Publicly funded arts organisations in Wales should be doing more to engage with people in disadvantaged areas, the Welsh Assembly has claimed.
A study by the Assembly’s culture committee exploring the arts’ role in addressing poverty and social exclusion heard how communities think of arts institutions as “distant and disconnected from their lives”. It said companies should “co-design” creative activities with local communities.
Culture can have “overtones of hierarchy, status and elitism”, and is too frequently parachuted into communities instead of developed with them, evidence submitted to the committee said.
The report calls on the Welsh Government and the Arts Council of Wales to require all funded organisations to set out how they intend to tackle poverty and social exclusion in their strategies.
These organisations should work more closely with the different communities they serve to “co-design creative activities and content” with these audiences in mind, the report said.
The government’s Fusion programme, which is intended to remove barriers to cultural participation, should be subject to a “wholesale evaluation” of its objectives and funding, the assembly members added.
Contributing to the report, Kathryn Williams, director of Rubicon Dance, a community arts organisation working in Newport and Cardiff, said: “In our experience, the communities that we work with wouldn’t consider themselves hard to reach, they wouldn’t consider themselves disadvantaged, but they do think of these institutions as really, really distant, and that has kind of informed the way that we as an organisation work.
“We need to think about ‘hard to reach’ differently, and if organisations are saying, ‘these people are hard to reach’, they’re not trying hard enough’, they need to look at different strategies.”
The committee’s eight recommendations also address how barriers such as travel can impact disadvantaged communities, with calls for the government to explore how Transport for Wales could offer free or subsidised travel to specific events through partnerships with arts organisations.
It also suggests that the Fusion programme could receive increased funding to allow participants to claim for travel costs, and that subsidy for the overall programme be guaranteed.
The Welsh Government said it welcomed the report, and would respond in full in due course.
A statement from the Arts Council of Wales said the study highlighted “an important but often under-reported aspect of our cultural life”.
It continued: “In a fair and equal Wales, the arts should be widely and easily available to everyone. We’re determined to break down the barriers that currently prevent this from happening and welcome the recommendations of this report.
“We look forward to working closely with Welsh Government, local authorities, the arts sector and the communities of Wales to create an environment in which the arts fully embrace equality and diversity, finding new ways for people to enjoy and take part in the arts.”