Balloons Over Canton – Chapter and Llanover Hall Partytastic

Llanover Hall balloons April 2011

When I was a mere slip of  a girl my parents took me to a strange place, with fluorescent food, artists dressed in bright coloured outfits, flashing lights, music, performances, films. It was odd and exciting. It was Chapter Art Centre’s first birthday.

Fast forward 39 years and it’s party time again (even though I’m only 29) as Chapter celebrates 40 years since a group of artists colonised the old Victorian school in Canton, Cardiff.

Since that first visit I’ve spent so many happy hours absorbing the weird, wonderful, challenging and sometimes just downright strange offerings that have passed through the centre. From The Ken Campbell Road Show, (Sylveste McCoy with a ferret down his trousers long before Dr Who beckoned) and The Greatest Show on Legs   in the early days, to last month’s excellent Boothby Graffoe, my funny bone has been consistently twangled. The cinema programme introduced me to some of the finest films I have ever seen – some I had to go and see twice in the same week – and there’s been theatre, music and dancing, poetry and techno doings in the May You Live… digital arts festival. While  the Experimentica showcase has taken me on so many extraordinary journeys I can’t even begin to pick out all the highlights, although watching Good Cop Bad Cop perform Mas O Amser as the sun set behind the windows of the stiwdio space was magical and sowed the seeds for romance (aaah!) some years later.

But the gallery is where my heart lies. For a long time it was one of a very few spaces in Cardiff where you could experience contemporary art and see work by Welsh artists contextualised in an international and truly experimental programme. It’s almost impossible to pick out or name all of my favourites (there have been so many) without overrunning on the wordage, but there were two that really moved me.  Simon Pope’s Gallery Space Recall – reviled by the local press, who hadn’t naturally seen it, it played on place and memory in a strangely visceral way. While Anthony Shapland’s Suddenly After a Long Silence, with it’s gentle and empathetic look at the ordinary through transitions between day and night, night and day, will stay with me for a very long time.

Chapter has reinvented itself many times over the years, but maintained the same commitment to presenting the cream of experimental work across all art forms and, in  the process, has also supported generations of artists, who have used the centre to produce new work, or sometimes just to meet over coffee or beer and thrash out new ideas and collaborations. Out of sight, in the warren of offices and studios and across the road in Market House, artists and creative companies are beavering away producing some of the most interesting stuff to come out of Cardiff’s capital city. I have to give Chapter a shout out for their early and continued support for blown magazine and for inviting us to join the party on Sunday at the sunny and creatively throbbing Art Car-Bootique extravaganza. With a new refurb and the end of an era feeling as director Janek Alexander steps down after presiding over the rise and rise of one of Europe’s foremost arts centres, it seems as the reinvention will continue for years to come. Bring it on.


Meanwhile, as the Chapter crowd were quaffing champagne to toast forty years and welcoming incoming director Andy Eagle,  just around the corner another cultural gem was celebrating. Llanover Hall, has just completed the new theatre space where the next generation of young artists will learn new skills, build their confidence and move on to join the throng of creative adults at Chapter.

Now Llanover Hall is a place that’s very dear to my heart. I went there as a child, slowly working my way through various courses (discovering on the way that I wasn’t cut out for drama, photography, screen printing or ceramics but loved the life  drawing classes). Another powerhouse fueled by enthusiastic artists and tutors, who have carried on their support through the Llanover Hall charity. So I eschewed the free cake and champers in Market Road and had crisps and wine and watched as enthusiastic young people showed us what they were made of. Everyone was in party mood – from the balloon launch to the grand finale – including the centre’s cleaner Rose, mildly tormented by Patrick the MC (and former Llanover drama-ite), who also ensured that the builders, who’d turned up to join in the party, got their own fair share of ribbing.

Improv, a catwalk with a difference, comedy, puppetry, light twirling and the final climax of UV madness to the soundtrack of a mash-up of Led Zepp’s Whole Lot of Love and, um the Pearl and Dean ad music, what wasn’t to love. I’d meant to show my face for an hour and then scuttle round the corner but the sheer joie to vivre of all concerned kept me glued to my seat. Llanover has been through some sticky patches in the past but I hope that Friday night demonstrated to the council members and officials present that it’s a municipal treasure and must live forever.

There are times when, as the t-shirts say: I Loves the ‘Diff

blown balloons at Chapter Art Boot-Ique


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