Chop, Chop, Chop – more arts cuts


This has been a disturbing week for the visual arts in Wales and the wider museums sector: We heard that National Museums  Wales will be shedding around 35 jobs and that after six years Mermaid & Monster will stop their work of promoting artists at art fairs.

The M&M website has already vanished but you can read the statement here  or send messages of support here. However there was something else that almost slipped under my radar. In his email to tell me about the end of M&M, Gordon Dalton told me what the future holds for M&M, “There’ll be a couple of M&M shows this year, but we had been working on our largest show to date at Newport Museum – which has now been cancelled due to closure – this has left a big gap in our work.”

Did you spot that bombshell? If the rumour mill is to be believed (and I have several very reliable sources for this information), the temporary exhibitions programme (TEP) seems to be succumbing to the swingeing cuts that local authorities are making to save money. Try as I might (and this blog follows many hours of scouring through council minutes on the Newport Council website) I can find no publicly available resolution to axe this really important programme, previously featured in my other blog posts (Andrew Cooper here and Simon Fenoulhet here), but The South Wales Argus picked it up before Christmas in this story.

Simon Fenoulhet 1

Since the Arts Council of Wales Investment Review, 2010, whose outcome was announced just before the depth and severity of the economic crisis had really been computed, local authorities have come under increasing pressure to trim what they might term “non essential” services, i.e. those that they have no statutory obligation to deliver and the arts were always going to be an easy target. The recent furore around the 100% arts funding cuts in Newcastle  might make the cutting of the programme at NMAG look modest in comparison, but then in Newport there’s little else to cut, no other public galleries in a city sandwiched between Cardiff and Bristol that should/could be attracting audiences from both catchments to help revive its failing fortunes in the wake of the withdrawal of some of the major High St chains and the downsizing (though thankfully not now the closure) of the Passport Office in Newport. As the new city centre development gets back on track after a long hiatus, the museum and art gallery will be right next to a big part of the development.

But contemporary gallery programmes are not just about leisure/pleasure. Along with creating destinations for cultural tourists (who spend lots of money as a result of their visits – see here if you like statistics), they are also a way of engaging communities with ideas and with the notion of continuing their education and thinking beyond the classroom, and this is how entrepreneurship can be encouraged, along with the first steps into further education opportunities. So losing jobs at the National Museum or at Newport Museum & Art Gallery seems to be counter-productive as Wales struggles to roll with the financial punches.And, of course, gallery visitors, interested in contemporary art, are also interested in contemporary theatre, so what impact would the closure of the NM&AG temporary exhibitions programme have on audiences for The Riverfront, which also has a series of gallery spaces (albeit more community focussed than NM&AG’s)?

Later today Rosemary Butler AM, Assembly Member for Newport West since 1999 and Presiding Officer of the National Assembly will be opening 56:56 an exhibition that celebrates 56 years of 56 Group Wales. It opens at 11.30am and all are welcome to get along to show support. As far as I can gather, this will be the penultimate show in the Temporary Exhibitions Programme, which has been running for over 40 years. I sincerely hope that she will lend her support to the programme in any public consultation that must surely follow a decision to close the TEP.

Fresh Paint 2

If lost, we will also be saying goodbye to an important new strand of work to create a showcase for recent graduates – Fresh Paint in 2012, brought together emerging artists from art schools across South Wales. Visual Arts Officer, Shaun Featherstone, planned  to expand the reach across Wales and over the border. This is particularly sad as NM&AG was really beginning to connect with the Fine Art Course at University of Wales, Newport.

But of course, the Fine Art course is coming to an end and I’ll be giving what I can only imagine will be last talk to Fine Art Students at UWN as part of Creative Futures 2013. What can I tell them? That the opportunities for them to continue their practice in Newport and contribute to it’s creative and economic future have now shrunk further? When I look at the buzz created by artists in Cardiff and Swansea, supported by the hubs of the council funded galleries I can see that there is so much that Newport could be achieving, so much new additional funding that can be drawn into the city, stimulating activity for the benefit of the wider community.

The Radical Xmas Card show 2

I hope the rumours are wrong – please use the comments posts to let me know if you can confirm or deny them or to add your voice. Local Authority budgets for the next year will be set soon so if action is needed it will have to be quick. I’ll be following up on this as the picture becomes clearer.

Update #1 there’s now an online petition to save the exhibition programme at NMAG you can sign it here

Update #2 NMAG has approximately 28,000 visitors per year, or 90 per day. If they each spend a modest £2.50 (and most cultural tourism multipliers are many times higher) that’s £70,000 that goes into the local community, not to mention rail and bus fares.

Before the Arts Council of Wales’ Investment Review, NMAG had an ACW revenue grant of £42,374. The programme costs Newport £40,000 to run, including salaries, on-costs and the programme budget, the latter is supplemented by a current Arts Council of Wales Lottery grant of £13,314. This would have delivered fourteen exhibitions, but the programme will be curtailed if the cuts are approved. The TEP also enables exhibiting artists to apply for funding to create new works for their exhibition at NMAG (and many of the exhibitions are of new work not seen anywhere else), supporting the wider arts economy in Wales and helping to retain talent.

If you want to register your concern about the proposed cut to the Temporary Exhibitions Programme at NMAG you can write to the Leader of Newport Council, Councillor Bob Bright (contact details here) and if you live in Newport you can contact the Councillor for your ward here and/or take part in the public consultation about budget cuts here, but be quick, all responses must be in by Feb 13 in advance of the council meeting on Feb 26. NB there is no reference in the consultation documents to the closure of NMAG’s TEP nor of other culture cuts so it’s difficult to see how the public are supposed to make an informed decision.



3 thoughts on “Chop, Chop, Chop – more arts cuts

  1. Cities like Newport need art & people hit by recessionary policies of Westminster Government need art and Sport to maintain sanity and good health. The reality however is that facilities of both of these recreational areas are earmarked by Councils like Newport for cuts in order to set balanced budgets for the coming financial year. The Welsh Government has just managed to find £22M to cushion the impact of the Welfare Reform policy of UK government. Can WG dig deeper and find more money to support Art & Museum activities in Wales? Hope so!

  2. As a result of Newport City Councils latest proposed budget cuts. The reductions in the Learning and Leisure budget will see the post of visual arts officer made redundant and the Newport Art Gallery Temporary Exhibitions Programme (TEP) scrapped. The visual arts officer (VAO) is the artistic programmer for the gallery space and delivers the programme, it is a specialist post which has been in place for over 25 years (as exhibitions officer). The budget proposal papers if approved by the cabinet member will see the gallery lose the programme in it’s entirety as a public service. The approximate saving is around £40,000 p.a.

    The current VAO, Shaun Featherstone was informed on Tuesday 11th December by Mike Lewis, Museums and Heritage Officer. The VAO has requested the opportunity to present a case (to Cllr Wilcox) in support of challenging the wisdom of removing the programme – given Cllr Wilcox’s previous public support for the TEP.

    The TEP offers the Council long term strategic potential, high profile and high quality public programmes. Eg – it could be a conduit for showcasing why maintaining some cultural programming benefits the city and help draw down significant additional Arts Council of Wales (ACW) investment in the future. It would greatly enhance the proposed development of a new NCC cultural strategy to maintain this, very active programme rather than remove it. The decision appears to be purely cost saving rather than strategically thought through.

    (TEP) is the only artistic programme in the art gallery (which also has fixed displays of objects and art from the museum collection which have remained unchanged for many years) – it is the only dynamic aspect of the art gallery offer. It occupies the main gallery space and includes the newly created smaller space (Oriel Porth). In August the newly refurbished spaces were launched an exhibition of paintings by Geraint Evans – which Cllr. Wilcox helped opened. In October the Llew Smith radical Christmas card exhibition opened (which Cllr.Wilcox also spoke at). These exhibitions alongside the smaller Oriel Porth programme drive new and repeat visits to the art gallery, and museum. They generate publicity and interest – visitors are more likely to be attracted to new and rolling programmes, less so the static displays. The VAO has been advised that the TEP will be replaced with a single static exhibition drawn from the permanent collections (and no further programming thereafter). The TEP is a city centre attraction which brings much needed visitors to the centre of Newport.

    The TEP has enjoyed sustained success and maintained visitor levels in recent years – and crucially it is also supported by grant funding from Arts Council of Wales (ACW). 2013 was set to be a very high profile year of great promise with 14 exhibitions planned including some major names. The VAO has doubled the number of exhibitions on a smaller budget with diminishing staffing resources. The current ACW grant strongly reflects the aspiration to place the TEP on a more sustainable footing including support for strategic development going forward – specifically, to employ an intern for 6 months to ‘free-up’ the Visual Arts Officer to strategically develop the programme and place it at the heart of a city wide cultural offer (and the VAO was given to understand, an NCC cultural strategy). The VAO devises and applies for the successful ACW support.

    The plan to scrap TEP therefore has wider implications. It appears short sighted and removing the TEP damages the city’s cultural offer. The current ACW grant will have to be returned if the TEP is scrapped. The vital role TEP plays in the cultural offer of the city – for residents but also in terms of attracting visitors and positive publicity is being ignored for less than clear reasons. When advised of the decision the VAO was informed that as the art gallery was eventually going to close completely within a year and therefore no point in maintaining a Temporary Exhibition Programme. Artistic programming, in theatres, arts centres, galleries or museums is vital and a cornerstone of a healthy and sustainable cultural presence.

    The VAO contends that scrapping the TEP leaves the art gallery more vulnerable than ever to full closure – keeping the TEP means a greater profile and the chance to see rolling programmes, opportunities for local artists to exhibit and vitally (if NCC wants to retain this important space) the chance to draw down additional funding support from ACW. Arts Council support would save the Art Gallery. The artistic community of Wales is a great supporter of Newport Art Gallery TEP – what happens in the TEP today becomes the history and cultural heritage of tomorrow, of the city, regionally and on a national level. There is nothing to be gained and everything to lose by closing the TEP.

    Recent cuts and this proposed latest cut have not been developed with or in consultation with the postholder or Museum team colleagues, it is a local management decision – by Mike Lewis and Head of Service, Ffion Lloyd in conjunction with Cllr Debbie Wilcox. In two recent Museums and Heritage restructures the management structure has been strengthened and in some cases salaries upgraded – over the same period the museums and heritage service has seen a vastly reduced portfolio (Tredegar House going over to National Trust; the transporter bridge becoming a seasonal project; significant reductions in core staff at both the Museum and Art Gallery and The Medieval Ship Project) and many non-managerial posts have gone.

    The post of visual arts officer (VAO) is like a micro service (delivering the TEP) – and indicative of many similar modestly paid value-for-money posts where tangible public service outcomes are directly delivered – the VAO plans, implements and delivers results and consistently draws down external funding (e.g. ACW). The TEP is a Newport success story which brings in vital arts funding and is great value for money. The City Council are throwing it away.

    The council have still not put this and countless other budget proposals into the public domain – as it stands this proposal will be approved on 26th February 2013 (without any public knowledge or consultation). The council are paying lip service to public consultation – their website invites comments on the budget but nowhere can the actual details of the budget be obtained.

  3. Pingback: Dark Days Ahead? | Alicia Miller - Axis Associate in Wales

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