The announcement today of our successful bid for Festival UK* 2022 is testament to a huge amount of work and imagination; a rich alchemy of minds and creative perspectives coming together to dream a vision of something extraordinary.
Over the past three months we have had the privilege of working with a group of remarkable people and organisations drawn from across disciplines, life experiences and different areas of Wales. Together we have explored how we might rethink and rewire how a national creative project of this scale might be created for the people of Wales. With partners ranging from grassroots to government; with communities, artists, scientists and technologists at its heart, this is a project for local, national and global audiences. From the outset the process of forming a team and wider network to deliver the Research and Development phase has been incredibly rich. It has connected us to new partners, practices, perspectives and lived experiences in surprising and energising ways.
The brief for our Research & Development phase has encouraged us to do things differently, supported by a spirit of openness and challenge. The rigour, ambition and complexity that all partners have brought to the project has been inspiring, and we are hugely excited to develop these partnerships further. The possibilities of a project of this kind are enormous and we aspire to embody and draw on the radical, collaborative and progressive spirit and identity of Wales as a nation.
As National Theatre Wales, we want to take this moment to recognise that for many people, today’s announcement will invoke conflict or disappointment. We understand and respect the reservations many hold about the origins of the Festival, the political contexts from which it has grown and evolved and recognise that for many, these are linked with unacceptable anti-immigrant narratives surrounding the EU Referendum. These reservations have been voiced from within our Company, and via our broader family through TEAM, as well as members of the wider creative sector. To everyone that has reached out to us to share their concerns about our decision to put our hat in the ring, thank you for bringing openness and honesty to our discussions. They have helped us think deeply about how this project can respond to the current climate and will continue to be vital in shaping NTW’s approach to this work. These conversations have, at times, been uncomfortable and challenging, but ultimately always connective, and held with an understanding of the complexities of the role we play as a National Company. It’s vital that this communication continues as we go forward, so please keep connecting and sharing your views with us.
What’s been abundantly clear amidst these conversations, is the deeply held belief that, in the face of division and polarisation, theatre holds a power to bring people together in pursuit of connection, and empathy. Uniting communities in common understanding and a shared sense of belonging is a step towards fighting the hostility and division that many people have experienced since the EU referendum. We believe that theatre can do this. That is a role we feel we can play as National Theatre Wales.
Alongside the huge positive possibilities of this type of project, our belief in our responsibilities as a National Company have driven our bid to lead one of Festival UK* 2022’s ten projects. Over the last 12 months the arts and cultural sector in Wales has faced ongoing crisis at the hands of Covid-19, with the freelance creative community – the life source of our industry – being hit the hardest. Audiences and communities of Wales have been stripped of opportunities to engage in shared moments of cultural activity and creative expression. We can’t fully predict the ongoing mental and societal impacts of the pandemic in years to come, but one thing can be certain; access to culture and creativity has never been more essential to the mental and emotional resilience and recovery of our nation. An investment of this size provides an opportunity to help revive our cultural landscape at a crucial time, and leading on this Wales-wide project fulfils what we believe the role of a National Theatre should be for its audiences and creative community. With this investment comes employment and creative development opportunities, the chance to platform underrepresented voices while widening opportunities for the people of Wales to engage in shared, connective, creative experiences. We will celebrate our rich diversity, bring people together to fight against divisive ideas and narratives and imagine a fairer, equitable future together. Developing our sector’s scope for cross-sector partnership and building increased opportunities for cross-fertilisation are key objectives of this work.
At the heart of it all is an offer for the people of Wales to see themselves, their communities and their individual and collective futures reflected through a lens of creative optimism, a means to unlock imagination and hope for the best possible future together.
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Image: Sugar Collective.