This publication and exhibition was conceived to mark the 25th anniversary of the IWA. Peter Finch and John Osmond asked 25 authors to write an essay casting their minds back over their experience of the past quarter-of-a-century in Wales and reflect on what this inspires them to hope for in the next 25 years. They were chosen mainly because of their facility as writers but also because we judged that they have something to say about how their own lives relate to the wider collective experience of the nation.
Finch and Osmond also commissioned the photographer John Briggs to undertake portraits of the authors, which are reproduced here alongside the respective essays. They also feature in an exhibition that is touring Wales during 2012-13, beginning at the Old Library in the centre of Cardiff.
The years between 1987, when the IWA was founded, and 2012 saw a transformation in the political, economic and cultural fortunes of Wales. A quarter of a century ago ago the Welsh economy was still dominated by heavy industry coming apart in the wake of the miners’ strike. Welsh politics were in thrall to a Quango-driven state. Meanwhile a little-noticed cultural revival was gathering pace.
Today that era looks altogether like sepia-veiled history. In its place Welsh democracy has been born with the creation of the National Assembly that was granted primary legislative powers in the 2011 referendum. While still struggling with the downturn, the Welsh economy has broken free of what 25 years ago was a third-world structure and is developing a more balanced profile.
Meanwhile, Welsh culture has flourished with sport, the arts and the media all gaining recognition on the world stage. Throughout these 25 years these changes have been closely followed, analysed and promoted by the activities of the Institute. In this period our size and influence has grown in response to the emergence of Wales’s civic culture. We now have a staff of six, a high-powered Board of trustees reflecting every aspect of Welsh life, over 1,000 individual members, more than 100 Fellows, and 130 corporate members. We have developed a branch network that covers the whole of Wales, produced a raft of publications including our journal the welsh agenda, and launched a daily online news magazine ClickonWales.
The contributors to this book were given no specific guidance as to what they should write about, other than they should relate some of their own experience and writing to that of Wales during the fifty-year horizon we are examining. Inevitably the experience of the past 25 years predominates and it is interesting that, in a majority of the essays, two events in that period stand out. They were the miners strike of the mid-1980s and the devolution referendum in 1997. With the benefit of hindsight, and also the reflections contained in this volume, the interconnections between these two events can be plainly seen. They provide the essential background for all that has followed and is likely to emerge in the coming decades.
In producing this volume and organising the exhibition we have benefited from close collaboration with Literature Wales Chief Executive Lleucu Siencyn and her colleagues, with the Chief Executive of the Arts Council Nick Capaldi, and with the Chief Executive of H’mm Foundation Ali Anwar. We are grateful to them for their support and enthusiasm for what has been a rewarding project. As editors we are grateful, too, for the ready agreement of the writers to participate and to John Briggs for his superb photography.