Where do you hangout? Where do you play, create and have fun with others? Where do you socialize or work over coffee? How important are the social spaces around you and through which you learn to live?
Our social spaces are important not just because they might keeps us warm or dry on a cold winters day; offer us a place for food or drink or transport to and from work. Our social spaces — the cafes, libraries, museums, galleries, trains, buses restaurants and even our hallways, are important spaces because they are where our moments of joy, our moments of sadness, our most creative work and our personal selves are shared with others. It is here where the social accidents happen. Where we meet new friends, make work with colleagues, catch up with peers and perhaps form deep love.
With change in social technologies has also come change in how we consider and use our social spaces; their importance to our lives, as well the way they partner in our learning.
A few years after I moved to Wales, I moved from the small town of Llantrisant to live in Cardiff, the countries capital. New to the city and the country I didn’t know many people outside my circle of colleagues at the University. Having lived and studied in Sydney, a city with a very busy cafe and design scene, I sought out the spaces in Cardiff where people hooked up, hung out and got socially busy in a creative way. Where the artists, the creatives, the innovators of digital, design and all things of meaning drank their coffee and opened their wine.
In Cardiff, the social space everyone cared about, visited and had stories to tell was Chapter Arts Centre.
Founded in April, 1971, by local artists Christine Kinsey and Bryan Jones with journalist Mik Flood, Chapter Arts Centre today, 40 years on has grown from a deserted Edwardian school building to one of the major centres for the contemporary arts in Europe.
Chapter is one of Europe’s largest and most dynamic arts centres with cinemas, theatres, exhibition spaces, studios, café, award-winning bars, over 60 cultural workspaces. It provides facilities for 150 voluntary organizations. With over 750,000 people through their doors every year and growing each day, Chapter is a social space that is at the centre of creativity and innovation; and in the hearts of many artists living, learning and visiting Wales.
Taking myself off to Chapter a few times a week to see a show, attend an exhibit, meet colleagues, work on a project or just hang out in their coffee shop (or drink from their bar), the energy of the members of Chapter always made me feel supported, and the work there inspiring. I might be an Australian living in Wales, but I felt a sense of belonging. A few years later, during my time following National Theatre Wales, I meet Carol Jones, the Director of Marketing & Engagement for Chapter. I’ve followed her and her work at Chapter every since.
Running the communications for one of Cardiff’s largest social enterprises for close to 25 years; sharing about work that crosses cinema, theatre, exhibition, studios and cafes is no mean feat. It takes a very special and dedicated person. A soul who not just sees but feels the importance of the social space as integral to our sensibilities needed to create, innovate and do what community folk do, share.
I asked Carol if I could steal some of her time for an interview about the people, things and events from her world that have inspired and supported her.
Learning about Social Spaces from Carol Jones …
Kelly: How would you describe yourself to others in a few sentences?
Carol: Well, on my Twitter profile I describe myself as: ‘Instigator, treacle-walker, finder of things. Audience architect with a penchant for three full stops…” Sometimes people ask me what I mean by treacle-walker and I suppose it’s about finding yourself in difficult, sticky situations and instead of getting stuck somehow pushing your way through.
Kelly: How would you describe you work?
Carol: No two days are the same and that’s part of what I love about working at Chapter. It’s also true to say that the challenges never stop, there’s always something to learn and it’s a huge privilege to be surrounded by incredibly creative people who want to make things happen.
Kelly: What is your proudest achievement or moment?
Carol: I’m interested in social spaces and how they can drive forward arts businesses not just financially but creatively. Chapter is all about vibrant art alongside community relevance and we have deep-seated values of collaboration, openness, accessibility and sustainability. Much of this stems from the early vision to bring performance, film and exhibitions together under one roof united by a dynamic social space.
I’m incredibly proud of reclaiming and driving through the social space agenda in Chapter’s redevelopment a few years ago. It acts as a catalyst for creative entrepreneurs and independents to meet, discuss and collaborate, it’s also a vibrant platform for everything from social media surgeries, book clubs, games event but also it’s a real hub where people come to chat and just enjoy themselves. Chapter has become known for this welcoming, open space and the combination of radical new work that coexists with our many diverse users.
You can walk into Chapter at any time of time, on any day of the week and we’re always busy and buzzing and full of the widest mix of people…and yes, this makes me proud, very proud indeed.
Kelly: What has failure and success taught you?
Carol: Success has taught me very little. It feels good at the time but it’s important to keep pushing forward, making changes, adapting and growing. Having a tolerance for failing though gives you a great freedom to try things out, experiment and innovate. I love the idea of fail often, fail fast, fail cheap, fail forward. Hmm. I don’t want to say I fail all the time but I do like experimenting and trying things out… and every now and then things go wrong. Winston Churchill said: ‘Success is the ability to go from failure to failure with losing your enthusiasm .” And that’s really key for me – it’s about being constantly curious and having fun.
Kelly: What is your biggest moment of life change?
Carol: Three words. Red. Velvet. Cupcakes.
Kelly: Is the glass half empty of half full?
Carol: Oh I’m the eternal optimist. Annoyingly so I’m sure some would say.
Learning advice from Carol Jones … over cupcakes of course
Kelly: What book would you recommend others to read or video talk to watch?
Carol: I’m a big fan of Charles Leadbeater and his book on mass participation and innovation, “We-Think” is a riveting read. It’s big, bold and ballsy thinking and throws out a challenge to work collaboratively. I love Ted Talks (who doesn’t) and I’ve got the app on my phone. I love dipping into the videos when I’ve got a spare moment. I’d recommend one by Arianna Huffington about the importance of women literally sleeping their way to the top.
Kelly: What advice would you give to people working in Arts Communications today?
Carol: Be curious, play with things, don’t be afraid to take ideas from different sectors and use them in an arts environment. Be fierce. (OK, I’M far too old to use that expression but you know what I mean.)
Kelly: What advice would you give women thinking about a career in the Arts today?
Carol: Don’t just think about, do it. It can be difficult to get a foot in the door but practical experience makes a huge difference and be prepared to go in at the bottom and work your way up.
Kelly: What do you feel/think about social media in your life and work? (I’ve got to ask a geeky question
Carol: Well, I’m a bit of a closet geek and a lover of shiny things. I’m happy to get in the queue at 5am for the latest iPhone for instance. I’m not an obsessive tweeter but can’t really imagine a world where it doesn’t exist. I have far too many apps for my own good. My favourite at the moment is a research project app called Mappiness – it’s investigating how people’s happiness is affected by their local environment. Of course it’s completely changed, I’d probably say revolutionised, the work I do. The ability to respond in such an immediate and personal way with our customers has made us totally rethink and re-prioritise what we do.
Learning and being inspired: “Who Inspires You?”
Kelly: Can you tell us about a Woman/Women in Wales who inspire, mentor or support you.
Carol Sorry but it can’t be just one …
- Christine Kinsey, one of the original founders of Chapter back in 1971 is an extraordinary woman. She had a real vision of a place where artists came together with audiences, where a mix of art forms came together under one roof, where community and contemporary came together with a real purpose and passion. Chapter is the place it is now very much because of Christine.
- Jane Davidson is the Director of INSPIRE (Institute of Sustainable Practice and Resource Effectiveness) and has been a friend for many years. She’s put up with me being pathetic (on many occasions) and has made a genuine difference to many people’s lives.
- Eddie Ladd is a performer who I’ve watched for the last twenty years or so. She has an uncompromising, mesmerising presence and her work is multi-layered, poignant and often unforgettable. What unites these three? They all have integrity and passion by the bucketload.
Kelly: What do you want to share, and inspire in others if you ran a workshop, gave a talk, or wrote a book?
Carol: It would be back to social spaces and the need to give people places to belong, to be creative, to just have fun.
Kelly: What is important for you for learning?
Carol: Being prodded, provoked and intrigued by inspiring people who think in different ways.
Kelly: What does being a ‘Women of the World in Wales’ mean to you?
Carol: Woman of the World’ has strange and negative connotations for me…maybe it’s being a working class girl born and brought up in the Valleys but I immediately think of a slightly tarty woman of a certain age. Oh dear, it’s probably just me. What I’d like WOW in Wales to mean is women who challenge, woman who innovate, woman who make a difference and present Wales to the wider world as a place of ideas but also brings the world back home – probably for a strong culpa tea, a cwtch and a welsh cake.
Kelly: Tell us a joke …
Carol: OK here goes. Why didn’t the shark eat the clown? Because he tasted funny.
Carol, your wit, fun and love of social spaces inspires me. Chapter supported my friends, my work and my life in so many ways. For me (and I am sure many social entrepreneurs), the social digital world we live in hasn’t (and won’t) replace our social spaces of meaning, like Chapter; but instead continue to align with them through the presence of people … breathing fire into their belly and life into their soul.
Who inspires you?
Read more about my #Wowwales Insight Series. From the 9th February to the 9th of March, I’ll post a new blog post every day with a tribute to someone who has inspired, mentored or encouraged me during my 10 years here in Wales.
You can follow my insight series @drkellypage with the hashtag #wowwales OR why not join me and contribute your own blog tribute to the Women of your World (#WOW) — women who inspire, mentor or encourage you.