[1 September 2010]
During Sunday night’s broadcast of Emmy’s red carpet preview, the Glee cast was frequently in the spotlight. E!’s and NBC’s interviewers, like audiences, seemed smitten with the show. Amid all the excited chatter, one comment stood out—that Glee illustrates the importance of the arts in the lives of young people. How true, as Rachel, Finn, and Kurt show us week after week. They confront not only high school’s pecking order but the sneers and roadblocks placed in their glee club’s way by people who should know better, like faculty member and local celebrity Sue Sylvester.
The introduction to Foundation Funding for Arts Education reminds us that the “arts are central to all civilizations. They provide a means for personal and political expression, for conveying ideas and emotions, and for preserving cultural knowledge from generation to generation.” Furthermore, “the benefits of arts education go far beyond building audiences and inspiring future artists. Research has demonstrated the value of arts education for early intellectual development and later academic achievement—especially among those most at risk.” I doubt the findings have changed since the report’s publication in 2005, and its message is even more relevant in economically troubled 2010.
To Be or Not to Be? Funding Dilemmas in the US and UK
The US is hardly alone in the predicament to balance budget and arts. UK public arts programs—concerts as well as courses—face ever-closer scrutiny. Fewer projects receive the limited funding in a move to keep “the best” arts strong. As the Arts Council for Wales’ chair noted recently, “By making clear our priorities, investing funds where they’re most needed and deserved, we’re setting the foundations for the longer-term success of the arts. We want the arts in Wales to thrive, not just survive.”
That sounds efficient and pragmatic, especially to those whose programs still receive funding. It’s a much less convincing argument for those no longer receiving support, despite their pleas and petitions. West End theatre actress Caroline Sheen and her cousin, Hollywood actor Michael Sheen (The Queen, Frost/Nixon, New Moon), helped campaign to save the Gwent Theatre, now slated to close because of funding cuts. The theatre’s educational outreach—Gwent Young People’s Theatre—has guided many actors on their path to a professional career. As well, the dozens of adults employed there now have to find other jobs.
Most parents, taxpayers, school boards, and government agencies would agree that the arts are important, despite the rampant cutbacks in theatre, music, dance, art, and other programs nurturing creativity and cultural appreciation. When money is tight (or non-existent), however, it’s each budding artist for him- or herself.
But what happens to the grown-up artists also facing a tough economy? They, too, need a place to showcase their creativity. They need to continue learning from other professionals. Plus, they need to work.
Artists Challenge the Status Quo
Sex, Wales and Anarchy 3 is one approach toward alleviating that problem—at least for a day. This Cardiff event is the brainchild of musician and actor Gareth David-Lloyd, himself a former performer in the Gwent Young People’s Theatre. SWA3’s stages and exhibitions celebrate just about every area of the arts—“spoken word” performances of stories and poetry, the music of bands and singers, an art exhibition, a graffiti convention, and a film festival. Artists whose talent ranges from writing scripts to designing tattoos showcase their work at the Coal Exchange this Saturday, September 4.
Gabriel Strange, Casimir Effect filmmaker and coordinator of SWA3’s film festival, underscores the significance of this year’s event. “SWA was established to give a voice to new Welsh talent, allowing their work to be seen and heard. And this year we hope to get wider coverage than ever before, offering the bands, filmmakers and artists a further reach.”
Although fringe festivals and one-artist showcases are popular in metropolises from Edinburgh to Los Angeles, most communities lack events that promote local talent on the national or international stage. Writing or talent competitions often are held in isolation, or a community event celebrates one form of artistic expression, such as music or dance. Even a highly publicized televised reality competition gathering singers or dancers from nationwide auditions, such as those for the US’ So You Think You Can Dance, the UK’s Britain’s Got Talent, or any country’s Idol, does little to promote a region’s wide-ranging talent pool. Events such as SWA3 need to supplement the hit-or-miss approach to community publicity for and nurturance of artists and the arts.
Sex, Wales and Anarchy is a unique mix of entertainment and education. In addition to the performances, SWA3 sponsors independent film and writing competitions. A panel presentation featuring television and film writer James Moran (episodes of Doctor Who and Torchwood, the films Severance and the forthcoming Cockneys vs Zombies) and event host David-Lloyd (Torchwood, Doctor Who, the forthcoming Casimir Effect) helps audiences learn more about the making of Girl Number 9, an innovative, award-winning web series written by Moran and starring David-Lloyd. Continuing the discussion throughout the day in the film room, producer Samantha Price (Bad Company), writer/director Luke Andrews (Viva La France), and writer/director/actor Rachel Dax explain their cinematic projects. These professionals share what they have learned from the industry and provide insights about the business of being creative.
Of course, films are a key component of the festival. Between discussions, audiences watch short films or trailers for upcoming features produced in Wales.
High notes of the event’s musical entertainment span folk, soul, hip-hop, metal, prog rock, and grunge. Blue Gillespie, featuring vocalist David-Lloyd, takes the main stage, as do Lethargy, Bad Moon Rising, and Death of Her Money.
The spoken word lounge hosts poets, actors, and comics celebrating the beauty and power of language through their performances.
In its third year, SWA has more than doubled its number of artists and amount of performance space. Its increasing popularity is more than a testament to the wealth of Welsh talent on display. It also signals a need for new venues for entertainment, collaboration among artists, and continuing education for professionals as well as the public.
Art as Political Statement
SWA3 confronts those in the community and nation who don’t invest as much as they should in native talent. From the event’s cheeky logo to this year’s theme—social ostracism and morality—SWA3 hits a nerve and does what art is supposed to do: challenge as well as celebrate the human experience.
For all its benevolence to audiences and performers, SWA also makes a political statement that needs to be heard, especially in times of cutbacks and the funding primarily of “safe” projects. As David-Lloyd described the event on its web site, SWA is designed “to showcase unsigned performers that are struggling to be seen or heard. We want to do it boldly, protesting the lack of interest shown by the Welsh Music Foundation and Welsh Arts Council in the unrepresented.
“SWA is a festival of talent born in dissatisfaction, anger and desperation. But, hopefully, over the years to come it will continue to generate opportunity, confidence, realisation of potential and a cleansing of the soul.” Other communities would do well to accept this mission statement on behalf of their local talent. Events like SWA are imperative if artists are going to survive and the arts thrive.
Lynnette Porter is the author of Benedict Cumberbatch, In Transition: An Unauthorised Performance Biography (MX Publishing, 2013) and The Doctor Who Franchise (McFarland, 2013), and the author/editor of Sherlock Holmes for the 21st Century (McFarland, 2012), among many other books and chapters about television or film. She writes the monthly PopMatters column Deep Focus and wrote two essays published in PopMatter's Joss Whedon book (Titan, 2012). Dr. Porter is a professor in the Humanities and Social Sciences Department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida.