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WNO Orchestra (PC: Gareth Iwan Jones)

Prominent Welsh Artists Protest Funding Cuts on Welsh National Opera 

In an open letter, 175 artists have expressed concerns for the impact funding cuts will have on the opera company 

 

High-profile artists have signed an open letter to government officials calling for emergency cross-border funding for the Welsh National Opera (WNO), which is facing the possibility of being made part-time following funding cuts, which supporters said “would be devastating” for the nation.

Among the 175 signatures from the arts and entertainment sectors included Luke Evans, Katherine Jenkins, Michael Sheen, Sir Simon Rattle, Ruth Jones, Julian Lloyd Webber, and Catrin Finch. The artists are collectively criticizing what they describe as the “potential dismantling of one of Wales’ finest national institutions.”

Sent to Vaughan Gething, the First Minister of Wales; Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and Social Justice; Lucy Frazer, the culture secretary; Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader; and to Thangam Debbonaire, the shadow culture secretary, part of the open letter reads: 

“The potential dismantling of one of Wales’s finest national institutions would be devastating — for the nation, for the organization and its 222 employees, and for home-grown cultural excellence. The world-renowned quality of WNO’s output will be eroded, as the true ensemble nature of the company is undermined, with top musicians unable to sustain jobs in the orchestra and chorus on a part-time salary and no real freelance work in Wales with which to supplement their incomes. The cultural life of communities across Wales and England will be impoverished and diminished as a result. 

“Music and opera are needed now more than ever before. Not only do they have monetary value, existing in an ecosystem in which numerous other sectors and businesses benefit and bringing outward investment into our economy, but the value that they themselves bring to our lives as humans is immeasurable. 

“The difficult financial landscape right now is widely recognized, but as we approach a General Election, our politicians need to stand up and demonstrate that they comprehend the necessity for our society to have a thriving Arts scene - one that can inspire, sustain, and nourish the imaginations, souls, and health of their electorate. We, as a people and as a nation, deserve no less.”

 

This intervention from countless artists follows an online petition by the WNO orchestra alongside the Musicians’ Union calling for WNO to be retained as a full-time company; to date, the petition has received over 8,800 signatures.

The petition calls on WNO management, Arts Council of Wales (ACW), and Arts Council England (ACE) to keep WNO as a full-time company; stop the proposed 15% pay cut; and agree to a sustainable funding package to secure WNO's future, including touring. WNO has also received cuts from ACW and ACE amounting to 25% of its yearly budget. 

“Our company was founded (in 1943) by miners, teachers, doctors and others who wanted a national opera company rooted in Wales’ rich musical heritage,” the petition stated. “The future of opera in Wales and England must not be low paid jobs, insecure contracts, and access only for those who can afford it.”

The proposed cuts would also impact WNO’s touring and sharing music with wider communities. In 2023, the company released another open letter that opposed cuts of 35%, which would “sharply reduce” performances across England and Wales. 

In 2022, WNO announced tour cancellations to Liverpool due to arts funding cuts and the need for “budget efficiencies.” That same year, WNO saw its annual income from ACE reduced from £6.24 million to £4 million a year for 2023-26; and, dealing with its own 10% fall in own budget — the ACW reduced its investment to WNO to £4 million a year — a 12% cut, according to WaleOnline

Supporting WNO’s lesser income during 2023-26, ACE provided the company £3.25 million of its £9 million Transform program, according to Arts Professional; however, this came with conditions that the company make millions in savings.

“Despite being cut themselves by the Welsh Government, ACW did manage to give out £900,000 more in funding to arts organizations for this round of applications than the previous year, yet WNO was still cut by a further 11.5%,” the petiton’s organizer, the soprano Elizabeth Atherton told Nation.Cymru. “If the previous funding level to WNO had only been maintained by ACW, the proposal to make orchestral and chorus members part-time could technically have been avoided.”

“We have been clear our budget is up to £700m less in real terms than when it was set in 2021 and we have had to take extremely difficult decisions,” said the Welsh government, according to BBC News

Further, ACE maintains its “unwavering” commitment to opera and classical music through its investing over £15.3 million in WNO over the next three years for its work in England, stating: “We know that funded organizations are currently faced with a challenging operating environment and we are working closely with them and being as flexible as we can.”

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