A message from Wales Arts Review co-founder and executive editor Gary Raymond about the state of magazine publishing in Wales and the future of the platform.
I’ve been putting off writing this piece for months, knowing I would have to compose it whilst hoping it would never need to be published. But in the end, I’m just sitting down and rattling it out. Here we go. As of 2024, Wales Arts Review will be leaving you. We will not be seeking a renewal of the core funding from the Books Council of Wales, the funding that keeps us afloat. I will try and explain why. And I will try and explain what happens next.
The English language magazine sector in Wales is dying. (The Welsh language sector… not so much). The Books Council of Wales, for whatever reason, and however you perceive its motivations, is facilitating that death. It does this while standing behind the façade that the English language magazine funding review, which takes place over the next few months, is in place to support English language magazines. But its funding model for the sector is out-of-date and inadequate, lacking in vision, creativity, and the energy required to navigate a throttled sector through suffocating times. The model has needed radical overhaul and rethinking, when in reality not so much as a comma has moved in five years turbulent years. It is a woefully neglected area of publishing in Wales, which in itself is a field that is sadly underserved by the body that should be fighting for it.
The status quo, as offered to English language magazines this year, will kill us all.
Over the last few months, I have engaged in several conversations with trusted council, and it has become increasingly clear that I cannot allow Wales Arts Review to wither and die in the cradle of the Books Council’s apathy. And I cannot allow Wales Arts Review to act as validator of the Books Council of Wales’ lack of leadership for the sector as a whole.
Through its inaction and inertia, BCW is creating a graveyard and calling it a symposium; and in the embracing of this graveyard the organisation that should be looking after the English language magazine sector in Wales has dammed it to a zombified existence, editors roaming the land groaning braaaaiiins into the night sky at any passing writer.
I cannot allow Wales Arts Review to be a part of that.
A fine editor once taught me that a good article should offer solutions. I did that in a recent piece that you can read here. But I have no more than those for now. Attempts at dialogue with the Books Council have been met with what I might generously refer to as indifferent spiel gone through a corporate word grinder. For all its faults, Wales used to do better than that. They don’t care. That’s not to say it is, indeed, their job to care. It is an administrative body. I had hoped its inherent conservatism might have wavered in the face of such a bleak future, and perhaps some radical creative thinking would have taken place in order to propose some solutions. But I see now that was foolish.
I have been reminded increasingly during this process of the saps Christopher Hitchens lists at the beginning of his essay on Victor Serge, a canny parade of those who have dedicated their time and life-energies to a futile cause – Casaubon in Middlemarch searching for “the key to all Mythologies”, the parties of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce in Bleak House. How close could I have come – how close have I been – to joining that list of wasters? Applying for the Books Council’s Slow-Death Grant would have sealed it. Twelve years running Wales Arts Review and the Books Council responds to news of our existential concerns with something not far better than a shrug. (Tough shit, as I remember one gleeful commentator messaged me when news of a funding rejection for WAR was made public back in 2014).
As Italo Calvino says somewhere, a writer’s job is to preserve what is human in a world increasingly non-human. A curatorial role that at certain junctures in history has required swords and shields. Wales Arts Review has always seen itself as seated distinctly away from the “establishment”, a platform that could respectfully disagree and artfully scrutinise the power structures of Wales’ cultural landscape. We have never seen or felt an irony in doing this while being in receipt of public subsidy. In fact, we have always believed that public subsidy is the perfect way to fund such scrutiny, away from the much more potent influences of market trends and the corrupting gusts of capitalist interests. We had built a model that necessitated this subsidy, so that we were never in a position where we needed to contemplate, for instance, publishing clickbait headlines that gives succour to a notion of Welsh national victimhood in order to generate traffic to the website. But if the subsidy is not there, and, more importantly, if the people who administer that subsidy show no vision, creativity, or enthusiasm for the integrity of that model, then why engage at all? To be beleaguered, beaten down, and offered a very slow, very public death, is not what we got into this for.
So, what does that mean for Wales Arts Review? It may mean the end of it. We’re not sure yet. But one thing is for sure, without investment it will be a very different creature indeed. The idea at the centre of our mission statement, to provide cultural debate to everyone for free, already, given the Books Council’s inability to devise ways to support such a model, seems quaint and old fashioned.
We will, though, be seeking ways to keep the existing Wales Arts Review site alive, and we are currently exploring how we might pay annual hosting and overheads so that an archive of all we have done can remain. Who knows… maybe we’ll ask the Books Council if they fancy paying for it.
[the header image is of an abandoned library]