Baffling venue leads Wales’ creative sector

Andy Eagle sets the agenda for the next forty years of Chapter Arts Centre

Chapter has intrigued, interested and sometimes baffled me over the last 20 years I have been working in Wales. Now in post for close to nine months I can confirm that it is still interesting, intriguing and also sometimes quite baffling. Unique is a word that maybe we overuse in selling ourselves in the arts. In the case of Chapter I believe the term is justified.

Forty years ago Chapter grew out of the integrity and dedication of artists and the art in which they believed. It did not come out of a feasibility study or a regeneration project but truly from a grass roots desire to place art at the heart of this part of west Cardiff.

Since then Chapter’s community roots have become stronger and more embedded. Today its role and importance is undoubted, to the extent that it could almost be described as part of the establishment – though many a loyal Chapterite would shudder at the suggestion. Yet many challenges remain. As we head into the next 40 years can we do so without the hint of a middle-aged spread?

While these are challenging times Wales has not seen the same level of savage cuts in the arts as has been the case over the border. The Welsh Government sees their intrinsic social value to a greater extent than Westminster. Nevertheless the public investment squeeze is on and we are in the midst of an austerity period that I think is yet to filter through to the pockets of the Welsh public. Chapter needs a robust sustainable business base and operational structure that future proofs the organisation. Our cost base and income targets are being reviewed so that the core of our operation, creativity and artistic risk is supported and developed further in line with the aspirations of our key public stakeholders.

Sound management and the arts are not considered natural bedfellows in some quarters. I know some of my colleagues at Chapter are uncomfortable with some of the wording I am using and some of the changes in structure and approach I am implementing but the changes are necessary. With a sustainable business base Chapter can thrive and develop enormously in the next few years and the potential is almost limitless.

I want Chapter to be recognised internationally as Wales’ leading contemporary arts centre where artistic experimentation and boldness are encouraged and where different types of audiences are engaged. In many ways we have the perfect platform. Since the redevelopment of Chapter’s café bar the numbers coming through the doors have at times been overwhelming.

The result is a genuinely inclusive social space that is artistic opportunity in itself. Mothers and toddlers, knitting circles, youth groups and artists all mingle together. This was the vision of Janek Alexander my predecessor. The opportunity and challenge for us is to ensure our visitors engage in the arts programme we deliver in the building as well as in the wider community through our participation programmes.

Core to Chapter’s values is its support for emerging and aspiring Welsh artists, whether they are filmmakers, visual or performance artists. We are building on this through our involvement in the Creative Producer for Dance initiative over next three years in partnership with Arts Council Wales and the tender winning Creative Producer Carole Blade.

Developing exciting artistic partnerships is one of my key plans for the future. We have over 30 SMEs in the creative industries based in Market House across the road from the main building. When I arrived they were referred to as tenants. I am now calling them our resident companies. Closer ties are being discussed with our resident companies Earthfall, Ffotogallery, Bafta Cymru and the recently housed Theatr Iolo.

These partnerships will form the basis of future investment at Chapter. At the same time we must address our environmental responsibilities and provide as much opportunity for the creative sector to expand. After all, this is now recognised as a key economic driver for both the Cardiff and the wider Welsh economy. Our aim is to unlock the potential of the incipient talent that surrounds us and enable it to flourish.

Andy Eagle is Director of Chapter

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