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Chapter Arts Centre celebrates 50th Anniversary

Do you have special memories of Chapter? Share your favourite moments on Twitter using hashtag #ChapterArts50.
CEO Chapter Andy Eagle. Photo credit: Kirsten McTernan

Monday 5 April 2021 marks the official fiftieth birthday of Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff. The multi-artform venue was the first of its kind in Wales.

CEO of Chapter, Andy Eagle said: “Chapter was originally set up by a community of artists and that remains its foundation and principal purpose. It’s an eclectic and fascinating place that has, over the last fifty years, evolved to be welcoming and inclusive to many different types of people”

Chapter Arts Centre came to life thanks to the driving force of writer Mik Flood and artists Christine Kinsey and Bryan Jones.

Chapter in the early days

Discussions about the opening of an arts centre in Cardiff started in 1968 and were part of a vision for a space where artists could produce and present work, free from commercial pressures. Experimental work was seen as key to its identity, and the needs of artists were at its heart.

The venue was formerly Canton High School, and the initial period of set up was a demanding time. The founders, and a gang of enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers, lovingly cleared, restored and adapted the building to make it fit for purpose as Wales’ first arts centre. The first official Board meeting was held on 5 April 1971 and in July that year Chapter opened its doors with a temporary cinema, gallery and bar, and with former classrooms used as studios, workshops and offices.

1970 Chapter Fundraising gig, Pavilions in the Park. Photo courtesy of Christine Kinsey

To read more about the history of Chapter and it’s early years between 1968 and 1980, visit:  www.issuu.com/chapter/docs/earlyyears_copy

Five decades on, Chapter has grown into one of the largest arts complexes in Europe, with two cinemas, two theatres, a gallery, a large number of artists’ studios and creative industry offices, meeting places for the community and a café bar. It produces and presents the best in national and international contemporary visual art, experimental and thought-provoking performance, and challenging independent, mainstream and international films, all alongside an inclusive learning and engagement programme.

Every year, the venue welcomes 800,000 visitors to more than 2500 film screenings, 200 live performances, 10 visual art exhibitions and 2000 community classes, artisan fairs and events.

Andy Eagle said: “Chapter is many different things to many different people. For some, it will be the international gallery exhibitions and the programme of independent films. For others, it will be the café bar and restaurant to meet friends before a Cardiff City home game, or it will be for dance and theatre classes or a cup of tea before working in the community garden. But at its heart it’s a centre for contemporary art, supporting artists and creatives from Wales and beyond to produce and present work.”

Chapter works with practitioners at every stage in their careers, supporting and stimulating opportunities for exciting new talent as well as promoting the work of established artists. It is a springboard for the creative community of Wales with a focus on bringing the world to Wales and Wales to the world.

Chapter is home to over 40 of Wales’ most dynamic creative companies and artists, including BAFTA Cymru, Printhaus, ie ie Productions, Everyman Theatre, Beryl Productions, Cardiff Music School and Taking Flight Theatre. Chapter has remained open to this creative community during the pandemic. They also offer a range of spaces in support of local artists and companies for the research and development of artistic projects, including Hijinx Theatre.

Like most art and entertainment venues, the last year has been one of the most difficult times for the organisation as they were forced to close their doors. Andy Eagle commented: “Closure has had a massive impact on us. We are an arts organisation that generates almost all of its income through ticket sales, classes, hires, café bar and other activity. The small remaining amount comes from Arts Council of Wales and is used to support our arts and education programme. Our capacity to earn income literally stopped overnight and that was profoundly scary.

Support has been generated from extremely generous public donations and from a range of funders including Arts Council Wales, Welsh Government, BFI, Art Fund, Ffilm Cymru and Admiral.

Since its closure, Chapter has offered an exciting Chapter from Home programme, consisting of over 50 virtual film screenings, online theatre productions and art exhibitions, monthly online comedy gigs presented by Welsh comedian Robin Morgan, virtual lectures with Arts Society Cardiff, as well as outdoor theatre performances with Cardiff-based companies including Theatr Iolo and Kitsch & Sync.

Currently showing at Chapter (and at National Museum Cardiff and g39) is internationally focussed art exhibition Artes Mundi. The exhibition is available to view online – and in-venue as soon as it’s allowed. Presented in Chapter’s Café Bar and Lightbox are large-scale billboard pieces from American artist Carrie Mae Weems’ recent and ongoing public art campaign RESIST COVID TAKE 6!. The works focus on the global pandemic that continues to affect us all, and in particular its impact on people of colour. In the Gallery are immersive works by South African artist Dineo Seshee Bopape – objects, drawing and sound are presented in spaces with walls covered in washes of soil from Welsh sacred sites.

Talking about the programme since Chapter closed, Director of Programme Hannah Firth commented: “When our doors closed in March last year we wanted to ensure that we could still talk to our audiences and the creative community that is our beating heart. Despite the uncertainty faced by many artists, they showed an astonishing resilience and desire to quickly adapt to other ways of working and engaging. We’ve been lucky enough to be able to work with some of them to create a dynamic programme of events and activity online and outdoors, and have developed a number of key commissions to support artists including on our lightbox, in our café bar, in our gallery, around the Canton community, and online.”

Chapter is currently getting ready to re-open. Depending on Covid guidelines, they hope to welcome customers back outdoors sometime after Easter, and they have been working hard to improve their outdoor catering offer to keep visitors warm and cosy day and night.

Although Chapter can’t bring everyone together for a big Birthday party as planned, they will celebrate their five decades through to next April with a series of special events, activities and online content – they particularly have some exciting plans for outdoor events this summer.

Andy Eagle said: “Needless to say 2021 is not the year we were anticipating for our 50th!”

“While the move to digital is great in many ways, ultimately, people want to be able to enjoy themselves and meet and do things in person. So we look forward to re-opening and doing what we’re good at!”

To follow Chapter’s 50th Birthday celebrations, events and activities, keep an eye on their website www.chapter.org (where you can also sign-up to their mailing list), or follow their social media channels (@chaptertweets on Twitter and Instagram, @chapterarts on Facebook).