#InPoverty: What will it take to bring the arts to Adamsdown’s community?

Not safe, not attractive, and a ‘tough’ place to be – this is still how Adamsdown is perceived. So how can culture bloom in this undesired and underserved area?

Two dancers in Rubicon Dance, one of the art bodies in Adamsdown
Kathy’s Waltz leads the rhythm of students’ steps – they are part of Rubicon Dance’s cohort; as the school offers a two-year program, which books one of their two studios five days a week, from nine to five, what they can offer to other passionate amateurs is limited

A jazzy tune echoes in the dance studio. When it turns into a waltz rhythm, the students suddenly raise their heads. Arms straight, they start moving; the studio becomes oddly silent, despite the music blaring out. Their professor is standing on the side, observing them. And, when the audio fades out, her comments snap out.

“Quite fascinating, isn’t it?,” whispers Adam Lloyd, coordinator of Rubicon Dance, a hot cuppa in hand. It is indeed fascinating, because of how unexpected it is to enjoy this art in the middle of Adamsdown.

The inclusive and affordable dance school unpacked on Nora Street more than 30 years ago. And with NoFit State Circus, they are the only recognised art bodies in Adamsdown.

An odd mixture of terraced houses, construction sites and brand-new accommodations, Adamsdown is not the obvious place for a night at the theatre. So when the Senedd’s Arts committee recommends that art bodies should create content within a community rather than drop in, it can be hard to see it implemented in the area.

Old and new cohabit in Adamsdown, as student accommodations endlessly pop out near the Magistrate Court

“I can see that if you were a start-up it would be tricky to settle in Adamsdown,” admits Adam, “because it is based on trust and an existing knowledge.” With over 30 years of building links with communities and local schools, Rubicon Dance’s trust is well-established. 

Committing to community

“We tend to commit to communities,” explains Adam, “it goes beyond far better long-term, understanding relationships with others, than if you are just jumping into a community and doing a five-week session.”

Nurturing local access to culture is indispensable if Adamsdown wants to grow away from its deprived image. As Prof Morag McDermont writes in the Senedd’s report, “To enable people within their own community to be engaging in the cultural arts, to be using their own creativity… It’s making it possible for people to think, ‘Yes, this is something I could do.’”

“We tend to commit to communities; it goes beyond far better long-term relationships.”

Sarah Younan argues Adamsdown offers this cultural engagement. “As an immigrant,” the artist explains, “I see Adamsdown as a rich place where I know how to find the food, languages, music and social gatherings I enjoy.” 

What Adamsdown lacks in mainstream culture, it weighs in with one built on its multiculturalism. She suggests from African, Polish and Kurdish cafés to cultural nights at the Oasis Centre. Sarah confirms, “To me, there’s more here than at the Millenium Centre.” 

And yet, Adamsdown lacks one of the simplest ways of engaging with the arts: a library.

A year after the first closure of Roath Library in 2014, activists were still hoping for the library to be saved

An hour’s walk to read a book

Adam grew up in Cardiff; Roath Library had always been part of his life. So when it closed in 2014 for maintenance, and definitely shut down in 2015, it was a strange moment for the area. Where would they go to grab a book?

The interest was high when, in 2017, residents were consulted about a new facility to be opened in the Chapel of Cardiff Royal Infirmary. “There is a lot of calls in the area for these facilities,” highlights the report. With the conversion plans approved in June 2018, works were to be done by Autumn 2018. Yet, a year later, the project is still in the development stage.

This tweet by, Abigail Harris, executive director of strategic planning of Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, shows the project is still in planning: they will transform it

To access a library, Adamsdown residents are given alternative options by the City Council. The first is Penylan Library, about 30 minutes away, and the journey doesn’t decrease when using public transport. When in 2015, 40,8% of households were below 60% of Britain’s median income, it is unlikely that Adamsdown residents have the means or time to take an hour to reach the closest resort.

Adam confirms that residents want more space and more access. Cardiff South East residents were the least satisfied in 2016 with their access to “opportunities that help them achieve their full potential.” If no public bodies are going to change this, the community might as well strive on its own.

With the expansion, Rubicon Dance is hoping to do just that.

The renewal of Adamsdown

Currently raising £2 million to transform Roath Library into dance studios, the team is excited about their future in Adamsdown. Support from the community is overwhelmingly high, says Millie Bethil, a creative intern with the fundraising team.

“This doesn’t change the fact that people still deserve somewhere to come.”

It was obvious they should remain in Adamsdown, she adds, despite the difficulties. Adam makes a knowing face, and confirms. With more than 15 criminal offences against the person and more than 25 complaints for antisocial behaviours registered in 2015-2016, Adamsdown is one of the most dangerous areas in the city.

“There’s car crash, there’s dealing… But nothing dreadful has happened,” Adam nods, before promptly touching wood.

South Wales police map of dangers in Cardiff
“It’s a tricky area. There’s a lot of value being in here but the issues that we have in the neighbourhood make business difficult – especially in the winter months,” reveals Adam

“The easy thing to think is ‘ah, I wish we were somewhere posh’,” admits Adam, “but we’d be wrong to abandon this community after so, so long.” Nodding, Millie adds, “It doesn’t change the fact that people in Adamsdown still deserve somewhere to come.”

With the new Roath Library, they hope to give residents more than ‘somewhere to come’.

Sign on Newport Road indicated culture location in Adamsdown
Perhaps then, the Roath Library sign, which still appears on Newport Road, will be replaced by Rubicon Dance’s name, right below NoFit State Circus

“We’d have space to host events for Cardiff’s Dance Festival,” beams Adam. He explains that the festival reunites artists from all over the world. Their studio project would symbolise renewal for Adamsdown, slowly erasing its culturally deprived image as more events could be developed.

It might not be so odd, then, to head to Adamsdown for an evening full of artistic performances. And as Kathy’s Waltz still echoes in the background, Adam glances at Millie with a determined smile, “If we do it right, Roath Library will become a proper landmark building.”