The Original Proposal for an Arts Centre in Cardiff (c.1970)

1: A General Survey

One of the main difficulties faced since the war by artists (individuals and groups) working in all media, is that of finding adequate working, performing and meeting space at a reasonable rental. In the case of an individual artist, the result can be crippling because creative capacity and ability may be diminished when the available space is too small. Groups, whether actively or socially involved in the arts are also stunted by inadequate space; membership has to be restricted solely because there is no room to accommodate more. In many cases this lost income is the reason groups cannot expand, or even maintain their existing standards

A few enlightened local councils have assisted with this problem. In London Camden Council is a striking example, in Hull, Edinburgh and St. Ives, council support can also be quoted. In general, however, finding a solution has been left entirely to individuals.

Like other large cities, Cardiff suffers from an acute shortage of space for artists. How, then, can this problem be remedied in the city, and remedied in a way that no vast financial outlay is required? How too, can Cardiff Corporation help provide the 2,000 or more artists, sculptors, playwrights, poets and musicians in obtaining the facilities they require?

The research carried out by the Arts Centre Project Group (A.C.P.G.) in the past months may provide an answer for the short term.

There are many buildings in Cardiff left vacant and awaiting demolition, or due to be vacated for eventual demolition. Among them are old factory buildings and warehouses containing large uninterrupted areas. Some remain empty for years because they cannot be re-let pending redevelopment: left unused they can become squalid and a waste to the community in terms of lost rates, potential services, and deteriorating amenity.

Certain buildings of this type offer valuable space for individuals and groups to work and meet - either as permanent bases, or as space supplementary to their existing accommodation. They also present opportunities as exhibition and performance areas, not only for Cardiff-based artists, but for visiting groups and individuals from all over Wales and Great Britain.

The A.C.P.G. have explored a good many buildings in Cardiff and one suited to our needs has been located; an offer of rental has been made, and a minimum annual rent agreed on with the owners. A rent that seems, moreover, to be very favourable taking into account the central position and size of the building,

Within this building we could provide a nucleus for the creative activity in Cardiff. A nucleus that would be involved with, and play an active part in the community as a whole. Through co-operation and managerial policy, facilities, equipment and services would be made available to artists who, for financial reasons, would never previously have obtained them. This centre would bridge the gap between the 'established' as sponsored by art galleries, museums and theatres etc, and those active on the work-shop or 'grass-roots' level. We envisage a centre of creative/social interactivity encompassing all aspects of the audio-visual arts. A centre that would not be introspective in attitude or ambition but would go out in the community - into schools, pubs, clubs, and hospitals.

This, in general, is what we hope to provide; we have the enthusiasm and support of artists and groups, but what is desperately needed is funds. Funds to enable us to sign the lease and take possession, so that our volunteer labour-force can move in and start on the essential tasks of renovation and conversion.

2: The Proposed Site

The warehouse we intend to convert is the Bradnum Buildings, 6-8 Custom House Street, Cardiff. With a frontage onto Custom House Street of 35' 4", and roller doors the whole width, the building is divided into two portions - front and back - giving a total area of 13,750 square feet.

The main building (front portion) consists of 3 storeys, and a basement, it is leasehold, with 70 years unexpired. At an annual ground rental of £125 (the ground landlords are Cardiff City Corporation)

The rear portion, of two storeys, is rented on lease from the British Transport Commission for 21 years from September 29th 1957 at £575 per annum exclusive.

The rateable value of the whole is £1,972 and the agreed minimum rental for the whole is £1,575 per annum, to be let for three years

Broadly speaking the building will be dividend into two areas; one area to be bound by the regulations and bye-laws pertaining to a public place, and the other by those that apply to a club.

Structural alterations will be minimal, as most of the existing divisions and partitions are pre-fabricated. The general condition of the building is sound. The windows will have to be replaced, some floor-boarding renewed and damp dealt with, as well as part of the roof repaired. Comforts will be few - if not spartan, the walls will merely be pointed where necessary and given a coat of emulsion. Heating will be by calor propane industrial heaters, which give powerful radiant heat at low cost. Electricity will be installed to give lighting and power circuits, plumbing and fire escapes will have to be provided to comply with the regulations governing such buildings. It would be the policy of the A.C.P.G. that all fittings should be removable when the life span of the building elapses.

3: Administration and Administrative Policy

A) Administration

The corporate body of the Arts Centre would take the form of a Charitable Trust. We foresee a full-time administrative staff who would cope with all the administration of the Centre. Four would be a workable number; their functions would be as follows:

  • 1: to be responsible for, and the organisation of, the day to day allocation of space, equipment and time to those who wish to use the Centre.
  • 2: to deal with all paper-work, correspondence and telephone calls.
  • 3: to be responsible for publicity and public relations.
  • 4: to be responsible for the arrangements of visiting groups, lecturers events etc.
  • 5: to organise catering and bar facilities.
  • 6: to be responsible for security in the building and of equipment.>br>
  • 7: to be responsible for the maintenance of the building and equipment.
  • 8: to sponsor and encourage inter-activity between the groups and individuals using the centre.
  • 9: to be responsible for all financial matters, but not executors.
  • 10:to consolidate Art Centre activities into a strong creative force, and to arrange performances and exhibitions etc. outside the actual Centre.
  • 11:to be the sole trustees responsible for the keeping of accounts and records of the Centre and to be answerable to the Commissioner of Registered Charities.
  • 12:to be answerable as a Trust to the local authority for the bye-laws and regulations governing the building and its use.
  • 13:to be answerable to the members for any problems arising out of the administration.

B) Administrative Policy

Through out discussions with potential members of the Arts Centre, certain points can be made:

i) Groups:

  • 1: Groups using the Centre as a permanent base (i.e. at regular times throughout the year) should retain their autonomy completely. Any Arts Council grant, or similar grants-in-aid that have been made to them should be retained as such and not 'pooled' as bloc-grant to the Arts Centre
  • 2: Groups will be asked to present provisional annual programmes of events to the administration, to ensure that the necessary preparations are made and to avoid clashes of interest on particular dates. A balanced programme of events etc. can thus be drawn up for a year at a time.
  • 3: Groups will be subject to an annual rental, payable to the Arts Centre. Additional charges for heating and power will be made as and when used.
  • 4: It will be obligatory for members of each group to be members of the Arts Centre.

ii) Individuals:

  • 1: Individuals using floor space on a regular basis will be subject to a small daily rental.
  • 2: Individuals are to be solely responsible for their own materials and equipment.
  • 3: The Arts Centre will be the representative body for individuals not affiliated to groups.

iii) General:

  • 1: Arts Centre equipment (printing, video-tape, tape-recorder, lighting equipment etc ) will be placed at the disposal of members free of charge, or in the case of printing, charging only for printing ink and paper, the tapes used in recording etc.
  • 2: The Arts Centre will receive a percentage of all takings from public performances held in the 'Arts Centre, whether the event be organised by a group or an individual. In these instances no charge will be made for heat or lighting, the Arts Centre will be responsible for all publicity and preparations relating to the event.
  • 3: Except on special circumstances, Arts Centre facilities will be for the use of the members only 

4: Finance and Fund Raising

A: Finance

As expenditure relating to the Centre's first year of existence will be the most capital intensive, it is this that will be dealt with here.NB. as a Charitable Trust, the Centre would be entitled to a reduction of rates and miscellaneous benefits in the form of tax relief at the discretion of H.M. Inspector of Taxes.

Overhead expenditure:-

  • Conversion of building, including building, wiring, fitments (internal and external), alterations and decoration: £5,000
  • Rental for the first year: £1,575
  • TOTAL £6,575

(* based on estimates of builder, lighting consultant and quantity surveyor)

N.B. the rates are not included in this estimate as these will have to be assessed by the local authority, and will be influenced by such considerations as the Charity Status of the Centre and the use of the building.

It is impossible to give a breakdown of running costs or income at this stage, it must suffice to say that the running cost could be met out of the income of the Centre, which would come from:

  • 1: Membership fees.
  • 2: Groups rental.
  • 3: Catering and bar revenue.
  • 4: Takings from public performances.
  • 5: Sales of pamphlets, posters, magazines etc.
  • 6: Fundraising activities.

B: Fund Raising

We intend to apply for grants as grants-in-aid, we will also make special appeals for specific materials, equipment and services.

Sources:

  • 1: Local Authorities
  • 2: Foundations (e.g. The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation)
  • 3: Industry
  • 4: Philanthropists.
  • 5: The Welsh Arts Council.

Many similar projects have had great success in obtaining building materials (blocks, cement, paint, etc.) through the manufacturers at cost price - and even free. Other equipment (office furniture, chairs, lighting etc.) might be obtained from schools, offices and theatres where modernisation is taking place.

In February 1970 it is proposed to hold a fund-raising concert in Sophia Gardens Pavillion. A working committee is in progress on this scheme. A one-day 'event' is envisaged where, during the course of the day, groups and individuals intending to use the Arts Centre, would put up stalls and let the public find out in what field each is engaged in. Poets and musicians, painters and actors would perform, sell their work and so on. In the evening the charity concert would consist of the best groups in popular and contemporary music, jazz, electronic and classical music. We are fortunate in having associates connected with booking agencies which will enable us to hire groups for expenses only.

5: Integration with C.D.A. Proposals

The corporation must realise that, with the support we have enlisted through our project, consideration must be given to it in any future development scheme.

By giving support in every way they can to the project, the Corporation is really commissioning a research group to study the feasibility of their own proposed 'Art and Cultural Centre' in the central area of Cardiff

In response to our 'specific space requirement' questionnaire it may well prove that 13,750 square feet will not be enough. If this turns out to be so, then the Corporation must seriously reconsider its proposals for the size of the Arts Centre it hopes to build. Also, on the results of our questionnaire, it seems that the demand is not heavily weighted towards the need of a 'large hall'. A high percentage of our replies came from artists and sculptors working in kinetic and environmental art who need large flexible studio and workshop areas. This problem is crystallised by the formation of S.P.A.C.E. in London. As a limited company, it rented a vast dock-side warehouse of 100,000 square feet, to try and ease this basic problem of studio space. At present there are 100 painters, kinetic artists and sculptors working there with a waiting list over 200. Three Art Schools (notably the Slade School of Art) have taken space there.

Perhaps most critically effected in this area of space shortage are students recently out of Art College; first they must make do with the limited spaces in College and then they must resign themselves to their inability to match even this. It was perhaps for this reason that Mr. Tom Hudson; Direotor of Studies at Cardiff College of Art ,(reputed to be the most progressive in the country) addressed the College on November 14 and urged the students to become members of the Arts Centre and support it in every way they could.

This kind of information - relating to actual need - could be given by the A.C.P.G. during the remaining years of the life of the building.

To build a strong force in the artistic community in Cardiff must be our first aim, by doing this we intend to involve the community at large in a way that no art gallery, museum or library is capable.

We envisage this short-term Arts Centre as being a working blue-print for the Corporations own Arts Centre through the success and failure of this centre future planners would know more clearly just what was needed frcm the point of view of type and size of space, lay-out etc.

There would also be an organisational experience behind those who had been involved in this Centre, and any future development would be on a much sounder footing. Most important of all, though, a tradition of artistic activity in the city will have been established and the creativity in the short-term centre would move into the permanent one.

The city might be building a white-elephant in the future, the interim Arts Centre would ascertain how much and what kind of support it would have.

6: Allocation and utilisation of Space.

In response to our questionnaire the following demands for specific space were made:

  • 1: area for showing films: raked seating to accommodate 150-200 people.
  • 2: areas for experimental theatre, concerts, folk-song, poetry readings, jazz and experimental music, a flat space accommodating a maximum of 300 people.
  • 3: an exhibition and display area where work being done in the Centre could be shown and sold.
  • 4: a permanent communications area where there would be a book-stall, information desk and a form of box-office.
  • 5: large studio area for people working with inflatables and large structures.
  • 6: workshops for people working in printing, metal-work, video-tape etc.
  • 7: storage space.
  • 8: refreshment area.
  • 9: meeting or committee rooms.

What we feel we can provide in the building we are considering are;

  • 1: basic non-luxury surroundings.
  • 2: film-showing facilities.
  • 3: large area for performances (eg. poetry-reading, theatre, folk)
  • 4: exhibition and display areas open to the public.
  • 5: a "communications" centre (ie book-stall etc.)
  • 6: large studio area
  • 7: a certain amount of work-shop space.
  • 8: a communal refreshment-social area.

We envisage dividing the available space up as follows:

Ground floor: a public-area, for exhibitions, performances. selling the work of artists, "events" etc. When not open to the public could be used as extra space for Arts Centre members.

First floor: large studio space plus work-shop space for printing, video-tape and sound.

Second floor: bar/refreshment/social area. Offices for administration, storage and duplicating.

First floor back: performance areas (2) one sound-proofed for the showing of films, and certain concerts, the other simply an open space for theatre, poetry etc.

N.B., we regard the basement as a difficult proposition at the moment and feel it might be regarded and a second phase of development

The provision of space is of prime importance, but there is also a need for certain equipment which must also be taken into account: sound equipment; stage lighting; rostra; recording equipment; video-tape; printing machinery and film-making equipment are the materials most requested. None of these is a luxury, and we mould try to obtain them either as gifts from industry or through grants for our members.

All those who have expressed an interest in using the Centre have emphasised their desire to work with others, to widen their own interest and ability. This cross-fertilisation of activity would be, perhaps, the most valuable aspect of the Centre, artists and musicians, poets and sound-engineers, playwrights and film-makers working together could produce an exciting and rich cultural and creative life in Cardiff.

7: Conclusion

It is becoming increasingly obvious that there is a great demand for an Arts Centre in Cardiff NOW, to act as an 'interim' Centre prior to the building of the artistic and cultural, complex envisaged by the City.

If Cardiff is to have an Arts Centre in the future, the present demand must be catered for and encouraged, otherwise we may be faced with an empty Centre in the 1980's. If the City were to allow this scheme to get off the ground, by providing the financial support required to launch the scheme, the Arts in Cardiff will be given a chance to expand, and instil new life into the society.

If the City showed the way, industry and individuals would follow suit - it needs someone to start, once the scheme is working, it will support itself.

Cardiff needs an Arts Centre, and Cardiff must have one.

The ARTS CENTRE PROJECT GROUP Mik Flood, Bryan Jones, Chris Kinsey and Elizabeth Weston 

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