Cardiff based maker and creator, Spike Dennis lists the best places to see and get involved with in his city…

Sike Dennis Cardiff

Cardiff is a comparatively small city but it has an astoundingly large creative scene for its size. Having moved here around five years ago from London, I’ve found it to be ideally placed. To the east, we are only two hours from London making us the closest European capital city to London. Of course, London has a great reputation for the arts and being so close means that it is easy to stay in touch and keep up. Then to the west, we are only two hours away from the Pembrokeshire coast. This is a coastline that was named as the greatest region on Earth in 2012 by traveller’s bible Lonely Planet. It is a place to which I regularly escape to find solitude and inspiration in the tradition of the Romantic artists of yesteryear.

Being so perfectly placed between two such different but wildly inspiring places and with cultural Welsh heritage that dates back hundreds of years, it’s no wonder our small but perfectly formed city has given birth to such a great wealth of creative talent. I haven’t got time to touch upon every aspect of the city’s creative industries but I can give you a whistle-stop tour of my creative scene:

For the last couple of years I have had the pleasure of being involved with the Cardiff Design Festival, producing and curating exhibitions in both 2011 and 2012. Cardiff is home to some incredible designers and creative thinkers as is showcased each year at the festival which takes place annually since 2005. It has grown year on year since its beginning and last October’s programme was packed full of inspiring and engaging events, exhibitions and talks. This included events such as A Designer and Philosopher Walk into a Bar hosted by Chapter Arts Centre; Living Streets Mobile Cinema Screenings; and Content: A Magazine in Day facilitated by Plastik Magazine. Local Illustrator Matt Joyce also came up with the Doodle Noodle concept which was a rip-roaring success and saw members of the public, young and old, enjoying themselves as they coloured in some giant canvases in the city centre. The highlight of the festival’s programme is of course the presentation of the Best of Welsh Design Awards which this year saw awards, and teapots, going to BFLS Architects, Ctrl Alt Design and Orangebox amongst others.

Peculiar Pleasures at Milkwood by Arianne Foks
Peculiar Pleasures at Milkwood Gallery with Arianne Foks

Of course, the city’s design related output is not limited to the Cardiff Design Festival’s two week party in the autumn. ThinkARK, for example, are a group of creative thinkers and social designers who come together regularly to produce a wonderfully diverse range of projects that has included PaperGirl Cardiff, Trade School Cardiff and the PlayARK games festival. I contributed some unicorn porn to PaperGirl Cardiff last year and also had a fantastic time at the games festival playing Renga in the cinema at Chapter. What can be more fun than spending a drizzly Saturday afternoon shooting frickin’ laser beams at cinema screens?

As well as a strong design community, Cardiff also plays host to an extensive network of fine artists and makers. The big draw in the fine art community is the Artes Mundi prize which is hosted by the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff every two years and with a prize of £40,000 is the biggest cash arts prize in the UK. This year’s exhibition took place in the newly refurbished Contemporary Art Galleries at the museum from 6 October 2012 until 13 January 2013 and featured works by seven short-listed artists from around the world. The winner of Artes Mundi 5 was Teresa Margolles who was chosen by a panel of international curators and directors. Adrian Paci’s 16mm film from Artes Mundi 4 still sticks in my mind as one of my personal highlights from the exhibitions I have seen over the years.

In addition to the biannual Artes Mundi exhibition, there are some wonderful gallery spaces in the city which present ongoing programmes of exhibitions. These include Chapter Arts Centre which hosts exhibitions by established artists in its main gallery as well as shows of work by emerging artists as a part of their “Art in the Bar” programme. G39 have recently relocated to some fancy new premises in Roath and shows work by national and international contemporary visual artists, as well as supporting emerging local artists through their WARP programme.

Peculiar Pleasures at Milkwood by Arianne Foks
Peculiar Pleasures at Milkwood Gallery with Arianne Foks

Milkwood Gallery are a little smaller and embedded in the heart of the community in Roath. As well as hosting a rolling programme of exhibitions, they are also home to the Basement Residency Programme and are the focal point for the Made in Roath arts festival. I’ve worked with Milkwood Gallery on a number of occasions myself to curate various exhibitions, one of the most memorable was perhaps Peculiar Pleasures which saw Parisian performance artist Arianne Foks waddling through the gallery on a chair to a soundtrack by The Stooges.

Like the design community, there are lots of artists getting together to make things happen for themselves. The BIT Collective, for example, have just set up their studios having not long graduated. Cardiff Art Collective launched last year with an exhibition as a part of the Contemporary Cardiff programme and my own Pack of Wolves made their mark recently with our inaugural exhibition at The Sho Gallery last autumn.

These are just some of the key venues and events that I regularly engage with in Cardiff but this barely scratches the surface. The city’s printmaking fraternity is well represented by Print Market Project and The Printhaus amongst others and there are fantastic photographic galleries in the form of Ffotogallery and Third Floor Gallery. Not to mention the Cardiff Photomarathon; it’s great fun if you’re a glutton for creative punishment. I’ve taken part three times now and it’s definitely a highlight of the year.

With an increase in empty shop units, there are more and more artists taking advantage with pop up exhibitions appearing all around the city centre. I can’t possibly list every event, activity and venue here but if you’re visiting the city be sure to have a nosey at the Art Cardiff website which features plenty of exhibition and events listings as well as profiles of some of our artists and makers. Alternatively, you might like Jennifer for a walkabout and discussion about current exhibitions as a part of Art Club Cardiff.

I’ve tried to avoid mentioning individuals because there are far too many to mention who are doing interesting creative things in Cardiff. However, you can find out about some of the individuals who contribute to the creative life and soul of the city via the Project Cardiff website.

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