One week on...
Whether Swansea is an Ugly Lovely City, a Pretty Shitty City, or something in between, is a question that animates and agitates many of the people who live here. It is obviously a city of contrasts: poverty and plenty; hills and sandfields; urban development and inner-city atrophy. It is an odd little place, probably over-determined by its out-of-town university campuses and similarly located retail parks. Architects stalk the streets, planning more glass-framed buildings that no one can love or really want. But don’t worry – the money adds up, and in 40 years’ time when they are all torn down, the same professionals will be enjoying their pensions somewhere far from here.
Away from the discrete aspirations of the private sector (often funded by the public purse) it is well known that civic structures have suffered their own kind of torments. Enervation (in terms of discourse and of development) is everywhere. Nevertheless, uneven development complicates this picture. The big hand of The State swoops down with its City Deal, and we now have a brand new performance Arena with 3000 seats. Further up the road at Hafod, the old copperworks site is being transformed into (among other things) a whisky distillery.
The State (in its arms-length guise) has also been at work between the Hafod and the Arena. It has chosen to continue its offer of revenue funding to Volcano, who currently occupy a large old retail unit in the High Street. It’s not a glamorous building – it is cold and it leaks – but it is large and versatile, and home to a lot of people and a lot of real-time activity. Change and reinvention are the key principles at work within the building and the organisation. Across the way from Volcano is Elysium Gallery, joining the ranks of the multi-year funded for the first time and doing great and varied work. Both organisations are in old, somewhat broken buildings, but somehow we have practiced transformation, collaboration and communication. It is at the level of the street that The City reaches out to its people, listens, provokes, and loves. It feels good that the Arts Council in its recent Investment Review has recognised this, in Swansea at least.
Paul Davies, October 2023