What a difference a year makes. In June 2020, to much fanfare, the Wales, Culture and Race Taskforce announced itself to the world. Formed in the middle of the Welsh arts sector’s reckoning on systemic racism, it demanded immediate change and had the national press coverage and over £20,000 to back it. A year later, with no announcement or explanation, in the shadow of a bullying scandal that remains unspoken about, the Taskforce has quietly removed all of its social media pages.
For a short time, working groups were the hot new trend in Wales. Some, like Cultural Freelancers Wales (CFW) and Welsh Arts Anti Racist Union (WAARU), have survived and thrived. Others, like the Wales Theatre Freelancers Network (WTFN), faded with a whimper. But it’s this task force that made the most noise, and therefore has the most to answer for. You won’t find a lot about it on social media now, but a cursory Google search will bring up articles and mentions by the BBC, The Stage, ArtsProfessional and Wales Arts Review. A quiet revolution, this was not.
The problem is that, for an organisation striving for transparency and accountability, they didn’t demonstrate too much of it themselves. To this day, it’s not clear who the ‘small collective’ was that started the Taskforce. Transparency also wasn’t seen as being important to their long-term strategy, at least that was the impression given in their early Zoom meetings. Ordinarily, these wouldn’t be major problems for a new organisation, but they become problems when you already have over £20,000 and the entire UK arts sector watching. Who is accountable when things go awry?
And, yes, things did go awry. On July 20th, WAARU released a statement on Twitter, referencing “the extractive actions of the [Taskforce], and abusive behaviour from one particular member (with which the Taskforce has been complicit).” Others came forward with their own experiences of bullying by certain members of the Taskforce. Open secrets were secret no more. Any record of a response from the Taskforce disappeared with the social media accounts; but ultimately, that was it.
Except: it isn’t. How can that be it, when there are so many unanswered questions? The obvious first question is: what happened? How did the Taskforce deal with the accusations made against them, and what happened over the last year? When did they decide to shut operations, and why didn’t they announce it? Considering how publicly this all began, members of the Taskforce now have a responsibility to tell the rest of the story. Demonstrate the transparency and accountability you were demanding yourself.
Significantly more important, however, is the question of money. According to the media coverage the Taskforce had raised at least £20,045, with more expected. These funds came from “28 organisational donors to date, with another 15 individuals making funding commitments”. Where exactly did this money come from? Where is it now? £8,450 was to be set aside “to deliver a programme based on six tenets” – what was planned for the remaining £12,000 plus?
To date, there’s no clarity on what happened to the money. The Taskforce – and Fio Theatre, who were holding the money – have a responsibility to provide that clarity. Judging by social media posts made last year, some of the donor organisations were Artes Mundi, Arts & Business Cymru, Avant Cymru, Hijinx Theatre, Literature Wales, National Dance Company Wales, National Eisteddfod, National Theatre Wales, NoFit State Circus, Taking Flight, Taliesin Arts Centre, Theatr Clwyd, Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, Theatr Iolo, Ty Cerdd and Wales Millennium Centre. They, and all of the other donors, have a responsibility to confirm how much they pledged, and with what assurances and/or contractual obligations they made these payments.
Let’s also not forget that this money was donated for the singular goal of supporting work being done to improve racial equality in the arts. The donors need to announce how they will be using that money now, because using it for anything other than that singular goal is unacceptable. Show us that you’re continuing to commit to real change now in the same way you did when you donated last year.
Perhaps the most frustrating and worrying part of all of this is the fact that nobody seems to care. Why didn’t the Taskforce give any updates for the last twelve months? Why didn’t any of the donors? Doesn’t anyone care that, for perhaps an entire year, seemingly no work was done while £20,000 sat in a bank account? What about the allegations of bullying and abusive behaviour? Does nobody in the arts care how this was dealt with by the Taskforce? Why haven’t the arts media written about this already? Why aren’t they writing about it now? Why aren’t we angry about any of this?
Twelve months ago, over £20,000 was set aside to support the fight for racial equality in the Welsh art sector, and I refuse to accept that those funds no longer exist. Their social media channels might have disappeared under a cloak of darkness, but the Wales, Culture and Race Taskforce still needs to clear their mess up. Now more than ever, again, It’s time to show some responsibility.