Digital Culture Wales
27 March, 2012
We spoke with our own Martin Owen about Wales’s long history of collaborative creativity and what was learned about meeting the needs of Welsh arts communities in the 21st century. And we ended up learning something about Romanticism, wartime art rescue, and an unusual idea for an art museum.
What was the focus of the Digital Culture Wales event?
We had individual musicians, people who run performance spaces, art galleries, music ensembles, and we had people from the National Theatre Wales Community, who are peripatetic. It was a variety of people in the arts and culture space, all there to talk about ways that cultural businesses in Wales can improve their capacity to reach, build, and address their audiences.
We’ll get to the unusual art museum in a minute, but what were some of the problems and digital ideas people talked about?
They need to be able to up their marketing game. We need to help them improve their marketing capacity, find ways to help them get training, better business-to-business networking. They just don’t talk to each other enough across the value chain. So that was some of the focus.
You mentioned a concerted events database for north Wales. Can you tell us more about what that involves?
There was also talk about a good, central repository. It’d be the equivalent of something like Time Out, only digital, and without necessarily needing to approach an editor.
There would be properly structured APIs, so that, say, if I was running a series of guesthouse websites, and you were looking at my guesthouse, you could easily find out what else is happening during the time you would be visiting. And local papers, businesses — they would automatically have this updated database for events.
Wales has a history of loose but dynamic collaboration in the arts. Tell us how you came across a forgotten artists’ colony in Snowdonia
I was on holiday in Norway and I got kind of a shock. I had a day in Bergen, where it’s always drizzling, so I made for the art gallery. In amongst the Edvard Munchs was this painting of a local waterfall in Betws Y Coed.
I hadn’t been to the Norwegian hinterland yet, where there are waterfalls every few miles. But despite all of these waterfalls, this Norwegian artist had gone to north Wales to paint this relatively unimpressive waterfall.
He went, presumably, to hang out with this colony of artists. In this very picturesque mountain village of Betws Y Coed, in north Wales, there was one of the largest artists’ colonies in the world in the end of the 19th century.
What was it called? And why isn’t it remembered?
It wasn’t called anything — it didn’t have a name. But it was a fairly significant Romantic period colony but it somehow slipped from art history and was rapidly replaced by early 20th-century modernism.
The idea [for a collection] was brought up by a local artist called David Woodford, who was at the event. There’s no permanent collection and no collective memory of this fine art movement in north Wales. So you can see things on the walls of galleries in New York or Norway, but you can’t see them on the walls of galleries here.
People didn’t respond particularly strongly to it specifically, but one of the things that interested people is the idea that there’s a lot of “hiding lights under bushels” in north Wales. And it brought us back to an idea for a virtual gallery of fine art.
Can you tell us more about that?
We had a meeting on digital technology and tourism in late 2010, and there was a suggestion that we create a virtual art gallery in a quarry in another mountain town, Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Why a quarry in Blaenau Ffestiniog?
In World War II, the artistic treasures of the nation that were held in London — the Queen’s pictures, the contents of the National Gallery — they were all stored in a disused quarry in this mountain village, to protect them.
So the idea that was pitched then was that we create a digital or digitised national fine art museum with the treasures of the nation. We would have digital images and because it would be completely dark inside the cavern, we could do whatever we wanted, and have interesting ways of displaying these digitised works.
We could juxtapose works of art in ways that other galleries can’t. For example, if you were to take a single subject, say, The Last Supper or St Jerome, in the way that they’re hung in the National Gallery in London. If it’s an 18th-century French painting, it’s with the other 18th-century French paintings. But we could have a space where we could compare the interpretation across lots of artists and periods.
There are so many interesting ways we could use this space to rethink art galleries in a digital form. And it would also be an experience because you’re in an interesting space. One of the things north Wales needs, too, is more wet-weather attractions.
What has happened with this digital museum idea?
It’s an idea that the community around Blaenau Ffestiniog are still addressing. They have some money to support their regeneration. They’re considering a number of ideas.
One of the reasons we love our Inventorium event participants is the way that the growing and ever-changing community and collaborations introduce us to ideas we might not have thought of, or have thought to put together.
The more people we meet, the more confident we feel about the creative and exciting ideas and projects that are either happening, or have the potential to happen. So when we’re addressing the digital needs of the culture industry in north Wales, how can we best tap into the strengths of these communities, so they can perform better?
We hosted a follow-up event on April 23 in Ty Menai, for anyone who wanted to take some of these ideas forward, so stay tuned for updates. Martin has also started a discussion on LinkedIn, where the conversation continues.
Posted on May 10th, 2012 by Jenny