Arts Council Cuts: a blow for rural areas

I grew up in rural mid Wales, and there wasn’t a lot to do; the cinema on a Friday night (and that was half an hour’s drive away), and the pub when you’re almost old enough (we’d willingly walk half an hour along muddy tracks). And then, a couple of youth project lifelines – for some sport, for others music, for me, a vibrant local youth theatre. It’s not just mid Wales – many friends who’ve grown up in sparsely populated areas tell of important schemes that made being a teenager living in a perceived backwater less grindingly dull.

Times are tight now, the axe is falling everywhere. But recent Arts Council cuts come as a particular blow in communities that are already struggling to support their cultural institutions. And while the Arts Council in England opted to share the pain, taking 0.5 per cent off most companies, in Wales 71 organisations will continue to be fully funded, while 32 lose their funding entirely. This will be a devastating blow to many smaller organisations. Of course, it’s easy to nod and mutter “had to be done” – until it affects an area you know well.

Inside the refurbished Castle Cinema 300x137 Arts Council Cuts: a blow for rural areasThe Wyeside arts centre and cinema (pictured) in Builth Wells, the CARAD community arts centre and recording studio in Rhayader, and Theatre Powys (also responsible Mid Powys Youth Theatre) in Llandrindod Wells are all in my home stomping ground and, I discovered recently, all for the chop. But this will mean a distance of no less than 54 miles between Newtown in the north of Powys and Brecon in the South with no cinema, no theatre, no youth arts provision.

Having recently moved to a house literally round the corner from a cinema, I know it’s easy for town and city-dwellers to forget how very, very different things can be in the countryside. But in a rural area, arts organisations are often the backbone of the community.

For me, it’s knowing that at MPYT shows you’ll see members past and present, your friends’ parents and your parents’ friends, your teachers and their kids – as well as a lot of energised, creative and confident young people. Wyeside and CARAD offer similar performance platforms through their community shows or live music nights for fledgling bands. When I went to university, I was surprised to find theatre in York rarely reached the heights of some of the touring companies that made it to our little arts centre, and to find that almost no-one else I met had ever had a good experience of Theatre in Education, whereas TP’s offerings managed to move cynical, sneery GCSE English students to tears.

I have no doubt there are other areas where cuts will mean local companies simply can’t afford to keep going, resulting in residents being denied a vivid cultural life, unless they’re willing and able to drive for an hour or two. I’d be interested to hear what other communities make of the news. This is a personal lament, and a reminder: just because people choose to live in the middle of nowhere, doesn’t mean they don’t need an artistic community. If anything, the need – and the enthusiasm, commitment and passion – is greater.

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  • Carole

    This is a great article. I will take it a step further. It's about confidence building for the young people who join the Youth Theatre, learning about one's own uniqueness and abilities while working in a team of people, getting on with others which in this world is an imperative, perhaps surviving school because of the fun of it; Theatr Powys offers the chance for new actors and directors, sound people and wardrobe assistants to develop their individual skills and personalities, not forgetting the school children who are able to express their vivid imaginations through the Theatre in Education performances at their school; CARAD has helped so many young people through performance and recording opportunities and really showed the music mad composer and singer that he or she can do it; and Wyeside, our one local cinema to which people travel from Llanidloes, one hour away to visit, relax and laugh and learn in our tiny cinema which shows DVD's opening our minds to faraway films which raise our social consciousness, and it gives us opportunities for socializing, time away from caring responsibilities, a lifting of our depression for those precious few hours and an opportunity in our local Community Play to act, work backstage and know people we would never meet before. The Arts brings us together.
    Let's remember that.
    It is more important now than ever before.

    Carole in Mid Wales

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