Over the past 8 months, I have been working on a music strategy for Cardiff, the first for Wales.
Beginning in December, we have been mapping the music ecosystem across the city, adding up its value, outlining its deficiencies and with local partners, developing a strategic plan to take forward in the future. This work came off the back of the Save Womanby Street campaign and the forward-thinking action taken from Cllr. Huw Thomas, the leader of Cardiff Council, to purchase the buildings next door to famed venue Clwb Ifor Bach and sell it back to the venue, for them to redevelop.
While cementing the heritage and future of music on the street, and across Cardiff, it became apparent that for music to develop economically, socially and culturally in the city, it required a strategy. This is what my team and I have had the privilege of working on. But working on this has made me aware of the lack of understanding of the economic and brand value that music has to Wales and as we are approaching a post Brexit future, what music – as a sector, a health and wellbeing tool, a tourism brand and a connector, can do for the country.
Take Wrexham, for example, and the burgeoning music showcase and industry conference, Focus Wales. Every April, hundreds of international buyers come to North Wales, which brings hundreds of thousands of pounds, and dozens of jobs, to town. This is repeated in Cardiff each October with the Swn Festival, let alone all of Wales’ myriad festivals across multiple genres, from the Festival of Light to Green Man, up and down the country.
The issue is – and what I see the opportunity is as a result – is that there is little understanding of the total economic value chain that music brings, and how it can be a stronger, more valuable asset to Wales if it is better understood.
There is little action to support this music ecosystem, from the earliest education provisions in all Welsh schools to prioritise music, to promoting music and arts in later stages of life, across NHS programs. There are few formal music business education offers in Wales, forcing many promising businesspeople – and future taxpayers – to go to London or elsewhere. The planning system, while improving, still does not recognise the value or music and culture, nor does it protect it, leaving new cultural institutions down to the actions of individuals. And only Cardiff has taken the steps to outlining its intent with music. Swansea, Newport, Wrexham and other towns and cities should follow suit.
The result will be multifaceted. First, Wales should be better recognised for its musical heritage and emerging talent. There are still miners choirs in Wales, which is one of the world’s greatest singing traditions. There remains a strong Welsh language music scene, which deserves greater recognition within Wales and outside its borders. There are world-class venues – both indoor and outdoor – and a government strategy to bring large scale events to Wales.
But there is no joined up approach. Wales has no music tourism strategy – both passive and active – to use music to extend stays, promote conference products or engage with small-to-medium sized music venues. There’s no recognition of the country’s musical heroes, from Tom Jones to Bonnie Tyler, Super Furries to Cate Le Bon, in how the country communicates with its partners and future visitors. And to me, as an outsider, this is a missed opportunity.
In the political climate we are in, music is one of the easiest ways to communicate above political lines, bring communities together and create unique experiences for all ages. Music is embedded in Wales’ blood, from birth to death. Working on Cardiff makes me wonder why it’s not celebrated more. I, for one, will do what I can to help change this.
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