Friday, 28 November 2014

An Open Letter to Artists Throughout Wales

Yesterday I attended and spoke at the Arts Freedom Wales Symposium at Chapter Arts Centre. The central theme was ‘Is Wales enjoying its right to artistic freedom of expression?’

The afternoon allowed various people to deliver 3 minute presentations about issues allowing or inhibiting their right to artistic freedom of expression. The topics covered were vast and important – too much to fully cover in one afternoon. The opening speech was made by Meltem Arikan, a Turkish artist living in exile here in Wales. With an outsider’s eye she was able to make some very astute observations about the artistic scene here. Vitally she pointed out our reluctance to offend anyone and our willingness to be offended, both in the work we create and in our discussion of other’s work.

In keeping with this theme I am going to exercise my right to freedom of expression and discuss this event frankly. I left the symposium really fired up – in part due to some great things I had heard and discussed, but mostly in annoyance at some of the things happening.

This is my personal response to the event as a young artist living and working in South Wales. I’m sure that others in attendance had a very different experience.

That one afternoon perfectly demonstrated why people in Wales (dare I say Cardiff) often don’t express themselves honestly and fearlessly. During the break out discussion there were spurious claims being made against institutions and individuals, there was suspicion of anyone new or different, anyone who expressed themselves passionately was quietly mocked, there was bullying with various people ganging up on one individual and many were unable to leave old allegiances or grievances at the door – allowing this to colour their opinion in every discussion.

I didn’t conduct myself as well as I would have liked – I was so shocked by the attitudes of some that I got quite angry.

In the final panel discussion of the day representatives of various artistic institutions in Wales were pressed to give concrete answers to some of the obstacles facing the freedom of expression in Wales. John McGrath of National Theatre Wales quite rightly refused to do so, saying “there are no quick fixes to this.”

The fact these events are happening is a great thing. Even if they can bring out the worst in some people, they show the passion for the arts in Wales and the passion to defend our right to express ourselves how we want. Let’s have more events like this and get even more people and opinions in the room.

Predictably, the young artists and the next generation were pointed out as one of the various answers. Although I appreciate the belief and support of those who expressed this opinion, I have to say we are not the answer.

At what point do I get to look at those younger than me and pass the buck to them? At what point did those expressing these thoughts stop believing in their own power to make change?

As a young artist I have a lot of passion, anger and determination – basically I’m still full of teenage angst that should be long forgotten. Yes, I have relevant things to say to my generation but that doesn’t make my voice more valid or powerful than others who have more experience than me. Most importantly I am yet to gain much perspective on the world around me – something that those older than me definitely do possess.

So I’m willing to make a deal with anyone who believes the young are the future:

If you are willing to express yourself honestly and passionately, being a role model for me, then I will work tirelessly WITH you to be the change we want to see. We won’t always agree about everything but let’s agree to be honest, passionate and fair.

This offer may fall on deaf ears, but I’m young, naive and optimistic – I don’t know any better. 

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