Aberystwyth arts centre: Independence fears over changes

Aberystwyth University's Literature, Languages and Creative Arts Department has recently taken over the centre

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One of Wales' leading arts centres should be run by an independent trust, according to a founder.

Aberystwyth Arts Centre was set up at the university 40 years ago and is now part of an academic institute there.

Campaigners are backing a proposal by Roger Tomlinson, now an international arts consultant, to run the centre independently.

Aberystwyth University said there were enough "external bodies" giving support such as the Arts Council of Wales.

Start Quote

I can't see what [the university] would have against the proposal because it would protect them against any criticism going forward”

End Quote Roger Tomlinson, arts consultant On the proposal of an independent trust to run Aberystwyth Arts Centre

The sudden retirement of Aberystwyth Arts Centre's director Alan Hewson and the suspension of operations manager Auriel Martin have led campaigners to accuse university bosses of "dictatorship".

A protest in June closed the main route into the university campus to show support for the pair while around 200 people attended a public meeting last week to discuss concerns about the future of the arts centre.

Until recently it operated at arms' length from the university despite being located on the campus, reporting to and being part-funded by the institution.

Aberystwyth University has published a strategic plan for the centre that would see it become part of a new academic institution and with the new director reporting to the university.

The university's new literature languages and creative arts department has recently taken over the centre.

Aberystwyth Arts Centre The arts centre was opened in 1972 and reported directly to the Arts Council of Wales

Mr Tomlinson, the manager when the centre opened in 1972, fears this new system of governance and the university's financial pressures in other areas could lead to the centre being jeopardised.

He said an independent trust would report to a board which would meet at least four times a year and have to approve the policies and the programme.

He said: "Essentially, what a trust does is to balance the interest of the public and the stakeholders, make sure no-one has the upper hand, and generally speaking ensure the whole thing is operated in an appropriate moral and ethical way.

"I can't see what [the university] would have against the proposal because it would protect them against any criticism going forward.

"The danger is, in this time of very serious cuts to the funding of the humanities, that if you put the externally-funded arts centre into an academic institute in one of the most threatened departments, inevitably there's a situation in which the arts centre gets eroded in the attempt to keep healthy those other departments.

"And that's not good for the public and it's not good for Aberystwyth as a university."

Arts Council of Wales chief executive Nick Capaldi said he was concerned the negative feelings locally could lead to lower attendance and engagement.

"I think what independence brings is a clarity, a focus, a greater sense of autonomy," he said.

Roger Tomlinson said it would be better if the centre could be independent from the college

"But relationships with other bodies - and we fund a whole range of arts centres with local authorities and universities - can bring those synergies, those partners, the sharing of costs.

"We will be involved with the university in appointing the new director, and for me the most important thing is to respond publicly to allay the concerns articulated at the public meeting."

Prof Sarah Prescott, the university's director of literature, languages and creative arts, said: "At the moment we have enough external bodies to support us... we work very closely with the Arts Council of Wales and also we have the new arts advisory board that's been running for about 18 months.

"And as someone that's coming in new we need some time to settle down.

"I certainly need time to talk to people, to talk to everybody, and by everybody I mean the people who work at the arts centre. There will of course be a new director coming into the arts centre as well."

She said it was also important to talk to the Aberystwyth community.

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