Writing The Future

Richard Higlett from Welcome to You World g39 @The DairyThe last month or so have been incredibly busy and it’s going to take me a while to catch up, but two things have happened in the last few days that raise a lot of questions and signal some potentially very positive things, so I’m going to try to weld them together.

The first happened last Saturday, when I went along to the New Critics Day at the Welsh College of Music and Drama. This was the culmination of a joint initiative put together by Literature Wales and National Theatre Wales to stimulate critical writing about theatre in Wales. The first cohort of mentored new critics came to share their experiences of covering NTW’s first year of productions with their mentors, The Guardian‘s Elisabeth Mahoney and Lyn Gardner (and you can read Gardner’s blog about the day here).

Now with the focus of the day on Welsh theatre and largely reviews, or the lack of them, in the (UK) national press, plus the inevitable kicking of The Western Mail‘s critical engagement, I wanted to consider how the what was said related to the visual arts. If Theatre thinks it’s got it bad, contemporary art in Wales and its communities can seem invisible.

One transferable thought came through, that without reviews and a wider critical dialogue around work, we lose opportunities on all fronts. Artists and curators don’t get the feedback they need to help them move on; potential audiences miss out on conversations that offer a way in to work that can often be challenging, daunting, perplexing but often inspiring (not a word I use often). Without the access to ideas, to critical conversations, how can audiences be expected to engage with contemporary practice? And if they can’t engage who will advocate for the arts in a climate where the chilly winds of the recession are whistling up everyone’s jumpers?

Hold that thought for a moment, as I go on to event number two. The launch of the rather sexily entitled strategic vision from  Stevens & Associates and Holder Mathias architects for Cardiff Council – Establishing Cardiff as Europe’s Largest Contemporary Art and Design Gallery: A Clever, Creative and Collaborative Cardiff Solution (yes, really).

I say strategic vision, but at this stage it’s more of an ambition as the meat isn’t on the bones of how it will be delivered yet. However the aim is  to get Cardiff on the European contemporary art and design map in five years, using existing organisations and resources to create a critical mass and profile for the plethora of activity in the Capital City.

This, I’m reasonably convinced, comes out of a pragmatic response to the Arts Council of Wales and National Museum of Wales’ joint study into the Future Display of Art in Wales, by consultants DCA  and the subsequent report, by ABL Consulting (who seem to have vanished, along with all traces of their report), that looked specifically at a National Centre for Contemporary Arts (non-collections based) for the Arts Council of Wales. That report concluded that a) such a centre should be in Cardiff and b) that it would cost around £40m, which put the wind up everyone in 2008, with then Heritage Minister, Alun Ffred Jones parking it as something to be considered in the future.

In the interim the National Museum has been able to deliver their stunning new galleries for Modern and Contemporary art, creating a new focus and context for contemporary art in Cardiff, but with no municipal art gallery to match the ambitions of The Depot project (part of the close, but not close enough bid for Capital of Culture 2008 bid) there is no real focal point (Chapter Arts Centre aside) for the fizz of activity in Cardiff.

So, it was a rallying day, with lots of feedback and suggestions from those present, including a heartening number of artists and curators, in stark contrast to the launch of @Creative Cardiff, but no real clear way forward.

Now it seems to me that this could go several ways – it could end up being a joint marketing exercise (although we were assured that this wouldn’t be the case) or it could signal real investment in the visual & applied arts and design in Cardiff from Cardiff Council, focussing on supporting activity rather than infrastructure (those with long memories are still smarting from the collapse of the Centre for Visual Arts). Where this investment will come from remains to be seen, but it’s obvious that Cllr Rodney Berman, Leader of Cardiff County Council is quite passionately and emphatically behind this.

So back to the first event – I promised they linked up somewhere – the problem with arts activity in Cardiff isn’t its paucity, it’s the lack of critical coverage to draw attention to it, to address the sometimes variable quality of what’s produced and to boost Cardiff up the search rankings for cultural tourists.

Supporting new critical writing is all very well, but it needs a platform. Who will be covering this year’s Experimentica, Made in Roath and tactileBOSCH’s colonisation of Cardiff under the MOIST umbrella, which links the two festivals and more besides? Where are the reviews for the current shows at Chapter and g39 (image above from Richard Higlett’s Welcome To Your World at g39’s temporary home in Pontcanna)? It’s clear that the Western Mail just doesn’t have the staffing capacity or the resources to cover these things, except as listings, so a concerted effort will be needed to create outlets for critical conversations.

We’ve got Pitch* on Radio Cardiff, we’ve got blown ** magazine  and Culture Colony is proving to be an important online forum across art forms in Wales (I’m not ashamed of plugging three projects close to my heart) and more magazines launching soon, but we need to be getting this stuff into the Nationals, onto the telly and generally out there if the Cardiff initiative is to succeed. And if it does it’ll have a very positive impact on the rest of Wales.

Anyway, watch this space for new developments, and if anyone has the answers, on a postcard (or more digitally, in the comment box) please.

* Read Elisabeth Mahoney’s review of Pitch for The Guardian here
** And Peter Finch’s blog take on blown here

One Day I Will Be…

Awaiting image credit

Last month this year’s batch of new fine art graduates left their institutions for the last time, ready to start their lives as professional artists, or not. I wrote the following text as an accompanying essay for the UWIC Fine Art Degree show and thought that it might have something to say to other graduates, so I’ve updated the useful links and will happily add more if anyone wants to send me some.


At this time of year the art school trees are thick with pupating artists, preparing to fall off their twigs onto the hard ground of the outside world. Some will land gently, with just enough bounce to propel them up into the air again, stretch their new wings and take off. Others will fall harder, languish in the long grass for a while, then begin a cautious climb upwards, wings slowly unfurling. A very few will never recover from the drop and remain locked in their chrysalis. Such is the way of nature. So it is with the life of an artist.

Before the fall though, anything is possible and art colleges hum with unleashed potential – the excitement and trepidation are palpable. The run up to the degree shows is the beginning of the end of one stage and the start of something new.

Graduating from Art College is a peculiar process. One day you’re a student, the next day you’re a … a what? An artist? Not necessarily. In some ways the journey to becoming a professional artist can only begin after the art college training has finished. It’s just one of those things. How can you decide what kind of artist to be in the cocoon of college? OK, so you’ve followed your specialism, but how does that translate out there? Perhaps you’re not even meant to be an artist at all.

I decided to conduct a not-very-scientific bit of research into the career destinations of past CSAD Fine Art graduates through the power of Facebook. Friends and friends-of-friends circulated my request for information and back came the responses, thick and fast, with respondents spanning several decades and many cohorts of Howard Gardens graduates.

So here, for your edification, is a sample of what happens to those pupae when they hit the ground.

Out of what we’ll call Cardiff Art School, as it’s changed its name several times over the years, have come artists, naturally, and/or:

Arts administrators, scenic artists, film editors, sound technicians, project managers, journalists, magazine editors, press officers, gallery interns, gallery managers, gallery technicians, gallery directors, gallery invigilators, gallery educators, clothes designers, bronze founders, community artists, artists-in-residence, artists working in the public realm, art therapists, teachers, lecturers, film directors, workshop leaders, course leaders, social agitators, social workers, transport co-ordinators, play workers, studio managers, festival coordinators, shop keepers, film animators, museum workers, theatre managers, cultural entrepreneurs, creative producers, TV camera operatives, commercial photographers, rock musicians, artists’ mentors, shelf stackers, art handlers, research fellows, civil servants, arts development officers, arts consultants, strategists, pundits,  pet portrait artists, environmental/animal rights campaigners…and a few who are still working out what they want to be.

Howard Gardens alumni have gone on to become: The Pioneers, ArtStation, tactileBosch, Open Empty Spaces, Milkwood Gallery, Cinetig, Fox Studios, Clock Performance, Underworld, The Threatmantics, The Wave Pictures, The Victorian English Gentlemens Club, Islet, Radioactive Sparrow, The Sound of Aircraft Attacking Britain (S.A.A.B.), British Racing Green and Mermaid & Monster but this is a tiny and certainly not definitive list. Some of these have just set up, some older ones are still going, while others had their shining moment and have faded away.

And that’s just from a non-scientific trawl and doesn’t include the MA graduates or the artists from other courses at Howard Gardens. Nor does it encompass the myriad initiatives started by the Fine Art teaching staff that are fed and energised by successive generations of new graduates.

The creative impetus, which starts in the college studios and workshops, spills out across the city, the country and the globe. Cardiff Fine Art graduates are exceptionally good at using what’s available, working their networks and creating links with each other and with artists and arts institutions across the world. That this is often unremarked seems a shame, that it isn’t captured and waved in the faces of the politicians, the cultural strategists and the money-brokers is more worrying.

But the point is graduating is just the start, and not everyone can go on to be a professional artist (do the maths – it’s unsustainable). But a Fine Arts training can set you up for all manner of things. It’s trite to talk about transferable skills I know, but the ability to problem-solve creatively is incredibly valuable across a multitude of careers.

And it’s natural to pick up the degree and wait for the future, and wait, and wait. I did – one nice write up in a glossy mag and I thought I’d just have to sit by the phone and choose the opportunities that would surely come my way. But they didn’t and they don’t without a bit of proactive engagement and some derring-do.

While the Cardiff Art scene is quite different from the day when I left Howard Gardens in the mid-80s, it’s still the same in many ways: no commercial sector to speak of and a dearth of critical attention from the national or even the local media. However it’s still characterised by the collegiate nature of the arts community. Alright, there are little gangs that cluster around certain institutions, but there are performance, exhibiting and studio collectives; project clusters; communities of interest that pool their resources.

Survival strategies vary from individual to individual. Some chose jobs that will pay the bills but demand little of their creative juices. Others attempt to combine both, although those who go into teaching often find themselves drained by the increasing layers of measurement and evaluation. The only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is the wait-by-the-phone one.

Cardiff graduates are lucky to have the excellent mentoring services of WARP  Welsh Artists’ Resource Programme) and the test beds for emerging artists at g39, Milkwood, Oriel Canfas and tactileBosh, while ARC (Artists’ Resource Cardiff) offers networking and a promotional platform and Ffotogallery’s Forum provides an opportunity for much needed discussion and debate while, online, Culture Colony is linking up the creative communities of Wales with its Beyond TV initiative. Chapter Arts Centre is a major employer of artists, and the bar is where some of the most interesting creative collaborations are concocted. The Arts Council of Wales has, in the past decade, refocused its attention on supporting creative individuals and now offers grants and other support at significant levels.

There are new things popping up on the horizon every month and opportunities there for the taking for the enterprising new artist – empty shops, green spaces, festivals, international projects, local projects, group exhibitions, performance platforms.

Soon this year’s grubs will be fluttering into our lives, adding the annual blast of colour to the arts scene.  And I can’t wait.


Some useful sites for networking and/or kick-starting a career as an artist in Cardiff and beyond:Welsh Artists Resource Programme (Warp); g39; Milkwood Gallery; Oriel Canfas Gallery; tactileBosch; Artists Resource Cardiff (ARC); Ffotogallery Forum; Culture Colony; Chapter Arts Centre; The Arts Council of Wales ; Engage Cymru; Bloc; Art Tawe; Elysium Art Space; National Federation of Artists’ Studio Providers; Axis; A-N; AiR

Image: Rose Attewell, from Addiction Library. CSAD Degree show 2011

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

Cardiff without artists?

Just a quick update on my last blog as there’s a lot of rumour and speculation flying around about the future of the Fine Art Course and the Sculpture Pathway in particular.

Here’s the latest press statement from UWIC:

UWIC is committed to ensuring that current students on CSAD programmes have every opportunity to continue their studies unaffected by the changes in the School.  To that end, measures will be put in place to ensure the delivery of the established curriculum to its conclusion in 2013 and that this will be of a high order, as is to be expected.

UWIC is currently engaged in a consultation process on academic staff appointments and no further comment will be made on this.

It is however important to say that suggestions that ‘75% of the staff in fine art have been sacked’ and that ‘88% of the cuts’ are falling on Fine Art are gross exaggerations, unnecessarily alarmist and extremely unhelpful manipulations of the facts.

This was in response to the posting on facebook, which has since been taken down after pressure was exerted.  Now I’ve been working with figures for many years and been in similar situations where I’ve been surrounded by people facing redundancies and an uncertain future and know that percentages and statistics can, as the old adage goes, be tortured until they tell you what you want to hear.

There are lots of sneaky things that can be done under what is euphemistically termed as “slotting in” or “redeployment”.

If the current exercise involves shunting existing staff to other departments within CSAD, but outside Fine Art, or the counting members of staff as one, even if they have .5  (ie half time status) then maybe the figures won’t look so bad – on paper.

I should, at this point, make it really clear that I have not gone after any members of staff for information, as I am keenly aware that their position is extremely vulnerable during the negotiation period. These observations are informed by too many years of experience.

Instead I’d like us all to be very clear about what is being lost if CSAD neuters its respected fine art department and what the closure of the Fine Art & Photography BA in Newport actually means:

While the sciences and design departments are very happy to track their students and report back on successes, there’s been very little done, in recent times, to actually find out what impact fine art graduates have on the cities and towns where they choose to study but, after over 25 years around this stuff, I can tell you that they:  Set up studio spaces, reinvigorating unloved buildings,  helping to create a new buzz around run-down areas; work in galleries; work in education at all levels; make scenery and props for the performing arts companies in Wales; take part in regeneration projects; work in communities; create festivals and one-off events that raise the profile and tourism offer of their area; promote Wales, through their hyper-active networking and exhibiting –  especially on the international stage – as a vibrant place, forward thinking and a good place to live and work.

I give you: g39, WARP, ARC, tactileBosch, Oriel Canfas, Bay Art, Trace Collective (and until recently Trace Gallery),  Milkwood, Kings Rd Studios, Fireworks Studios, Fox Studios and, amongst many others, Chapter Arts Centre, set up by a group of artists 40 years ago.

Message received, I’m sure, by faithful blog friends. But let’s get that message out to those who can make a change. So far the Welsh Assembly Government have let the universities sort things out as they struggle to comply with the new regional plans for HE and with the student and funding caps imposed on them. Instead of some rational thinking there’s been a lemming-like dive over a cliff. Let’s also be clear, in England the (Westminster) Government has been less arts-friendly and a great swathe of institutions dedicated to the arts and humanities are facing 100% cuts (not a slip of the finger, really, 100%), so there’ll be hordes of students who could have been attracted to more enlightened Wales … but there are now very few places for them to go to, and those institutions still standing can only offer a limited number of places. And let’s remember that Wales sees its future in the Creative Industries.

If you’re as exercised by this as I am then this is where you should email or write:

UWIC Board of Governers:
Mr. Richard Walters
Clerk to the Board of Governors
Chair: Mr John Wynn Owen
PO Box 377, Western Avenue,
Cardiff CF5 2SG
Telephone: 029 2041 6072?
e-mail: rwalters@uwic.ac.uk

And the Education Minister for Wales:

Leighton Andrews
Minister for Education Welsh Assembly Government
Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills
3rd Floor, Pillar MO1/02
Welsh Assembly Government
Cathays Park
Cardiff, CF10 3NQ

We have a brief  window (just over a week) to make our voices heard. After that we’ll have to consider a future where there are no up-and-coming artists in our capital city and don’t forget Newport, already battered by the recession and about to lose the Passport Office.

And if you need some grist to add to the mill of your protest, have a look at and quote the Visual Arts Blueprint, produced by C&C Skills, published only two years ago.

NB: There’s no picture with this post – there’s a message in there somewhere.

On Collecting – How to build a commercial arts sector for Wales

On Friday 04 December, at the National Museum Wales, Cardiff, a group of artists, curators, funders, arts administrators, art lovers and collectors gathered for On Collecting: Transactions in Contemporary Art. The event, pulled together by NMW and g39, with backing from The Contemporary Arts Society, was chaired by Gordon Dalton of Mermaid & Monster and was intended to explore the necessary conditions for stimulating the commercial arts economy in Wales and for looking at the current picture.

So far, so good and extremely timely. It has long been recognised that there is a hole in the arts ecology in Wales that can only be filled by proactive engagement with the international art market.

What followed, though fascinating in terms of what others have done elsewhere, left me with a Welsh arts equivalent of penis envy.

Sorcha Dallas, of the eponymous Glasgow gallery, provided the first pangs of this envy by stating that her enterprise had grown out of the buzz created by the reputation of Glasgow School of Art, who have been feeding a steady flow of new life blood into the local scene, with many graduates (Dallas included) choosing to stay in Glasgow, set things up and create a critical mass of interest and activity. On the day that the astonishing news that Cardiff School of Art and Design (CSAD) were going to axe the Sculpture department ( Media and Performance having fallen earlier this year), leaving Painting and Printmaking to make up the Fine Art course, these observations really hit home.

As Dallas continued to talk us through the evolution of her gallery and her commitment to representing Scottish artists on an international stage, I remembered a conversation with Amanda Catto, of what was the Scottish Arts council, now Creative Scotland. She had described to me SAC’s strategic decision to prime the pumps of the nascent commercial arts sector and offer support to attend art fairs and promote the work of Scottish artists to international collectors and institutions.

Dallas was clear that her initiative had grown out of a strong local arts scene, with Transmission in Glasgow, a place for artists to meet and discuss work as much as a platform for work (in Cardiff Chapter Arts Centre is a valid equivalent) at its heart. While she takes the work of the 13 artists she now represents to key art fairs: Art Basel, Frieze, Art Miami, New York, Cologne, Turin etc, to build up a collectors’ base for them, Dallas is equally committed to ensuring that the shop front gallery is part of the local community too, and works in partnership with public and private galleries, managing exhibitions, publications and residencies.

Karsten Schultz, who was next up with Ute Volz, had come to talk about a project that had grown out of Schultz’s collection of contemporary art – Halle 14 in Leipzig.  A former cotton spinning mill, theLiepzig Spinnerei had been abandoned for some time. It’s a massive site and, in 2001, Schultz, having seen its potential, pulled together a symposium of architects, artists and curators to talk about potential ways to develop the site into a creative force. Now Schultz hadn’t come from nowhere. He was an established collector, largely of German contemporary art, and had run out of space for his collection, especially the larger installations and sculptural works. He had already formed the Federkiel Foundation (I’m afraid that some of the translation is a bit bonkers on the english version of the site) and was proactively supporting emerging artists, alongside more established ones, with grants and other means of support.

Long story short. The Spinnerei is five floors of approximately 4,000m2 each (that’s 20,000m2!), housing exhibitions, a library and an art education programme, and has been slowly building relationships with the art school and other creative organisations and businesses. Ute Volz is the managing director of the centre. It has the capacity to support presentation, experimentation and production. Hold that thought (and see point 5 below for what might have been).

The final panel speaker was Ellen Mara de Wachter, exhibitions curator at the Zabludowicz Collection in North London. Founded in 1994 by Poju Zabludowicz and  his wife Anita , the Zabludowicz Collection brings art to new audiences and supports arts organisations and artists. (But follow the last link to find out where the money comes from). As she spoke I found myself nodding my head at the supportive approach to artists and to allowing projects to develop, while helping them to build their careers and profiles.

At the end of the session Nicholas Thornton, Head of Modern & Contemporary Art at NMW,  talked about recent contemporary acquistions and the support of the Derek Williams Trust in purchasing work by living artists in Wales (or, in the case of acqusitions from Artes Mundi, shown in Wales). But I’m afraid at this point my blood began to simmer.

I know that the National Museum is building a new 800m2 gallery space for contemporary art, due to open next July (2011), but am equally aware that they’ve been sitting on some significant works by Welsh artists (see opening image by Anthony Shapland – the last work to make me cry) for many years without proactively getting them out to other institutions or doing anything much to help raise the profile (and, let’s face it, the commercial standing) of those artists. I am also aware that they have made purchases from exhibitions, curated by publicly funded galleries in Wales but, rather than pay those galleries (who paid for production and promotion of the exhibitions), chose to negotiate with the artists direct, or with their London galleries (in the case of Bedwyr Williams’ Bard Attitude, made as a result of the Art Share Cymru partnership this was particularly galling).

There was no panel representation from the Contemporary Art Society for Wales, who are important collectors of Welsh art (although their policy of only showing their collection every five years is baffling), nor any input from other collectors or independent galleries in Wales.

So I left the day feeling frustrated and aware that there are still many dots to join up before Wales can have a viable commercial art market, or replicate any of the projects outlined by the guest speakers. Here’s the checklist for growing a successful commercial arts economy for Cardiff and Wales:

  1. Lively and engaged art school with an international reputation
  2. An arts council/government prepared to give fledgling commercial art galleries some pump priming funds
  3. Rich patrons
  4. Rich collectors
  5. A space with capacity for production and presentation, capable of having an international profile
  6. An arts ecology that is properly interrelated and each element equally respected
  7. A critically engaged and supportive press and media

While we’re waiting for those dots to emerge and be joined I’d recommend that everyone supports their local gallery and Welsh artists by buying art this Christmas. That’s my plan. And if you need some financial breathing space then check out the galleries with the Collectorplan logo.

Kathryn Campbell Dodd, in her Bird-in-the-House blog has given a really faithful description of the day, so please follow this link for a less ranty perspective. Meanwhile, having put the word penis in this blog, I’m looking forward to lots of interesting e-offers that will help me address my envy issues.

The Culture Colonists

Now I’m guessing that Anna Wintour didn’t start her career by flogging copies of American Vogue from a cardboard box but, as deputy Editor of blown magazine, I set off for Aberystwyth with said cardboard box,  some pretty pictures and assorted stationary and passengers. The rain lashed down as I did various pick-ups from Splott, Riverside and Carmarthen, looping around Wales before finally reaching my bed for the night.

In the run-up to pulling together an issue for production it takes something pretty special to drag me away from my obsessive war against missing or misplaced apostrophes, but then I was heading for an event that I couldn’t miss: the launch of Culture Colony.

Now if you’ve had your head in a bucket or don’t live in Wales you may not know about this creative community, the love child of the remarkable Pete Telfer or, to be more technical, an on-line community for creative people and organisations in Wales.

Telfer, a former cameraman for the BBC, notching up an impressive portfolio of films for such programmes as The Slate, before the Beeb dumbed down their arts content, felt it was high time to circumvent the Welsh media, who had so poorly served the arts in Wales and go, as Culture Colony’s  slogan has it: “Beyond TV”. And he has.

The site offers a non-hierarchical forum for creatives in Wales. There’s no advertising (but please subscribe to keep it going), no agendas, but high production values and a lot of film content from Telfer, who can often be found, camera clamped to his editorially incisive eye, documenting cultural activity around Wales. What’s not to love?

For the launch (it’s been going a while but the site’s just had a major re-vamp) there were no press/media, no politicians or arts administrators, just a bunch of people who believe in the power of the collective platform and of the third (fourth? fifth?) way.

I was torn between (wo)manning my stall and attending the really engaging discussions. So, in the morning I sneaked into the session to hear a really thought-provoking conversation about archiving the arts, chaired (but in an informal “let’s just have a nice chat” kind of way) by  artist Stephen West.  Dr Heike Roms talked us through her work to date on What’s Welsh for Performance, followed by Eluned Haf from Wales Arts International, talking  in Welsh at breakneck speed (props to the fantastic translator who was just a heartbeat behind her) about the need for critical debate in Wales and bigging up Culture Colony.  Richard Huw Morgan, a last minute sub, who talked about some of his previous projects, future plans (both solo and as part of good cop bad cop) and how Culture Colony has supported his latest project – the cross-over from the digital world into the world of actively supporting creativity.

Around Aberystwyth Arts Centre artists had been invited to make interventions. So we had Kathryn Dodd and Louise Bird’s White Shift – Short Shrift; Roger Loughor’s subversive road signs; Kim Fielding’s disturbing photographs and Michelle Collins’ invitation to curate her un-edited archive while wearing a badge that said ” Artist”, “Curator” or “Critic”, with sustenance provided by Pete’s mother’s cake and sundry biscuits. But I can’t pull up at this point without mentioning the rather wonderful Dartboard for Witches in  the gallery. This exhibition offers a refreshing new look at textiles in art and has been exceptionally well presented.

This was not an event, nor  is Culture Colony an organisation, that could be dreamt up in any strategy. It is driven by goodwill, vision, passion and the collegiate and collaborative nature of the arts community in Wales.

Plugging blown, as was my mission, I was suddenly conscious of the role that arts centres and organisations play in Wales. This role doesn’t fit neatly into any monitoring or assessment format but… Aberystwyth Arts Centre have put themselves squarely behind Culture Colony, who are now housed in the splendour of the Thomas Heatherwick studio spaces. I ruminated on this as blown has had so much encouragement and support from Chapter Arts Centre. The unsung part that arts organisations play in developing artists and the wider culture in Wales deserves a big shout out.

If you haven’t had a look at Culture Colony yet I urge you to do so and, if you can find the modest wherewithal to join, then get PayPal-ing forthwith.

And finally, my apologies to my loyal blog fans. I have been out and about, and can commend to you: To the Buddha Veils and Voids, at St David’s Hall, Cardiff, featuring Peter Finnemore and Jonathan Anderson (who has a show coming up at The Mission Gallery in Swansea very soon); Bystanding at g39.  I also revisited the wonderful new Mostyn Gallery and  We have the Mirrors, We Have the Plans, (sorry but you’ve missed it, but more great shows on the horizon), which was well worth a quieter visit, away from the private view hoopla; spent too little time at Re:Animate at Oriel Davies (this year’s curated Oriel Davies Open curated exhibition, featuring the full gamut of some of the most exciting moving image practice form across the UK) and did my annual pilgrimage to the  National Eisteddfod in Ebbw Vale, the gold medal for Fine Art this year going  to Simon Fenoulhet (hooray!)

More bloggery when blown issue 2 is safely at the printers (and there’ll probably be a shameless plug too).

Blogging to make a difference

Blogging for success

A quick, knee jerk blog today, in response to Joanna Geary‘s talk to aspiring Journalists at Cardiff School of Journalism.

Joanna was persuaded to blog by Peter Ashton, while she was working for  The Birmingham Post. She did it reluctantly and only as a diversionary activity from the horrors of DIY.

But it snowballed and her editor got wind and, to cut a long story short, she led Birmingham into the social media revolution and created a new platform for interaction with her paper’s readers. Before she knew it she was head-hunted by The Times and is now working for Uncle Rupert.

Joanna told her story so engagingly that it really made sense so… after  an afternoon of wrestling with the complexities of InDesign, I headed off for a Blown magazine editorial meeting (by some strange twist of fate I’ve ended up as deputy editor). As we were meeting at Chapter Arts Centre I started to pounce on likely candidates for our website. Bloggers with attitude, who know what they’re talking about and can speak to our readers who are interested in being taken to new places.

I’m still looking. Anyone who’s interested in contributing please get in touch. Naturally there’s no money, but if you’ve seen Blown, you’ll want to be part of it. If you haven’t get to your nearest stockist asap or see me for a discounted copy.