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The Talking Shop Report

June 23, 2019

Executive Summary20190417_113515

 

“Talking shop is beautiful today. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s just a beautiful thing. We’re having beautiful conversations.” Talking Shop Visitor & Ex-Offender

Click here for a A short video about 2019 The Talking Shop Pilot

The Omidaze Production’s Talking Shop pilot took place between March 25 and April 20 2019 in 33 High Street Arcade Cardiff and was an Omidaze Productions R&D project made possible through the support of National Theatre Wales with additional support from Dirty Protest, Creative Cardiff and The National Assembly of Wales.

This report was written in the summer of 2019. I have edited it slightly now in the summer of 2020. The edits can be found in blue. The response to this pilot was overwhelmingly positive. The Talking Shop pilot received over 550 visitors aged from two to ninety-two, reaching across all social, ethnic and economic backgrounds.  A strong and urgent need to have a ‘shop window’ for arts and culture combined with public information on our political and democratic systems and structures in the very heart of our capital city was identified.

Those shop windows already exist. They are our cultural buildings. And yet they are not doing what they should. If they were there would have been no need to make a Talking Shop. When the pandemic hit I was in the process of securing funding to open a Talking Shop for a full year in the centre of Cardiff. Arts Council Wales had agreed to anchor fund it and we were in conversation with Creative Cardiff and I was about to meet the leader of Cardiff Council re match funding. I knew all along that we shouldn’t need a permanent Talking Shop as I write in the report. It was a provocation. My dream then and now is that every cultural building is a Talking Shop. 

There has now been a chorus of voices calling for us to rethink, reform, reshape our cultural sector in response to the Covid19 Global Pandemic. I am sharing this in the hope that it may help. Much has been written, talked and thought about since March 2020. It is both complex and very simple simultaneously. Here is the simple bit. 

  1. Open your doors. Actually physically open them and prop them open even when it is bloody freezing. Keep your doors open. I have worked in the sector for 30 years and still find it hard to walk through some doors. Even into buildings where I have worked. I can not overplay the importance of this. And do not lock any of your doors. If you try a locked door you may never bother to find the open one or ever come back. I heard in a zoom room recently about a theatre which has three main front doors. Two of which are always locked. You only know which one is the open one if you work there.  I have tried to get into theatres through the beautiful front door only to find it locked, feel embarrassed and stupid and then have to work out how to get in though a weird side door or given up and left. Spend less money on marketing. Open your doors. Literally and metaphorically.
  2. Put signs up. Not too many cos that is scary too but just one which says ‘come in’ or ‘welcome’. The two we had which most people commented on and said brought them in were ‘Free Tea‘ (see number 4) and ‘We are not selling anything. Ideas and Conversation are free‘.
  3. Create a welcomer role. Rotate it between your staff so that there is always someone near the door to welcome people in. Your staff should be meeting the people who walk through the door. Every single day. Explain what you do. Introduce people to the building, what it contains, it’s vision, mission and values and introduce them to other people. Connect artists with the public. No more closed doors remember. TELL people they are welcome. Give them permission to enter, to stay to just be. Explain to them that the space is theirs. It belongs to them. Their taxes pay for it so it is theirs to just be in. To sit. To Think. To talk. To read. To watch. Tell young people they can use this building to do their homework, meet their friends, shelter from the rain. Tell people they do not have to spend money to be here. They can stay as long as they like. And keep telling them. And tell them to tell their friends that every one is welcome in this building.
  4. Give people a cup of tea. FOR FREE. Have free tea on tap all day long. It is the cheapest thing you can do. It will not harm your cafe profits. It will increase them. People will still pay for overpriced fancy coffee and posh pricey cakes. But those who cant. They will feel welcome, watered and wanted. GIVE PEOPLE A CUP OF TEA! and then talk to them. It’s that simple. There is more complex stuff. But we can think and talk about all that over a cup of tea.
  5. Start a Conversation. Inside the building and outside. Don’t send a digital survey or an email. Switch your computer off and go and sit in the foyer and ask people open questions then shut up and listen to the answer. Really listen and then ask them to tell you more about that. Spend a minimum of one hour of every day in the public part of your building in conversation with people. Not in meetings. Random open conversations. Then go further than the front door. Into the city or town centre. Take some actors in costume or some objects from your collection. In 2013 I took actors onto the streets of Cardiff for two days. We asked people if they went to the theatre. What enticed them or  what stopped them. Their answers helped me work out where and how to make that show and confirmed my worst fears. The majority could only name one theatre in Cardiff if they could name one at all and the majority of people we spoke to had not been inside it. The main barriers were – cost, unknown quality, times of performance, shortness of run, uncomfortable & restrictive seating and knowledge of its existence. No one had talked to them about it.
  6. Get MessyWhen I had my first child I apologised to the health visitor about the mess, she said we worry about the homes where nothing is out of place because if you are spending time with your child you will prioritise that and not the housework. I think the same about cultural buildings. If all the staff are busy in the back office and the public spaces are tidy and empty then the very thing which should be your priority is being neglected. Creativity is messy and if your building is not buzzing with the messiness of the full spectrum people in all their beauty and wonder from morning until night then you are failing in your public duty as a publicly funded resource.

If you run a cultural building or organisation of any shape or size in the UK I would ask you to read this report. Every where you read ‘Talking Shop’ throughout the report simply replace with the words ‘cultural building’.

Thank you & with best wishes, Yvonne

“What an intriguing concept. An idea whose time has come”

Please note all quotes in bold are taken from the Talking Shop Visitor books unless otherwise accredited. Each quote is from a different visitor.

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Identified Needs:

Which I would argue are all needs which all of our cultural buildings should be meeting every single day

  • A dedicated public space for artists and creatives to meet the public and each other. To share and test ideas and concepts
  • A dedicated physical cultural information centre. A physical What’s On/listings hub
  • A physical information point for our democratic services, systems and processes allowing a fuller and deeper understanding of Local, Welsh and UK Government and thereby facilitating wider public engagement and more inclusive approach to democracy
  • A public forum for democratic discourse and debate
  • A space for artists and creatives to share their intellectual and physical resources and work in a smarter and more collective and collaborative fashion
  • A joining up of the Creative Industries/Arts wide ecology and industry entry points
  • A physical knowledge bank for the arts and Creative Industries where information, skills, knowledge and experience can be shared and promoted
  • A physical, open, inclusive, welcoming and non-commercial space in the centre of the city for all arts, cultural & creative industries to celebrate with the public the importance and value of arts and culture for us all in society.

 “Good Idea. Needs to be here full time”

The potential Return on Investment of a permanent Talking Shop, both in actual monetary terms and in social and cultural value is immeasurable. Investment in Arts and Culture has long been proven to be one of the most cost effective and successful and long term impact approaches to urban and economic redevelopment.

The impact of The Talking Shop Pilot on health, well-being, loneliness and social isolation, rehabilitation, reintegration and Cardiff’s homeless community was overwhelming in the short time it was open.

A permanent Talking Shop (or properly functioning cultural organisations) will therefore positively impact

  • Health,
  • Well-being
  • Loneliness & Social Isolation
  • Rehabilitation
  • Reintegration
  • Social services
  • Cardiff’s homeless crisis
  • Economics
  • Social Empathy
  • Cultural Capital & Value
  • Local Artists and Creatives & the wider Creative Industry and ecology
  • Cardiff and Wales’ Soft Power, Reputation and Brand

 

There is a clear and urgent need for all the things The Talking Shop offered during its short existence.  The question is why? Why do we need a permanent Talking Shop? Why now and why are these needs not already being met?

Where are our forums for debate and conversation? Where are the spaces where people can go for cultural and political information and collide, connect, collude, create and debate with people from different walks of life? Where can strangers meet and discuss big questions about life, art and politics? This came up time and time again in The Talking Shop. Why did people need and want the Talking Shop so much? What had we lost? Why were we being so overwhelmed by the response to what we had created? People named the pub and religious institutions as the lost forums along with social clubs and working men’s clubs attached to working class centres of employment.

 “My vision has been fed by this space. To kindly engage in social, political and environmental debate.” Josephine Green Talking Shop Visitor

The pub was once the stronghold of political and cultural discourse. However pubs are dying out like the high street. Economics and Health concerns have driven people away from the public houses. Similarly the patronage of traditional working men’s clubs and work affiliated social clubs has declined in accordance with the destruction and demise of many working class centres of employment. The modern factory – the call centre – does not have the same community feel and alcohol related loyalty surrounding it. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Alcohol was never a good mixer with calm and rational debate, good listening skills and balanced judgement. Alcohol would also prohibit the conversation from being inclusive to all. However the loss of the pub and club is felt and grieved nonetheless.

 “I love this space. Everyone is so friendly and engaging”

Another main forum used to be provided by religious establishments. The chapel, the church, the church hall, the synagogue, the temple or mosque and in many places and for many people this continues to be the case. However for many religion has ceased to offer a place and a meaning. Like alcohol, religion can sometimes be problematic when it comes to calm and rational debate, good listening skills, open-mindedness and inclusivity.  The retail location has become the new place of worship on a Saturday and Sunday for many. There has been no replacement for the lost sense of community, belonging, and forum for strangers to come together under one roof and share a common purpose.

And yet surely this is what our cultural institutions are for? We asked this over and over again in The Talking Shop? Why do we need a Talking Shop when we have theatres, Arts Centres, Libraries, Museums, Concert Halls? Why can we not gather there?

The answers came fast and furious each time we asked.

  • I would never go up to a stranger in the café of an arts centre and start a conversation
  • They are all too busy trying to survive and to survive they have to sell you stuff
  • I don’t feel welcome in them. No one looks like me
  • The Talking Shop would get lost in there
  • Each one is a brand. One vision. The Talking Shop is open to all and to all ideas
  • The library is too quiet
  • You have to buy something to sit down

Now Omidaze has a vision where all cultural institutions are welcoming and inclusive. Where all individuals in society feel and know that those publicly funded buildings belong to them, their families and friends. That they are theirs.  That no money needs to exchange hands. That the young and the old and everything in between feel welcome to walk in, sit down and own the space. To collide, connect and collude with artists on a daily basis. We know there are libraries which are already busy bustling buildings bursting with creative energy and arts centres full of people welcomed individually and actively brought together. However we also know from our own previous research and from speaking to over 550 visitors to The Talking Shop that many will not cross the threshold of our existing cultural institutions. That they do not feel that they belong or that they are relevant to them and theirs. We also know some things which will encourage the general public and non-traditional arts attendees to engage. If the venue is in the centre of the shops. If it is visible. If it is genuinely open to all. Non-judgemental. Welcoming. If it asks questions. If it shares the power. And is clearly not trying to sell you anything. If there is a host to greet you as you enter and introduce you to the space, its aims and its opportunities it offers and to put you at your ease. Oh and if you can get a cup of tea.

“Great to have a friendly venue where anyone can talk/meet. Great idea. Would be good to have more of these.”

This report examines what The Talking Shop aimed to do, who came and what we learnt and invites you to imagine, as you read this report, the potential impact of a permanent and properly funded Talking Shop in our City Centre.

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Introduction

 

Evocative and inspiring to a level I could not imagine.”

The Talking Shop pilot was a month long conversation with the public in Cardiff City Centre.

The Talking Shop was created by Yvonne Murphy / Omidaze Productions www.omidaze.co.uk in response to the fracturing of Britain following the 2016 Referendum. After many false starts Yvonne decided to bite the bullet and create a month long pilot version with just £5000 of Research & Development seed funding from National Theatre Wales and donations – £130.76 raised through Just Giving and £27.78 in cash donations inside the shop and an extra £500 from NTW  towards paying the actors for the sharing event on June 20 2019. The total of £5,658.54 paid for two writers, a production manager, a filmmaker, insurance, rent, print, materials, travel expenses for a student designer and a very small percentage of Omidaze time. Additional in-kind support came from Creative Cardiff, Dirty Protest, the outreach team of the Welsh Assembly and volunteers from the theatre industry.

 

“Just wanted to send you a message after Thursday’s Talking Shop event, to say how important I think your work is. I know the Talking Shop has all sorts of amazing benefits but the key on for me is the social side of things – not only finding people through networking which allows us to take steps toward leading the life we want, as well as helping others do the same – but also just simply finding people to talk to… There’s such a feeling of importance to this whole project. I hope something can come out of it.”

Lucy – Talking Shop Visitor and Rehearsed Readings Audience Member

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Chapter One. The Idea

 

“Love this space. Very Welcoming and Open”

The Talking Shop is a Cultural and Political Information & Creation Centre – a public R&D space which encourages and promotes cultural and political engagement.

Inside the pilot version Omidaze were researching and developing two things. Omidaze’s next production(s) and the concept of The Talking Shop itself.

 To do both these things we knew we had to seek out voices which are currently under-represented in our theatres, our live performances and our audiences. We decided to listen carefully to what excites, angers, engages and inspires people in Wales and Britain today. We wanted to hear people’s views and thoughts on politics, culture and society. Those views and opinions have helped to form three writers’ responses to The Talking Shop. This report is concerned with visitors’ responses to the concept of The Talking Shop itself.

We are living in turbulent and uncertain political times.

We know that we want to focus on political and cultural engagement.

We knew that we needed to not be behind closed doors to develop our next piece of theatre. We also thought the Talking Shop was a concept that might be needed and wanted and we decided to test that theory. We wanted and needed to get outside our bubble and talk and listen to people who did not look and sound like us and who had different views to our own to find out the answers.

We knew we needed to stop doing the talking and listen. Really listen. And perhaps have some difficult conversations.

And we did.

And now we would like to share with you what we might like to do next.

This in genuinely inspirational – mind opening. Society cohesion. Meeting others and learning different viewpoints. Getting challenged/educated. Thanks. I can grow as a person. Focussing on important issues. Free Conversation. This is an amazing idea. Thanks for starting this. I really appreciate this.” Talking Shop Visitor

The Talking Shop writers in residence were

Tracy Harris, Kyle Lima and Dick Johns

All writers received dramaturgical support from our partners National Theatre Wales and Dirty Protest.

A sample of their work which was written in response to their week long residencies in The Talking Shop, was presented as Public Rehearsed Readings on June 20th in Cardiff.

“One of the performed pieces from the writers’ work on Thursday really filled me with hope. It was the one about loneliness. I’ve always thought acknowledging loneliness and talking about it can really help to crush it, and it was overwhelming to sit in a room of people acknowledging the feeling. I really loved the piece. “

 Rehearsed Readings Audience Member

We are currently developing Kyle Lima’s piece with National Theatre Wales and separately developing Dick Johns script., which is now in its third draft.

This report is about what Omidaze Productions, led by Yvonne Murphy, found out during The Talking Shop Pilot and explains why we believe there is an identified need for a permanent Talking Shop in Cardiff City Centre and possibly beyond.

 

 

 

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Chapter Two. The Talking Shop Concept

The Talking Shop is a space for the public and artists to talk, and for artists to create in response. The Talking Shop encourages and facilitates public engagement with arts and culture, and political systems and structures. It is a public space in which to articulate, champion and strengthen the role of culture and democracy in society and empower through a sharing of information and knowledge.

The Talking Shop invites all artists & creatives and the public to use the space to work, to think, to talk, to find stuff out, to share, to be. Together.

 “I came here not knowing what to expect but I’ve met some lovely new people from different places and cultures and walks of life. It’s a positive vibe to come to a place and actively engage with people- chat, have an open mind and share some food….it feels like a good example of opening your door and people will come and engage on their own terms. Diverse Cardiff.”

The Talking Shop – A Cultural Information Centre
In The Talking Shop you can find out things. What’s on in theatres and performance spaces in Cardiff and beyond? What shows are on in galleries, what exhibitions are happening, concerts and workshops? You can find out about creative learning and participation projects and how to book an artist to deliver work in your school or business. It is a physical listings hub. A place to drop in and find stuff out. To add to. To be part of. It is a physical ‘What’s On’ Space. It is a one-stop shop which everyone helped curate.

 “How lovely, a place to re-connect, share, brew ideas, troubleshoot and learn. Generous and informative – much needed. Will be back soon!”

The Talking Shop – A Political Information Centre
It is also a place to find out about and understand our political structures and systems. It has no political bias or party affiliation. Our political systems and structures are explained. The difference, for example, between local elections and general elections. You can pick up leaflets and information about the engagement team at the Welsh Assembly or book a workshop to come to your school. You can find out about our parliaments, how to start a petition and who holds the power. Who to speak to about what. Access, Engagement and Social Justice are key.

“A lack of communication is bad for communities. Interaction in politics is vital for young people. Da iawn. Love it here. “Talking Shop Visitor

 

The Talking Shop – A Creative Centre
Collide. Connect. Collude. Create. Debate.

The Talking Shop is for artists, creatives and the public to get together, share ideas, collaborate. It is a new way of working. We invite people to just pop in and sit on the sofa. Have a cup of tea and be inspired, challenged, informed.

Truly the best way to spend a Saturday. I cannot remember the last time I learnt this much or was with a varying amount of different professionals – Artists, Historians, Children’s Writers, Actors, Lecturers, Students. Without conversations we are nothing.” Talking Shop Visitor Jonathan Rowland

We invited artists and creatives and members of the public to just drop in and meet each other. To share information, ask questions, discuss. We positioned questions around the shop and invited the public to discuss a new question each day. We invited people to step inside. To think about this. Together.

Because as an old Japanese proverb says “None of us are as smart as all of us”

“What a great place for artists and non-artists to share the space for ideas and discussion. Love the vibe of just dropping in and having a chat over a cuppa. Hope you grow further. Every town needs such a space”

 

Chapter Three. The Talking Shop Pilot – Who came?

 

Even before the doors opened on Monday 25 March 2019 the interest in The Talking Shop was high. There was a buzz. An energy. A curiosity. As we painted the questions on the wall people stopped and looked in. Talked to their companion. Pointed. Stood and considered.

 “Love that art is getting thrusted into our vibrant city”

Sample Talking Shop Questions

What Kind of Society do you want?

Why do you/ why do you not vote?

What does culture mean to you?

100 years since the first women got the vote why have we still not achieved gender equality?

What do we need to do to truly achieve cultural democracy?

What do we need to do to ensure the next generation are empowered and engaged citizens?

What does political and cultural engagement mean to you?

How do we engage everyone in celebrating art and culture?

Have you ever been inside the Senedd or the House of Commons?

Health, Education & Arts/Culture – the three pillars of a civilised society – discuss

 

As we prepared the Talking Shop we thought we might have to work really hard to tempt people inside the door once we opened. This was not the case. People just came. They walked through the door and the more people who were in the shop the more people felt comfortable to enter. Many people told us they had returned because they simply couldn’t get in when they first came because it was so busy.

 

“I feel like I’ve just come home” Talking Shop Visitor

 

The visitors were the full range of diverse from age 2 to 92, all classes, races, physical abilities, all backgrounds. From carers and those for whom they cared to members of the homeless community and those recently released from prison desperate for somewhere interesting to be, something interesting to do to fill the long hours of the day.

 

“I think of the shop as a place if you want a chat and love talking about history and is a good option of a place to go” – Talking Shop visitor recently released from prison

 

Shoppers out for the day in Cardiff who were just passing by or sheltering in the arcade from the rain came in. Parents with their young, teenage and grown up children connecting over today’s conversation and a cup of tea. The lonely, the isolated and the vulnerable and those who simply fancied a look and a chat.

 

“As an individual I have a lot of anxiety about talking to people. This is a beautifully invested idea”

 

The politically engaged entered as did the politically disaffected and disenfranchised. Educators and those still in education came and talked with the retired, the unemployed, the employed, the self-employed, the homeless and the well off and everything in between. Tourists, visitors and locals. People from all over Cardiff, Wales, the UK, Europe and the World. Those who had fled war zones and conflict in their countries to those who had decided to leave Britain.

 

“I am a tourist and when I visited The Talking Shop I found hope in the people. Thanks Cardiff”

 

Some visitors had voted Leave. Some had voted Remain. Some would never vote again. Some had not yet had the opportunity to vote. They all came.

 

“Amazing shop which welcomes everyone. Brilliant idea. I hope it becomes permanent. Thank you.”

 

They sat and talked. Together. Some stayed for five minutes some stayed for hours. Many came back time and time again.

 

“Inspired by this …the idea of creating a apace where all are welcome. All ideas, creeds, persuasions and beings. The sign saying ‘we are not selling anything’ sold me on coming in!! ….In this virtual world where isolation is becoming our norm despite how much we rail against it, spaces that allow people to engage, in person are invaluable beyond measure. There could be one of these in every city…a space to be heard, to be seen, to engage and share our ideas, our fears and most importantly our solutions. From the grass roots up.” Talking Shop Visitor

 

All visitors, without exception, gave positive feedback about The Talking Shop. Expressed a need for it. A joy at finding it.

 

“This shop is a much needed permanent space within Cardiff. Enlightening.”

 

Every single visitor, without exception, listened to each other with kindness and respect. There was not one raised voice. Not one moment of anger or unkindness. All were equal within the walls of the Talking Shop. No one had higher status than anyone else. Only one visitor struggled with this when he entered and attempted to instil his status and hold court. He quickly accepted this was out of place when serenaded by a regular visitor who played his guitar and sang him ‘Fly Me To The Moon’. All were welcome. All were valued. All were listened to. All were offered a cup of tea.

 

“The Talking Shop is amazing because you don’t have to be privileged to be here”

Talking Shop Visitor & Asylum Refugee

 

“Inspiring space and a wonderful reminder that Wales remains a place of culture and diversity…An encouraging affirmation that open mindedness and imagination still prevail

 

The Talking Shop was ‘looked after’ by members of Cardiff’s homeless community who came daily to check we were safe and there were no drugs being dealt near the shop or brought inside. They moved the wheelie bins each day so that the windows were not obscured and brought the Talking Shop hosts and visitors gifts of food!

The homeless community sent the Cardiff Council outreach team to meet us and The Talking Shop became a listed place for people to safely visit and hang out and for the Outreach team to hold coffee mornings.

Recently released ex-offenders came regularly and the Talking Shop hosts began to understand the empty stretching hours that needed to be filled if you are still on probation. Still tagged and unable to be employed. Where do you go? What do you do? The Talking Shop became a place to go. To have a cup of tea and interesting conversations and to begin to reintegrate into society.

 

“Dialogue is the bedrock of expression of humanity. Let’s keep doing it.”

 

Some days it was really quiet for hours on end and we held the space for a small handful of people. Some of the most vulnerable and isolated in our city.

 

“Very interesting. This place caught my eye with its big thought provoking questions”

 

And then the shop would fill up and those isolated people from the edge of society were surrounded, on the sofas and chairs. by people from all walks of life, all having an animated conversation together. Sat with one of the writers or sat around the table with the host and a bunch of other visitors debating today’s question. It was impossible to predict who would come. But come they did and it was a privilege to host them in that tiny space brimming full of big ideas.

 

“The work you are doing here is absolutely essential” Talking Shop Visitor

 

 

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Chapter Four. The main reasons people visited the Talking Shop

People came, they said, because of the welcoming design and information on the walls and windows inviting them to step inside and discuss today’s question or pick up some information. The door was always propped open and a host was always there to welcome each new visitor.

 

“I love this place!!” You step in and there’s immediate opportunities, from the leaflets and posters- new ideas and new experiences are promised here…..”

 

They came because of two main signs in the window. One saying “We are not selling anything”

 

“So great to be able to come somewhere, connect with others and be in a space defined by conversation rather than materialism. A place that doesn’t monetise being, talking and connecting”

 

& one saying “Free Tea”

 

“What a great place to talk and connect with people. Thanks for the tea and conversation”

 

They came because they wanted/needed to have a conversation. They wanted or needed to talk.  And to be heard.

 

“At last a place to engage creatively and on a human level. Let’s celebrate and share arts and culture. Let’s keep it open permanently. There is a need for dialogue to take place. Thank you.”

 

“We need places to chat, have conversations, to listen to one another and be civil. We are losing the art of civil interaction so we need to invest in spaces where we can get together and share our social experiences.”

 

And lastly they came because they had heard about it. From a friend, colleague or relative.  Because someone else brought them or because they had heard about it on social media. In just over a week The Talking Shop became an established place. A place which art lecturers included on their gallery walking tour with students. A place people agreed to meet. A place which people could and did host events.

 

“This feel like the internet but live”

 

Hosting/holding the space was key. This was done mainly by the two Omidaze partners with the support of a small bank of volunteers from the theatre industry. Having a constant facilitator/host to welcome and explain the space was, we are sure, key to its success.

 

Sincere space that is sanctified by love is an invaluable escape for people who need it”

 

Everyone who entered was personally greeted and welcomed. They were told that others deep in conversation were strangers who had just met. The frequent response was “really?”

 

“Such a great idea promoting a comfortable, open, friendly, positive space to discuss not only political debate, but social – talked so much with people!

 

Each new visitor was invited to join in, browse, write in one of the visitor’s books or on the wall or pick up a leaflet or just sit. Read a book. Do their work. Think. Simply just be in the space.

 

“Thank you for providing a space to connect, talk and discuss or JUST BE!”

 

Many creatives and artists came. Photographers, poets, illustrators, film makers, playwrights, theatre makers, actors, musicians, composers, animators, journalists, dancers, choreographers, game designers, directors, producers, CEO’s of national Portfolio Companies and freelancers just starting out in their career. New creative collaborations began. Contact details were exchanged. Meeting arranged. Collaborations born.

 

“Great idea – we need a space for people to vent, debate, discuss, understand and engage. Our civic spaces are disappearing. Our cultural institutions are busy becoming Global Brands. Where is there a space? It is Here.”

 

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Chapter Five. Political & Cultural Engagement

First the cultural aspect –Omidaze have identified a need for a physical Arts & Cultural Information Space in Cardiff. There has been much conversation around a digital comprehensive ‘What’s On’ Site and this is something we support. However the digital cannot and will not replace the need and impact of human interaction and engagement.

 

“I think it is a great idea to get people talking and connecting. Spaces like this are invaluable. We need to break down walls and respect each other/increase tolerance in the world.” Talking Shop Visitor

 

Omidaze’s approach to all of our work is to make the invisible visible. To break open the artistic and creative process to encourage and deepen engagement. We are not interested in simply selling a product. We want to use theatre and the arts generally to inspire, inform, empower and challenge the existing status quo toward positive social change. That is why we want people to know what is on and where. That is why we want the public and artists to have a space within our city where they can collide, connect and collude on a daily basis. A space which does not have to worry about diversifying income streams, selling to everyone who comes through the door, its brand or its balance sheet.

 

“Fabulous that this space has been created. Really fascinating and thought provoking experiment in engagement. Bring on the permanent space.” Talking Shop Visitor

 

Omidaze and many cultural leaders and artists in Wales and across the UK seek to engage everyone in valuing and celebrating arts and culture and in shaping a future where these are fundamental to our society. However in many ways we are failing.

There is an identified problem within the arts and cultural sector not just in Cardiff and Wales but the UK generally. Much work has been done to try and create cultural democracy and facilitate an equal and diverse workforce within the industry and also to reach more diverse participants, visitors and audiences.

 

“I don’t like going in there. Even though I live round the corner. No one in there looks like me. It makes me feel uncomfortable. Like I don’t belong.” Talking Shop Visitor explaining why she doesn’t go inside a cultural building in Cardiff which is on her doorstep.

 

We know that many visitors who walked through the door of The Talking Shop had never walked into one of Cardiff’s many cultural institutions, our theatres, galleries, museums and concert halls. We know that because they told us.

 

We often tweeted the question of the day. The question ‘How do we collectively shape a future society where access to arts and culture is valued as a fundamental right of every citizen?’ received the following response via twitter –

 

“It starts with decolonising arts and cultural spaces as a priority. Something cannot be valued for and by every citizen until we unravel and destroy the white supremacist roots. Until then many will continue to see art as not for them, because it ultimately isn’t, Before we put forward any kind of argument to larger organisations (local government etc.) about the intrinsic worth of cultural activity to *every* citizen we need to acknowledge that it currently does not reach and include many marginalised communities. And that collective shaping has to come from those in power within the artistic community acknowledging their position (and that will mean giving up power) and actively creating space for those who are often barred from participating. I believe these actions and the change that needs to happen can, in itself, demonstrate the importance of arts and culture. Right now it’s not important to many people and no cleverly written funding application/manifesto can change that.”

 

Omidaze believe The Talking Shop could and should be a fundamental component in a cultural revolution and evolution towards cultural democracy in Wales and beyond.

 

Terrific idea – bringing the arts to literally the public square – encouraging people to engage, to connect, to learn, to inspire and be inspired. I am very impressed.”

 

The Talking Shop took conversations from movements such as What Next? Culture www.whatnextculture.co.uk and placed them smack bang in the centre of our Capital City . Writing statements and statistics on the shop walls as windows such as

Access to art and culture is proven to

  • Create informed and engaged citizens
  • Promotes better health and well-being
  • Increases community cohesion and regeneration
  • Improves the employability of our worksforce

All cultural organisations make a major contribution to the national and local economy.

Students from low income families who engage in the arts score better in standard academic tests compared to those who do not (NELS:88 survey Doing Well & Doing Good by Art 2009)

The CASE review found that taking part in structured arts activities could increase children’s cognitive abilities by an average of 16-19&

The arts and culture enhance every aspect of our lives in ways that are often unacknowledged: the vibrancy of our cities, the identity of our rural communities, the future prospects of our children, the quality of our democracy, the employability of our workforce, our ability to make sense of our own experience and to empathise with others.

 “Your windows brought me in. Your conversations made me think!”

“Arts should be accessible for all. Arts should allow people to express their views and opinions on the world. You have created a special place for me today. Together we can fight for the arts. “Carissa Talking Shop Visitor

 

How we follow up on the feedback and response is very important. And by ‘we’ we do not just mean Omidaze. We mean the cultural sector, the arts and cultural funders and investors, local and national government here in Cardiff and Wales and anyone with a vested interest in cultural and political and civic engagement because –

 

“Culture means Different. I want a strong, diverse, friendly society”

 “Great opportunity to start thinking about our social context and become more responsible and free. Would like the talking shop to stay open permanently”

 

 

And the political engagement aspect?

 

“We have a democratic deficit and civic disengagement because people have forgotten how to talk.” Talking Shop Visitor’s Book

 

Omidaze believe art and politics are inexplicably linked. The majority of visitors to The Talking Shop agreed.

 

“Really important to have a place where people can openly discuss issues no matter what perspective you come from. Politics and arts are entwined. Please keep things like this alive!!” Talking Shop Visitor

 

We want to provide not just information about arts and culture. We want to help inform citizens about our democratic processes, systems and structures. We believe part of the reason we are where we are in the UK politically is because many citizens lack a basic understanding of how the many levels of our governments and democracy actually work. How local government fits together with devolved government and then in turn with Westminster and the European Union levels of democracy. We identified a desperate need for better public information back in 2016 and created an interactive workshop which explains our democratic history and current system which we toured free to schools (primary and secondary) with our 2017 production of Romeo and Juliet. We wanted to extend this work and take this information to the public at large which is why we partnered once again with the Welsh Assembly and why we created The Talking Shop.

 

“So important to have a space which makes people THINK and ASK QUESTIONS.” Talking Shop Visitor

 

We have many ideas of how this could happen creatively and imaginatively within a future permanent Talking Shop space including short animated films which explain everything from the House of Commons, House of Lords and the Senedd to what your Assembly Member, Councillors and MP actually do and what the job and powers of parliaments and governments actually are and who is responsible for what. We would also want to run free public and school ‘understanding democracy’ workshops in partnership with the Assembly and Westminster.

 

“I think this place is a good idea. I live in Cardiff from 2007 but the information I have today I never know before that you can go to your Welsh Government for some of the information I had today” Gambian female working as adult carer

 

We know there is a need for citizens to be better informed. We talked to all our visitors. We asked them how much they knew and understood. We explained things and gave them leaflets and showed them how and where to get more information. They all said, without exception that it needs to be taught in schools. The majority wanted or needed to know more than they knew. All welcomed and embraced the offer being made and believed it to be of high importance and value.

 

“I think this place is wonderful and really helpful. I have been living in Cardiff for almost 12 years but I find myself I don’t know about lots of information about the law and am so happy with what I received from this place so far. Really amazing. Thank you. Adwa Farah. Sudanese refugee now British citizen working as Adult Care Worker in Cardiff

 

 

 

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Chapter Six. Art & Culture – the third pillar of a civilised society.

Omidaze believe that art and culture needs to be an unquestionable right of every Welsh and British citizen from the cradle to the grave along with the National Health Service and State Education. We fundamentally believe that those three things – Health, Education and Art/Culture are the three pillars of a civilised society. All three are not and must not be viewed as private luxuries. All three are public goods and free access to them is essential.

 “Art and culture are not just an enjoyable or challenging way of spending a few hours between work and sleep. They permeate our existence through architecture, industrial design, fashion, television, telecommunication, media, advertising and so on. We cannot choose not to have them. We can only choose what quality of art and culture we and future generations will experience.” David Lan Founder of The What Next? Cultural Movement

 In Wales we are leading the way with a new curriculum in response to the Donaldson Report which challenged our political leaders in Wales

to develop ambitious, capable learners, ready to learn throughout their lives, enterprising creative contributors, ready to play a full part in life and work; ethical informed citizens of Wales and the world; and healthy, confident indiviuals ready to live fulfilling lives as valued members of society. (Donaldson Report)

The Talking Shop shares and supports that vision We know that

Employability of students who study arts subjects is higher and they are more likely to stay in employment (DTZ Arts & Employability 2006)

and that

Students who engage in arts in school are twice as likely to volunteer and are 20% more likely to vote as adults (CASE research DCMS)

Omidaze agree with such leading modern day thinkers as Charles Leadbetter

Mass creativity will thrive in societies with education systems that are curiousity-led, create high levels of self-motivation and promote collaboration between learners. An inflexible, top down, standardized curriculum may be a good answer to industrial economy’s demand for puntual, literate, diligent workers capable of following rules and proceedures. An innovation economy requires more than that. “ Charles Leadbetter – The Ten Habits of Mass Innovation.

 

If we in Wales are to revolutionise the way we education the future generations and lead the way with the Well Being & Future Generations Act then we need to walk the talk in all areas of our society including our future vision for civic and community life.

 

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Chapter Seven.  Imagining a Future

“When one.. considers our intelligence, powers of communication, capacity for knowledge acquistion and sharing – along with magnificent works of art, architecture and music we create– humans genuinely do stand out as a a very different kind of animal. Our culture seems to seperate us from the rest of nature…Human accomplishments derive from our ability to aquire knowledge from others and to use that communal store of experience to devise novel solutions to life’s challenges….The emerging consensus is that humanity’s accomplishments derive from an ability to acquire knowledge and skills from other people….It was not our large brains, intelligence or language that gave us culture, but rather our culture that gave us large brains, intelligence and language.” Kevin Laland professor of Behavioural & Evolutionary Biology at the University of St Andrews in Scotland How Culture Made the Human Mind

Omidaze are not alone in thinking that art and culture could and should play a part in how we address some of our most pressing concerns and help us find imaginative and creative solutions to our modern day challenges and problems from social isolation to the climate emergency.

My dream is also that we fully establish the third pillar of a civilised and compassionate society. 1. Health and our NHS for our bodies. 2. State Education for our minds 3. State Arts and Culture accessible for all (Described so brilliantly by Tarek Iskander as a National Arts Service https://www.thestage.co.uk/features/theatre-2021-tarek-iskander-on-a-national-arts-service) but that is a separate blog post.

In a time when we are supposedly more connected than ever before at the touch of a button there is an epidemic of loneliness sweeping across our country and across all generations. The Talking Shop can help with that.

 

As we become more technologically advanced and have better methods of communication we’ve lost quality, emotional and purposeful connection. We need more spaces like this.”

 

Human beings need human contact. They need to see people. Real people. Every day. Talking is therapy. It is proven that talking heals. Talking allows us to process. Talking allows us to take part and form connections and relationships.

 

“This is an important space and should be permanent. It will be a brilliant way to bring the creative community together and to open up conversations with each other and the public. A permanent space would have untold benefits for the cultural life of the city,”

 

Art and culture extends this and allows us to become the people we have the potential to be.

 

“Enriching our aesthetic experience goes together with developing our powers of imagination and understanding. Art engages both the emotions and the intellect…If we develop our ability to respond to art we shall develop our potential as human beings” Anne Shepherd Aesthetics – An introduction to the philosophy of art. Professor of Philosophy & Classics at Oxford, Durham and Royal Holloway Universities.

 

The Talking Shop will provide a shop window for art and culture in the very centre of our city and a place where everyone can connect through culture and conversation.

 

“Arts and Culture is the connection between what we know and what we are to discover. Let’s keep this coming.”

 

Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best

 

“This place is needed! –opportunities to connect and feel like you can take part in the world! “

 

A permanent Talking Shop will tackle many identified problems.

It will become, like the pilot, a destination for those in society who need to find new networks. Inside we can signpost to more specialised and established support networks which already exist in the city regarding for example mental health & addiction.

We had many visitors who disclosed they suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome. Here is a quote from one such young visitor-

 

“This place is nice, calming almost. A good atmosphere for debate. A place for discussion and conversation on the more important topics in the world. A place that’s needed for the propagation of ideas, ideals, reality, dreams. There needs to be more of this.”

 

The Talking Shop can and will provide a gateway. For those seeking to rehabilitate and re-engage. It will provide a safe space to meet new people and be exposed to creative art projects.

 

“Such a cool place. I loved meeting new people and hearing so many different perspectives.”

 

The important thing about the Talking Shop is that is does not target any one type of person or group. It does not target one specific group or demographic. It does not appeal to one social group more than the other. Its beauty is in its truly democratic nature. It welcomes everyone and then invites everyone to meet each other. You do not tackle loneliness by reaching out to a self-identifying group of socially isolated people. You do not help people reintegrate by inviting only people who need to reintegrate to the party. You open the doors to everyone. You provoke curiosity and generate generosity of spirit by demonstrating it. By leading the way. The Talking Shop is a melting magical pot which allows us to genuinely think about things TOGETHER.

 

“This has been fantastic. I am new to Cardiff and met sooooo many people from different areas and backgrounds. More please!”

 

The Talking Shop will allow artists in Cardiff to work collectively. This is something which has come up time and time again. The need for us to work better and smarter. To share both our intellectual and physical resources. To have a space in which to think things through. Not hot desk. To dream. To collide, connect, collude, collaborate and create. In that order.

And to do that in a space where the public can be part of that process is vital if we are to achieve cultural democracy.

 

 “A lovely 20 minutes talking about life, art, politics and peace. What a fab idea this Talking Shop is. Art(s) unite all of us, a common language that links every human on the planet.”

 

The British High Street is dying and needs to be re-imagined

UK Government Website: The UK government-appointed panel made up representatives from the retail, property and design sectors has published practical recommendations to reinvigorate town centres by creating a community hub which, alongside retail, includes leisure and social services and more residential property.

The report puts community involvement and local leadership at the centre of a plan to create the town centres of the future.

The panel was appointed by High Streets Minister Jake Berry MP earlier this year to diagnose issues affecting our high streets and town centres and advise on measures to keep them thriving.

In October, the panel provided interim recommendations, which the government responded to by announcing the creation of a £675 million Future High Streets Fund to help improve and restore high streets as well as a Town Centre Taskforce to give local leaders support in implementing local schemes. Today’s report sets out further advice of how to implement this funding

Retail industry experts have called for a community-focused approach to tackling the challenges facing high streets and town centres across the UK. Chair of the expert panel, Sir John Timpson said:

“When the panel was formed, we knew high streets would never be the same again, but we were delighted to discover places where imaginative developments have increased footfall and reduced the number of empty shops.

By helping our towns create their own individual community hub, I believe we will have vibrant town centres to provide a much-needed place for face to face contact in the digital age.

I have learnt, from my own business, that the best way to get things done is to give people on the front line the freedom to get on with the job in the way they know best. We are applying the same Upside Down Government principle to the development of our town centres, with our Town Centre Task Force there to mentor, encourage and clear any obstacles out of the way while giving the clear message to inspirational local leaders that they are free to turn their plans into reality.”

High Streets Minister Jake Berry MP said:

“High streets and town centres play an important role in the life of our communities.

I thank Sir John and the panel members who have worked extremely hard and proposed tangible ways to keep these treasured spaces alive and thriving for generations.

We have already taken action by announcing plans to set up a Future High Streets Fund and Task Force, alongside slashing business rates for up to a third of small retailers. We will carefully consider these recommendations.”

Recommendations

The panel’s recommendations include:

  • The creation of the Town Centre Task Force supporting local leaders to act as a single voice in finding unique solutions for communities.
  • The Future High Streets Fund to help local authorities with both finance and resource. In October’s Budget, the Chancellor announced a £675 million Future High Street Fund towards better spaces for communities in response to Sir John Timpson’s interim recommendations made earlier this year.
  • Immediate measures to help high streets and town centres including a ‘National High Street Perfect Day’ – one day a year where local communities would take ownerships of ensuring their town centre looked as good as possible.
  • The panel encourages local communities to think innovatively about empty properties and welcomes the government’s Open Doors scheme which opens empty shops to community groups.

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/675-million-fund-to-transform-high-streets-and-town-centres-opens-to-communities

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/timpson-says-a-locally-driven-approach-needed-to-rejuvenate-high-streets

 

“Yes these spaces are important. Online discourse doesn’t encourage in-depth dialogue. The viral nature of virtual platforms leaves people chasing soundbites and controversial dialogue. We need physical spaces and face to face dialogue to rediscover how to communicate about difficult subjects. How to gracefully disagree. How to spend time with each other, learn, exchange and (God Forbid) change our mind and understand each other.” Talking Shop Visitor

 

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Chapter Eight. Vision for a large scale permanent version of The Talking Shop

 

“This is very much a need. Life today for many is lived in a vacuum of decision making at all levels, a lack of awareness, of entitlement, of stimulation. Culture, in its many forms, can change this.” Gareth Jones Talking Shop Visitor

Below is what I thought one year ago. The world has changed since then. There is no time for a permanent Talking Shop to to act as a provocation. Some of this chapter is still relevant but mainly we need to realise the ultimate vision NOW and not tomorrow. The most often heard quote in The Talking Shop was that ‘every town needs a Talking Shop’. Actually every town needs a cultural building and every cultural building could and should be a Talking Shop or what it represented. Every person who runs a cultural building has a duty to transform that building to ensure the full spectrum of humanity walk through its doors and feel welcome and that they belong, every single day.

To clarify, as was made clear in the Executive Summary, our ultimate vision is that there is no gap or identified need and that our existing cultural institutions can be all be Cultural and Political Information and Creation Centres and all that The Talking Shop was and aims to be. That there exists no barrier to access of the arts and democracy and that there exists a well-informed electorate and population who have a plethora of public forums to choose from in which to connect, collide, collude, collaborate, create and debate.

We are also open to the concept of a touring or mobile pop up Talking Shop which came up a lot in our pilot.

If we have learnt anything though it is that we must begin. We must start somewhere. We must model it. We must demonstrate what we mean and then let the public demand it.

Omidaze’s short-term immediate vision then is of a two – three floor shop unit. It will be located where there is good footfall and have a presence on the main street if in an arcade.

The ground floor will be the public space as per The Talking Shop pilot. This will have greater square foot that the pilot space and will therefore be able to provide quiet public space for reading, thinking, reflecting as well as welcoming the public visitors to join open conversations on the topic/question of the day.

Floor one would be a dedicated rehearsal and workshop space. This can be booked out by companies/individuals who are part of the collective and contribute to the overall running of the space. It will be booked on a first come first served basis with a maximum number of weeks per company/individual. It could be run on a token/members basis i.e. those contributing to the running/curation/upkeep of the space earn tokens which they can redeem to use to book the room. Floor one can also be used to host creative, arts, cultural events where arts/cultural organisations/artists want to meet the public about a specific theme, project, idea or R&D initiative.

Floor Two or basement if possible. A quiet flexible working space for creatives within the collective and shared admin, marketing, fundraising, accounts resources.

The collective would be formed of interested companies and individual artists with a bias towards those producing or creating live performance.

 

“The arts and cultural sector acts as the engine room and R&D department for the creative industries, the most rapidly growing sector of our economy.” David Lan What Next? Culture

 

The Talking Shop would be a non-commercial enterprise however it would potentially have the capacity to generate income.

 

“Great project. Great chat. Thank you very much, lots of food for thought.”

 

“Great to see this. Needs to be happening more….conversations in a safe space where we feel welcomed. Love to see this happening again.”

“A lot of thoughts now entering my mind and questions to continue asking myself.” Talking Shop Visitor.

We can sit endlessly behind closed doors discussing how we engage more people in arts and culture. Thinking about how we diversify and reach the ‘hard to reach’. Or we can begin to accept that perhaps the ‘hard to reach’ is the sector itself and begin to change what we do ourselves rather than just keep building the same thing in the same shape again and again and again and wondering why the same problems persist.

Four and a half years ago Yvonne Murphy was encouraging people to attend What Next meetings in Cardiff. “But isn’t it just another Talking Shop?” came one reply. This project is her response.

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Chapter Ten. And finally a response to The Talking Shop – Homeless Creative to Omidaze Talking Shop

May 2, 2019

Oh!!! My!!! Days!!!

What have you done? How, before you even opened, had you created something that any urban desert of concrete and glass commercialism can never now exist without?

I’m an artist. Creating things that are not known to be needed is my craft. I know when something has been birthed in only truth and love of truth. To see that there are others, and some who have given up trying to be artists, and with this have acquired an honorary PHD and a golden key in Humanity from the Universe City and have become Artiste, meaning, fully operationally creative Human Beings, restores a little faith.

This cultural gestational flowerpot in the urban desert of steel and glass consumerism is beyond an oasis. It is a sanctuary. A temple to the possibilities of humanity, and the fruits of open human communication.

A shop that sells nothing but offers you a little bit of you that you had forgotten about. You walk past and you can feel the energy here. A Talking Shop? Or is it a true head-space, soul-space, a little field of Daffodils in the heart of Cardiff for the spirit to enter and soar above. But it’s not just Cardiff, of course, as Cardiff is not just Wales, it’s a consulate of Humanity.

There might be a writer, or an artist, or a director , or an old lady whose words could save your soul or change the nature of your reality, or a homeless guy who realises that he has ‘power’ in his humanity. Conversation is always flowing. You listen for a moment because you have that appointment, but wait, didn’t that artist just agree with me about something nobody agrees about? You text your friend who is waiting on you and tell them to come and meet you. You tell them they’ll love the shop. When they get there the usual question arises ‘Why has this not always just ‘been’? Why is there not more? Why did we not know we needed this?

Is there a whole cultural and political universe of forums that we have not looked at yet? Of course. Of course, so, it feels beyond exciting. It feels expected, awaited, anticipated, and yet, it was an ideal that I had not considered yet now feel almost broken-hearted that it soon must close its doors. For whatever reason the opening and existence of the Talking Shop has brought an energy, a big Eureka, to the commercial district, and it has invigorated and shaken awake so many creatives, artists minds that one feels now humbled passing it by.

On the 20th of April The Talking Shop will hold its last day in its present form. There are hopes that conducted with the correct energy and intention this could become a permanent installation, a little reservoir of sanity in the centre of the city, and maybe the arising of a new political class if Yvonne Murphy of Omidaze is anything to go by. She and her husband Richard have produced a truly innovative, original, and beautiful concept that upon reflection harks back to some of the political and activist offices of San Francisco or New York back in the 70s, drop ins for artists, revolutionaries, politicians, little old ladies, where the idea for a new political party or ideal could arise, or where a musician might pen a hit record about Brexit and the Tories, or maybe a new form of government is discussed, thrashed out, and gestated in the hearts of a few.

The Talking Shop is one of the most human and beautiful contributions to any commercial area in a capital that I have ever seen. Even the layout is welcoming. There is nothing about the exterior or interior that could ward anyone off. If buildings, premises, shops and units were to be considered as food items of a commercial district, The Talking Shop would be the desert, a cake ,baked by cakeaholics and foodies who want to share their culinary joys and pleasures with us, because they may have actually figured out a more efficient recipe with more abundant ingredients, that could get the whole world eating cake, or even bread alone if it befit the man, but at least the choice should be permitted unilaterally, and never enforced.

Yours with deepest loyalty and respect,

– …well…+

The Writer – A Homeless Creative in Cardiff City Centre – was a regular visitor and supporter of The Talking Shop.

What a great idea. I hope you get to take this/something similar around Wales to capture the energy of future generations. How about a stand at the Royal Welsh? Eisteddfod?”

Omidaze would like to thank National Theatre Wales for making this Talking Shop pilot possible and to Dirty Protest, Creative Cardiff and the Outreach, Engagement team at The Welsh Assembly and Steve Bines for all their unwavering support in the idea over several years.

We would also like to thank the many creatives who gave their time for free and without whom we could not have done this pilot Talking Shop project. These include Catherine Paskell for her dramaturgical support and advice, our student designers Bethan Thomas and Ashley Phillips from UWTSD, our many student illustrators from Cardiff Met including Maria Elorza and our Talking Shop volunteers Ella Maxwell, George Soave, Jennifer Lunn, Shane Nickels and Lewis Gwyther.  Thank you.

Report compiled and written by Yvonne Murphy

23 June 2019

Copyright Omidaze Productions

www.omidaze.co.uk

y.murphy1@ntlworld.com

07949 626538

 

“Talk, exchange and celebrate humanity”

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