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Guest blog: When it comes to the crunch

By Wood Ingham

In the last few years, people with a passion for the creative are taking control and creating their own venues to inspire and support each other. This month, two of these grass-roots arts events in Wales, The Unemployed Daytime Disco in Cardiff, and Swansea’s The Crunch, celebrate anniversaries. They’re glowing examples of how ordinary people are taking the arts into their own hands.

The Crunch started in December 2008 in Mozart’s Wine Bar, Swansea. A spoken-word event showcasing local writers and the work of a dedicated group of regulars who contribute to a lively, wide-ranging open mic, The Crunch promotes a free, co-operative approach to writing and performance.

Founding organiser Adam Sillman is quick to stress that The Crunch has always been “more about community than poetry”, some participants have succeeded in getting their work published. It’s got something of a good-humoured community feel, which inspires its regulars to collaborate, inspire and improve each other’s work.

Junkbox, a regular poetry workshop, meets before every Crunch in the same venue and there’s something of a cottage industry in small-run self-published pamphlets that emulates the legendary poetry scenes of the 70s and 80s.

The Crunch’s reputation has spread, and writers and performers both local and from further afield have featured in the Crunch’s active and lively event programme. Recent features have included Cardiff comic poet Mab Jones, John Tripp Award-winner Rhian Edwards and a unique poetry-and-burlesque act from local artists Claire Houguez and Lily Laudanum.

Meanwhile in Cardiff, the same community spirit brought about the Unemployed Daytime Disco, launched in December 2010 by community activist and jobless writer Adam Johannes and Bronwen Davies a former community arts development worker, currently unemployed. The event’s manifesto describes it as a joyous “rave on the grave of the dead economy, with a feast of music from the depths of streets to the hills and beyond.”

Featuring music, visual art, poetry, and stand-up comedy, this vibrant and fun free event has, in Davies’ words, “been a meeting place where people lend each other sewing machines, share poems, and swap survival tips. Through press coverage we have helped raise awareness of unemployment issues and hopefully also helped to change perceptions of unemployed people.” It combines an old-school punk DIY feel, a real sense of anger at the way poor and unemployed people have been marginalised, and a determination to keep creative expression alive in the face of an administration that is perceived to be at best indifferent to the arts and at worst outright hostile.

With funding for the arts dwindling away both in Wales and the wider United Kingdom, and beloved arts venues such as Swansea’s Dylan Thomas Centre face the axe, reports of the death of literature and performance are premature.

As DIY events like these thrive, crowdfunding through initiatives like Crowdfunder and Sponsume has pretty much replaced the public arts grant as the way to finance creative work (quick plug here – I’m crowdfunding a novel myself).

The age of DIY creativity, long since thought gone, is back with a vengeance.

  • The Crunch takes place in Mozart’s Wine Bar, Walter Road, Swansea on the second and third Thursdays of the month. The Unemployed Daytime Disco happens once a month at the Rockin Chair, Lower Cathedral Road, Cardiff. Wood Ingham is a freelance writer.

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