As we announce our first ever opportunity for a young Welsh maker, find out why it’s such an important milestone in our story.
A few years ago I did an MA in Community Development, and one of the modules asked us to do an analysis of how sustainable and resilient our community was. Cwm Pennant, where I live, is described in a well-known poem by Eifion Wyn as ‘Cwm tecaf y cymoedd’, which translates as ‘the fairest of valleys’. And I thought to myself, well yes, perhaps it is the fairest in terms of beauty, but is it fair in terms of equality? When studying a community, one of the things you need to identify is the dominant power, and then think how this impacts the community. I realised that the dominant power (capitalism) results in inequality for rural communities. And I understood for the first time how this has affected me personally.
There were 9 of us who did A-level Art; 8 of us went on to do Foundation in Carmarthen. We all lived in a 5-bedroom house together – but, that’s a story for another day… Anyway, of those 8 young people, 1 stayed on in Carmarthen to study and the rest of us went on to study an arts related degree at various Universities, all in England. As far as I know, I’m the only one to have come home to Wales. Perhaps not everybody wanted to come back. I definitely did though, but I thought that I couldn’t. I thought there would be a better chance to ‘make it’ as an artist elsewhere, anywhere really – anywhere except home. It was a Public Art Wales mentoring residency opportunity that I applied for, and got, that brought me back. The rest is history – pretty much everything I have done since has stemmed from that single opportunity.
Going back to my school friends, I wonder if they might have wanted to come back… An article by Dr Lowri Cunnington published recently, based on her doctoral research, may shed some light on the matter. Earlier research had concluded that the main reason for outward migration of young people – otherwise known as brain-drain – was economic. But Lowri’s research suggests that the situation is much more nuanced – not purely economic, but linked to whether or not the young people feel a sense of belonging, of being part of a culture.
Which is why I want to create opportunities through NYTHU – meaningful and relevant opportunities – for young people interested in craft and making. So that they don’t feel like they have to go to London, or Manchester (or anywhere else but here) to follow their dreams. But more than that, I want NYTHU and our young people to grow from, to be part of, to contribute to, and to be intrinsically linked with Welsh rural culture. Because incidentally, communities need creative people in order to thrive – they’re the innovators, the risk-takers, the people who make things happen.
Which brings us to our young maker opportunity… An opportunity for a young maker aged 18 – 24 of any craft discipline that’s from, or grew up in, a rural Welsh community (that is to say, they have a home address in rural Wales). The successful young maker will be given the chance to design and create a new product for the NYTHU collection. And this new product will be inspired by, will connect with, or will have grown from Welsh rural culture. We’d like them to dig deeper and think about what Welsh rural culture means – maybe by talking to people in the community, researching archives and collections, studying vernacular architecture – anything that connects with rural culture – contemporary too, not just historical. Its also important for their product to fit within the NYTHU range, so we’d expect them to have looked at our website, to have understood what we’re about, and to have noted our aesthetic.
The successful young maker will be mentored by Llio James, a contemporary weaver with her own brand and business. She describes her approach to weaving as translating traditional designs into a contemporary language. Rooted in Welsh textile heritage, but fresh and contemporary – Llio’s work is the epitome of what Nythu strives to be. Llio will help the young maker refine their idea, to prototype their product, and to make sure that its financially viable. Then, the young maker and their final product will be featured on the NYTHU website, where there is potential for them to draw an income from their work.
This is just one example of how we can create coveted opportunities for young people in rural Wales, whilst nurturing meaningful relationships with our culture. This is how I think NYTHU can help our rural communities in Wales to thrive. If you know anyone who may benefit from this opportunity, please share this with them – you can download the brief here.