chair of Council that NTW’s funding application should be reconsidered and outlined the grounds on which its recommendation was made. As also required by the Appeals Process, Council gave due consideration to the matters raised by the Panel in its report, as well as considering other relevant information, such as ACW’s published Investment Review Guidance, which the Panel described as an ‘exemplary document’.
“Council agreed unanimously that there were no material factors to warrant review and reassessment of the application and therefore decided to uphold its original decision not to offer NTW multi-year funding in the Investment Review 2023. In reaching this decision, Council placed particular weight on the Investment Review Guidance and that the assessment process described had been followed in full. Our detailed response to NTW sets out Council’s specific reasons for reaching this decision. This concludes our Appeals Process.”
Responding to the decision, NTW issued a statement which said: “Last week, we were informed that an independent panel had upheld our appeal against Arts Council Wales’ decision to cut our funding by 100% from April 2024. The independent panel found that Arts Council Wales (ACW) had not followed its own procedures in fairly and transparently assessing our application.
“The panel said that ‘there was limited substance to Arts Council Wales’ rebuttal of NTWs’ claims and a number of points were insufficiently substantiate’ and felt compelled to query ‘ACWs’ ability to maintain impartiality and avoid conscious and unconscious bias’. The panel concluded that our ‘application should be reviewed and reassessed’ and made recommendations on how the Investment Review process could be made more equitable and clear.
“We were informed by ACW last night that they have decided to disregard the findings of the panel and refuse to review or reassess our application. NTW entered into a labour-intensive and detail-oriented appeals process in good faith; this process included the preparation of a substantial written submission and a presentation of our case to the appeals panel at a hearing.
“Having had the major points of our appeal upheld by both the first and second round of independent assessors, we are shocked and dismayed that ACW has chosen to proceed in this manner, disrespecting the principle of independent review and conveying a worrying lack of transparency and accountability. This sets a concerning precedent for the whole sector in how the decisions of ACW may be challenged in the future.
“This situation has been very difficult for our charity and the many theatre makers, cultural organisations and communities we work with. We will now take time to speak with our stakeholders, partners and funders to consider possible routes forward and will make a fuller statement in January.
“In the meantime, we will continue to advocate for more support and fairness for the arts in Wales and we invite you to come and see the theatre we are making with some amazing creative people: Circle of Fifths and Feral Monster.”
At the time of the original defunding decision, NTW issued a statement that said: “The theatre we make places audiences – the people of Wales – at the heart of what we do. Our unique approach to collaborating with and involving communities in creating theatre has become globally renowned and our theatre productions have won international acclaim. During our first 12 years, we have connected with 331,000 live audience members; last year, we reached 2.5 million people digitally and 54% of our 34,000 audiences were children and young people.
“We make positive impacts on the lives of all the individuals and communities we work with – from building confidence in self-expression and self-worth through to improved community cohesion and mental health. We collaborate with partners in the health, education and social justice sectors as a crucial tool in the delivery of their work.
“We have been creating a nationwide community of theatre makers. Over 104,000 people across Wales have been involved in creating theatre projects with us through our award-winning community-based project, TEAM. We created jobs and employment opportunities for over 645 theatre makers in the last year. We have always invested in upskilling theatre makers: in 2022/23, we reached 6,500 people through over 80 training sessions, workshops and events focused on skills and professional development.
“During this challenging time, the well-being of our staff and the theatre makers and communities we work with is paramount. This decision will impact every one of those people: reducing opportunities to engage with theatre, to gain creative employment and to tell the stories of Wales across the nation and to the world.”
Gary Raymond, who edits Wales Arts Review and presents BBC Radio Wales’ Arts Show, said at the time of the original announcement: “The decline of National Theatre Wales to the point that it’s had all its funding withdrawn by the Arts Council of Wales is an absolute national scandal.”
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