The Society was conceived in the 1930s following the economic depression and resulted from a belief in the ability of the visual arts to uplift the human spirit in times of material adversity. In 1935 a major touring exhibition of contemporary art was promoted by a prominent group of London-Welsh and was curated by Augustus John. The following year the group arranged a high grade exhibition at the National Eisteddfod in Fishguard, using it to involve notable Welsh-based individuals to explore the formation of a society devoted largely to indigenous contemporary art.
And so it was that the Society was formed under the chairmanship of the charismatic Lord Howard de Walden of Chirk Castle, a distinguished collector and President of the Contemporary Art Society, the UK body set up 20 years previously, with the inaugural meeting taking place in 1937. As set out in the Constitution:
The objects of the Society shall be to foster and promote the maintenance, improvement and development of artistic taste and the knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the arts among the people of Wales and for this purpose but not otherwise the Society shall have power to purchase contemporary works of art of accepted importance and to arrange for exhibitions of such works for the benefit of the public and to present them to Welsh charitable institutions.
Currently CASW supports the visual arts in Wales by:
purchasing artworks for gifting to appropriate institutions;
sponsoring a National Eisteddfod purchase prize;
grant aiding other nationally based visual art bodies;
investing in young people with an annual studentship prize;
organising educational programmes involving lectures and study visits to galleries, exhibitions, studios in Wales, the British Isles and abroad;
operating a social programme designed to promote and increase awareness of current artistic trends by bringing together convivially those with mutual interests.
The Society is largely self-financing through subscriptions and profits made from educational activities. All public and charitable collections in Wales have benefited enormously from CASW and for many our gifts form not just the core but the essence of their holdings.
And so we hope, indeed believe like those early pioneers that the Contemporary Art Society for Wales enriches and uplifts the human spirit and that our Country is the better for our existence and activities. Why not join us for, as well as these more lofty aspirations, we are essentially enjoyers of visual art who enjoy each others company?
The Wider Perspective
Over recent years the Society has significantly widened its activities to reflect the needs and changing face of the Welsh contemporary art scene. Support for the young has always been implicit in CASW’s work and this traditionally has been by purchasing the works of young, emerging talent. To this has been added an annual financial bursary, The David Tinker CASW Studentship (named after a notable artist, university teacher and long serving member of the Society’s Executive), which rotates systematically among the art-teaching institutions of Wales.
A CASW National Eisteddfod Purchase Prize was launched in 2004 at Newport. Worth £2,000, the selection is made by a local, public museum/gallery service or other charitable art-collecting institution in the Eisteddfod location, with the purchase going directly to it, though still titularly part of the CASW Collection.
In 2003 Wales participated for the first time in the Venice Art Biennale where it has established its own pavilion. In 2004 the Artes Mundi prize, a world competition involving leading avant garde artists was initiated and funded in Wales. Both these events are bi-annual and have hugely raised the profile of Welsh art and Wales as a significant art patron. CASW has been and remains a financial contributor and sponsor of these events.
Advocacy. CASW continues to develop an advocacy role and its views are increasingly sought on visual art issues by a range of bodies including the WAG, NMGW and the Arts Council of Wales. Its credo in the need and lobbying for a dedicated gallery of contemporary Welsh art continues with passionate intensity.