Developing a visual arts network for Wales

In 2019 VAGW (Visual Arts Group Wales) undertook sector research and consultation with support from Arts Council of Wales’ Business Development fund. The aims of the project were to:

  • Understand the needs and priorities of the visual arts sector in Wales
  • Determine the sector’s expectations of what a visual arts network for Wales should be
  • Use this learning to develop a clear strategic focus for VAGW for the next 3-5 years

Views of the sector were sought through consultation sessions in Wrexham, Swansea and Cardiff, an e-survey, and interviews with other visual arts networks across the UK and Ireland.

From people’s responses we saw a number of themes that characterise their shared ambition for a visual arts network for Wales, including: 

  • Minimal gatekeeping and maximum transparency 
  • Defining the network through a shared ethos (rather than its constituency) and ensuring broad representation
  • The need for strong independent advocacy of the visual arts and an artist union
  • The need for more critical writing and dialogue surrounding the visual arts in Wales 
  • Developing a more meaningful and creative approach to bilingualism
  • Connectivity through locality and building international partnerships 
  • Challenging existing models and developing new working practices 
  • The importance of physical / offline networking opportunities

We used the themes to inform a set of twelve recommendations, as well as indicating what a future visual arts network in Wales might look like. Existing VAGW members have voted to pursue a transitional phase for the network during which the recommendations will be discussed, approved and actioned in turn. You can find out more and follow our progress on VAGW’s website and Twitter feed.

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Since VAGW was established in the 1990s the visual arts in Wales continue to transform in response to socially engaged practice, equality diversity and inclusion, the health and wellbeing agenda, decolonisation, digital technology, globalisation, civic impact and identity politics.

In addition, during recent years the visual arts have experienced increased vulnerability as the sector attempts to present consistently high quality work and public benefit within tighter economic constraints and a competitive funding climate – particularly affecting freelance artists.

Recognising these conditions VAGW is leading an ‘organisational development’ project, supported by the Arts Council of Wales. This short, focused project will help VAGW produce a strategic plan with clear aims and objectives for the next 3-5 years. The project will enhance the sustainability, credibility, advocacy, diversity and ambition of VAGW to make if fit for purpose to support a thriving visual arts sector. The project will enable VAGW to most effectively respond to the current risks and opportunities within the context of Wales – its language, culture, geography, politics and economics.

The project includes:

  • Review of VAGW’s constitution, governance and management 
  • Review of membership definition, requirements and benefits
  • Consultation with current members and the wider visual arts sector 
  • Review and communication of VAGW’s core vision, mission and values 
  • Research into sustainable financial models
  • Research into a VAGW public programme 

Alongside a VAGW Working Party the project is supported by
Melissa Appleton, Freelance Artist and Producer
Craig Ashley, Director, New Art West Midlands
Sarah Boiling, Independent Consultant

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