Cardiff competes to become a leading city for the arts in the UK

The theatre industry lays foundations for Cardiff’s ascent to the fore of the UK’s arts scene

Cardiff’s urban and cultural landscape has changed enormously in recent years; the city has been locked in an architectural renaissance that has given birth to numerous world-class arts venues. Urban regeneration has arguably reinforced Cardiff’s competitive position as a leading city for the arts in the UK, and provided arts companies with an attractive location for new and exciting projects to blossom.

As a result, the Welsh capital’s arts and culture scene looks richer and more diverse than ever before. However, it is the city’s theatre industry that seems to have developed beyond all other art forms, and represents the bold nature of Cardiff’s cultural aspirations.

But, how has Cardiff’s theatre industry laid the foundations for the city’s ascent to the fore of the UK’s arts and culture scene?

'In These Stones Horizons Sing' is inscribed on the Wales Millennium Centre's exterior. But what is on the horizon for the arts in Wales?

In 2004, the Wales Millennium Centre (WMC) opened its doors, signalling the final stages of Cardiff Bay’s extensive regeneration programme. At last, the city was home to a national theatre befitting its status as the capital of Wales. The main auditorium seats 1,896 people and its stage is large enough to accommodate full-scale ballets, operas and touring West End shows. The centre engages Cardiff residents by providing a sophisticated and architecturally striking arts venue for people to share and take pride in. It also serves to underpin Cardiff’s cultural appeal to UK and international tourists.

The regeneration of Cardiff Bay also attracts funding for the redevelopment of other arts venues across the city. Guy O’Donnell, Arts Development Officer for Bridgend Council, says that investors are often taken to visit the WMC, as its success proves Cardiff is evolving into a key player on the UK’s cultural stage. “In terms of getting these businesses to relocate to Cardiff and invest, venues like the WMC serve to encourage those businesses,” says Mr O’Donnell, who has an extensive knowledge of the developing Welsh arts scene.

However, Cardiff’s urban regeneration is not limited to the Bay. In fact, the entire city centre has enjoyed widespread aesthetic enhancement in recent years, with particular attention paid to revamping some of its tired and outdated theatre spaces.

In 2009, Chapter Arts Centre reopened after a £3.8 million facelift. The centre now comprises a cinema, several theatre and exhibition spaces, and a restaurant-bar. Its position as a leading UK arts centre is thanks to funding from private investors and contributions from Arts Council Wales and The National Lottery. It now forms an integral part of Cardiff’s vibrant arts scene, and enjoys a remarkable reputation for staging boundary-breaking theatre.

Modernisations to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama were completed in June 2011. It serves as an imposing gateway to Cardiff city centre

The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD) has recently emerged from a rigorous overhaul of its facilities too, at a cost of £22.5 million. The head of external relations, Mathew Talfan, suggests that the RWCMD plays a vital role in laying the foundations for Cardiff’s ascent to the fore of the UK’s cultural stage, as it provides theatregoers with a unique programme of entertainment in Cardiff’s growing cache of quality theatre venues. “If you look at the cultural infrastructure of this city, this is another building block. We offer something different,” he says.

The enhanced RWCMD offers incredible training facilities, and attracts some of the world’s most gifted students and lecturers. Mr Talfan is confident that the new building also provides an architecturally iconic gateway into the city, which contributes to Cardiff’s cultural profile. “In addition to what these facilities do for students, it also gives Cardiff a new front door. It allows us to welcome members of the public in,” he says.

Sherman Cymru will reopen in February 2012, following a £3.9 million refurbishment

In February 2012, Cardiff will strengthen the foundations of its arts and culture scene even further when Sherman Cymru reopens after an 18-month redevelopment costing £3.9 million. Sherman Cymru is an important thread in Cardiff’s rich cultural tapestry, as it helps foster the city’s connection with a Welsh national identity. The artistic coordinator of Sherman Cymru, Kate Perridge, says that The Sherman is an essential platform for prioritising and promoting the work of Welsh and Wales-based artists on a UK scale. “We take Welsh theatre to a national and international stage,” says Miss Perridge, “which means a lot of international programmers see a lot of Welsh performers and artists in that environment.”

Cardiff’s ascent to the fore of the UK’s arts and culture scene is underway. The city now enjoys a range of regenerated urban space for old and new venues to attract investment and larger audiences. However, although Cardiff’s theatre industry has laid building blocks for other arts industries to establish themselves and grow in the city, Cardiff’s success as leading city for the arts is, for now, compromised by the narrowness its cultural focus. If Cardiff is to fulfil its cultural aspirations and compete against cities like London for credibility in the arts, it must continue to build its cultural infrastructure. As Sherman Cymru’s Kate Perridge argues, “Cardiff is really lacking art galleries.” Perhaps if the city gains something like a leading centre for contemporary visual art, Cardiff will be able cement its reputation as a leading arts city in the UK.

Above: A podcast about how the city has strengthened its cultural profile in recent years and what needs to be done to ensure that Cardiff stays on path to becoming one of the UK’s leading cities for the arts.

Below: This map shows the theatres which put on the most exciting and ambitious work in Cardiff.