Posted by: Ciaran | December 7, 2009

Capturing Cardiff: The relaunch of Chapter Arts Centre

Chapter Arts Centre in Canton may have undergone a dramatic facelift, but it is certainly not the kneejerk response to a mid-life crisis.  The 38-year-old building has just gone through a 16-month redevelopment costing almost £4 million, and the message is loud and clear: Chapter is 38 years young, rather than 38 years old.

“It’s just the beginning,” said front of house operations manager Abi Davies.  “It’s going to be a sustainable project now, which is fantastic.”  She is not alone in her enthusiasm.  The centre officially relaunched on November 24, but the new building had been open for a month by then after work was completed in mid-October.

The entrance to the terrace at the back of Chapter

In its first few weeks the centre welcomed more than 50,000 people through the doors and sold more than 5,000 meals in its redesigned cafe bar, which has almost doubled in size during the refurbishment.  Abi said: “We’ve certainly seen a dramatic increase in the number of users now that we’ve doubled the space.”

Part of the redesigned cafe bar area

The success of the cafe bar is integral to Chapter; the centre relies on earned income to account for between 75 and 80 per cent of its turnover because it is a not-for-profit organisation and a registered charity.

Local councillor Cerys Furlong said the importance of Chapter, based in Market Road, could not be overstated.  She said: “The refurbishment of Chapter has been well worth the wait, and the investment will ensure that it remains an important centre for the arts in Cardiff – and Wales as a whole – as well as a major landmark in Canton, well into the future.

“Chapter provides jobs within our local community, supports local artists in Canton, and makes a massive contribution to the local economy.”

Revamped seating area outside the centre's two cinema screens

The redesign project came a cost of £3.8 million, which was raised through a number of grants and awards but also some smaller schemes run by Chapter’s own fundraising team within the community.

Centre users were able to buy a brick to be used in the building or adopt a builder working on the project, as well as having the opportunity to furnish their homes with an original cinema seat dating back from the 1930s.

The building's history as a former school is reflected in the new design

Abi put the “overwhelming” support of customers down to the communal feel of Chapter and the importance of preserving its originality.  “It is still Canton’s community space but it is a beautiful building, and there is nothing in Cardiff that matches what this place does; nothing brings together artists, community groups and people who just want a cup of tea in this way so it’s extremely unique,” she said.

The two biggest donors to the project were the Arts Council of Wales, who made an award of £1,750,000, and the Welsh Assembly Government, who put forward a total of £850,000 in a series of different grants and schemes.

Nick Capaldi, chief executive of the Arts Council of Wales, said: “This imaginative refurbishment will greatly enhance the experience of Chapter for all of its many users and Arts Council of Wales is delighted to have been able to support the venue with a Capital Lottery Award.” 

Outgoing First Minister Rhodri Morgan attended the relaunch and he described Chapter as “one of Cardiff’s gems on the arts scene” before recounting his involvement in decorating the building prior to its initial opening in 1971.  He said: “If there is a better municipal arts centre than Chapter anywhere in Europe, I would like to see it.”

School desks and old tiles add character to the expanded cafe bar

That sentiment would appear to be widely held, with The Guardian’s Elisabeth Mahoney citing Chapter as a reason to move to South Wales on her television and radio blog last month.  

Abi said the centre’s reputation as being part of Canton’s bohemian community was one of the driving forces behind the redesign.  She said: “That idea of people coming and being attracted to Cardiff or South Wales is really exciting; I think Canton and Chapter has always been a magnet for artistic, cultural types and if they’ve got an even more fabulous building to come to it’s great.”

The striking appearance of the building, created by architects Ash Sakula, begins even from outside where a 60-foot lightbox is visible above the main entrance.  Artists have the opportunity to show their work in the lightbox for six months at a time, and the first piece is a work by 35-year-old Welshman Bedwyr Williams featuring 40 flies across the building’s frontage.

The 60ft lightbox is a dramatic addition above the main entrance

Inside, the design is underpinned by nods to the 1970s origins of Chapter but also the building’s history as a former high school.  The cafe bar has desks and satchels dotted around, and the wallpaper is in places incandescently-coloured and patterned.

These subtle but clever acknowledgements of the history of Chapter have set it up for a long and successful future.  Abi said preserving Chapter’s heritage was critical in ensuring the centre did not lose its connection with visitors after the refurbishment.

Furniture and decorations were carefully chosen to ensure Chapter's past was reflected

She said: “A lot of people were worried when the project went underway and was designed that it would lose the character of Chapter, because it is an old school, so the architects made sure that they restored or kept features like the old school tiles and they’ve retained the large pillars and the open space.

“It’s really important that it kept its character, this building, because it’s been here for such a long time, and people come here who used to go to school here so it’s really nice to keep that element to it.”

The future of Chapter looks bright; 38 years after it first threw its doors open, things have only just begun.

To find out the answers to the questions above, click here.

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Responses

  1. Hey we love the blog, we’re making a website about Chapter Arts Centre, we would love to post a link to this!

    give us a call 020 7831 0195


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