South West Wales is home to lots of creative people and businesses. We are a region of poets, artists and performers.
Just look at Gwen John, Dylan Thomas, Richard Burton, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Bonnie Tyler, Michael Sheen, Catherine Zeta Jones, Rob Brydon, and Rhod Gilbert (and five of them are from the same town!).
It’s these strengths we need to build on as we set out to develop our creative economy. The creative industries are one of Wales’ top performing sectors. They have the potential to provide exciting, rewarding and attractive career opportunities, and contribute significant wealth into our regional economy.
So what do we mean by the creative economy? We mean everything that relates to human creativity and ideas, IP, knowledge and technology.
Our own membership reflects the diversity of the sector, from pianist and composer Ify Iwobi and arts and events venue the Queens Hall Narberth, through to multi-media production company Telesgop and 3D visualisation specialists iCreate, to name but a few!
Places with a strong creative economy are also more exciting places to be. Creativity makes life more beautiful and more interesting. By investing in creativity we can breathe new life into our high streets and town centres. Access to creative expression is also a great tool for improving our wellbeing, making us happier and connecting us with others.
So how can we support more creativity and innovation across our economy?
Storyteller Carl Gough believes we are the stories we tell to ourselves about ourselves. So what stories shall we tell? What shall we create?
There’s lots of creative opportunity in the region, but we don’t always shout about what we have. How do we increase apprenticeship opportunities? How do we ensure young people have the opportunity to develop their skills in a working environment? How do we ensure people looking for creative talent are target local creatives? What are the gaps that companies are experiencing? What innovators do they need? How do they find them?
Probably one of the most exciting things to happen to Swansea this year was the opening of the new Arena, the most significant element of the wider Copr Bay Phase One development. Swansea Arena will have up to two hundred performances a year, covering music, comedy, theatre and e-sports. And it’s a flexible and multi-purpose venue. 4theRegion are very proud to have hosted the first major conference there in March.
Swansea’s creative quarter is arguably centred around High Street. As late as 2019 The Sun was claiming it was one of the worst high streets in Britain. But brick by brick, it’s become one of Swansea’s smartest streets. Swansea Station has been enhanced with new benches and planters in a project led by renowned Swansea artist Owen Griffiths.The iconic Palace Theatre, which once played host to Charlie Chaplin, Anthony Hopkins and an elephant that was winched on stage, is being restored and will become a digital centre for for tech start-ups and creative businesses. Walk along the street and you’ll find the Elysium Gallery, a contemporary arts space that is the biggest studio provider in Wales, Galerie Simpson Artists, a project supporting and promoting young artists, Volcano Theatre, an innovative theatre company based in a disused supermarket, live music venues such as Jam Jar, and a host of (mostly independent) bars, restaurants and shops. Close by you’ll find the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Cinema & Co, Swansea’s only independent cinema, and Swansea College of Art, which was founded in 1853 and is part of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.
Narberth is also a flourishing creative town with many independent businesses, having been transformed by an influx of creative people in the seventies. It’s now a distinctive and vibrant place but it’s not well connected and many people don’t know what’s on offer.
Elsewhere in the region you’ll find venues such as Torch Theatre, the only theatre producing venue in West Wales, Theatr na nOg, which for thirty years has been letting young people experience the magic of live theatre, and Theatr Gwaun, an independent theatre rescued from closure by the local community.
The region also has an important role in film and TV production. Da Vinci’s Demons, and Michael Sheen’s film Last Train to Christmas were filmed at Swansea Bay Studios. You may not have heard of Tinopolis, but you’ve probably heard of Question Time, Hell’s Kitchen, Robot Wars, and RuPaul’s Drag Race? Tinopolis Group founded, and is still based, in Llanelli in 1990, produces 4,500 hours of content each year, owns thirteen production companies and a distribution company, has production bases in Cardiff, London, Glasgow and LA, and has won twenty six BAFTAs and eight Emmys.
We also have a vibrant music scene ranging from post-punk from Adwaith to traditional folk from VRï. At a time when many regional radio stations are scaling back their operations, it’s good to see XL:UK Radio’s commitment to Swansea. What sets them apart from other radio stations is the diverse programming schedule hosted by diverse and talented presenters.
In terms of festivals, Fishguard Music Festival is taking place right now. The Swansea Fringe returns in November, although for now that’s all we know about it! Next year you’ll be able to experience Westival, an underground music and arts festival deep in the Pembrokeshire National Park, rub shoulders with the artists and performers at the Laugharne Weekend, feel good in every way at the Big Retreat Festival in Lawrenny, or celebrate the expansion of consciousness and unearth something that lies deep within us at the Unearthed Festival in Solva.
Art doesn’t have to involve expensive buildings, especially when you can paint something on the outside! On frosty morning, just before Christmas in 2018, a new artwork appeared on a garage wall in Port Talbot. It showed a boy sticking his tongue out to catch what appeared to be snowflakes, but were actually flakes of ash. Banksy’s “Season’s Greetings” would quickly became a tourist attraction. Sadly, four years later, it was taken away to “a temporary highly secured undisclosed storage unit” and it’s not yet known what will happen to it.
But the artwork inspired Port Talbot’s community, thanks to their determination the subways, houses and walls of the town are more colourful than ever before! In the six months after construction workers came to take the Banksy away, sixty murals were painted in the town, some of which form part of ARTwalk Port Talbot, a street art trail app. Some of the most influential graffiti artists in the UK have been commissioned to paint murals of Port Talbot icons such as Michael Sheen and Richard Burton. Other works are by local artists such as Tassia Haines, who has inoperable breast cancer. Despite not having painted before, she covered the side of a local house with a huge neon pink dragon to raise awareness of breast cancer. She was inspired to paint the mural so that it can live on and remind people of what she was capable of doing.
And it’s not just Port Talbot. Fresh Creative painted seascapes and animals onto electrical cabinets across Swansea during lockdown. And more mysterious is the artwork depicting seagulls that’s appeared around Tenby. Unlike Banksy, the unknown artist is using transfers rather than paint. The images show a number of seagulls standing on top of each other in a raincoat, a seagull attacking a child by attempting to take off their hat, a seagull holding a balloon in its mouth, and seagulls surrounding a box marked “food bank” which is full of chips.
The creative economy is everything that relates to human creativity and ideas, IP, knowledge and technology. So how do we support creativity and innovation in the region? What shall we create?
At 4theRegion, we really believe the creative sector has a big role to play in creating opportunities for young people, making the region a vibrant place to live, and pooling skills and talent for the benefit of local communities!
On September 6th, join us to hear from a number of experts in the industry from around South Wales, including Helen Bowden, Ffion Rees from Telesgop and Rachel Wheatley from Waters Creative. Book here