Developing a new generation of storytellers – Arts Council of Wales’ Connect and Flourish collaboration between freelancers and organisations across Wales.

Beyond the Border – Wales’ International Storytelling Festival along with the National Eisteddfod Wales, Menter Iaith, People Speak Up, Citrus Arts and Head4Arts have received a welcome financial contribution from the Arts Council of Wales’ Connect and Flourish fund to deliver an exciting new collaboration to ensure the future of the storytelling sector in Wales.  Connect and Flourish is made possible by funds distributed by the Arts Council of Wales from the proceeds of the National Lottery.

The Mycelium Story Hub will be a network of organisational and freelancer partners, committed to sharing practice & nurturing less frequently heard stories from across Wales’ diverse communities. The model is inspired by nature’s mycelium networks and includes support for producers and a new role of contemporary Cyfarwyddion.

Cardiff based storyteller Chandrika Joshi, one of BTB’s New Voices in 2021, said, “This collaboration enables more seeds to be planted so that future storytellers can grow.  Working in community settings can grow understanding of Welsh culture, a lot of which is not known. Within Gujarati, Indian and ethnic communities there’s a rich heritage of storytelling, we need to hear those stories and find ways to pass them on”

Contemporary Cyfarwyddion will help uncover and share the stories of communities in which they are based for a twelve month residency. The role of the Cyfarwydd is directly inspired by older traditions of the Welsh Cyfarwydd; storytellers who captured and reflected what was happening in their communities, offering subtle guidance though the stories they told.  Each Cyfarwydd had an apprenticeship, and went on to become a highly respected member of society, travelling and bringing back news to the courts, reflecting the society of their time.

Sioned Edwards from Eisteddfod said, “The Mycelium Story Hub will reflect Wales’ rich and diverse cultural histories and deep traditions of storytelling at the same time as developing new approaches designed for the challenges of now and the future. We’re excited by the shared passion shown by storytellers, producers and partners like Menter Iaith and Beyond the Border to increase Welsh language storytelling, and for all ages to gain access to a diverse and developing programme which embraces the many languages of contemporary Wales.”

The first year of the project will include two geographically specific partnerships, one with People Speak Up in Carmarthenshire, Beyond the Border’s festival’s new home, which supports health and wellbeing and a second which will be launched in the Rhondda, including partners Citrus Arts, Head4Arts, Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Trust and Theatr Soar. There is shared interest in reflecting the resilience, history, politics, dialects and characters of specific communities, finding ways to ensure these communities’ stories are nurtured and celebrated.

The collaboration also pilots new models. Eleanor Shaw of People Speak Up said, “The Mycelium Story Hub will test out a different financial model, based on guaranteeing a proportion of basic income to artists up front.  This will help everyone’s budgets to go further, and enable more people to consider arts work as a viable career choice.  Creating a defined role with guaranteed income provides a clear stepping stone for artists who otherwise might not have the resources to fund their progression.  We will test the benefits of this different model and share the learning across all the partners and freelancers, hopefully creating wider change as the collaboration grows.”

Aberystwyth storyteller and founder of Aberystwyth Storytelling Festival Peter Stevenson said,

“This has potential to be one of the most important contributions to storytelling in Wales for the long term”.   The Mycelium Story Hub will be developed in consultation with freelance storytellers and organisations which share an interest in strengthening the foundations of storytelling across Wales, ensuring that this is also an opportunity to listen to and work with a more diverse range of stories for the future.

Over the next two years, the Hub will support and champion the work of four Contemporary Cyfarwyddion, four Associate Producers, two Associate Cyfarwyddion and three mini-festivals, bringing new stories to light. These roles will create opportunities tailored to the qualities of each community and they will connect together to ensure the learning is captured and the hub can continue to grow.

Beyond the Border Artistic Director Naomi Wilds, said, “Wales is a land of myths, legends and stories, but not just stories of old. As we celebrate and reimagine our old stories, we’re also making sure we hear the stories of today and support the storytellers of tomorrow, creating new ways to hear the amazing stories unfolding right now across Wales.”

“Over the last few years we’ve seen great work being done in Wales, but not enough resources to reach across all our communities. We started talking to other organisations and freelancers who shared our passion to connect. This funding from Arts Council Wales will create a growing web of support, creating opportunities and supporting more storytellers, and the resources to learn about new ways we can create together.”

Although many storytellers deliver important community work already, many are reliant on their own networks to make opportunities happen.  Some organisations aren’t aware of the benefits that storytelling can bring.  The Mycelium Hub will ensure the Contemporary Cyfarwyddion and Producers will maintain a high profile within their communities, while also sharing examples of projects and great stories which emerge from the work they develop.

This continues the work Beyond the Border has begun addressing, in between its major festivals, through webinars, Casglu practice sharing, Ysbrydoli / Inspire, New Voices mentoring and Speculative Spaces, connecting artists together, surfacing issues, establishing quality principles and shaping practice.  The Mycelium Story hub connects this activity with community based and nationally focused partners – to start new conversations and creative skill-sharing, as we return to a mix of digital and in person work.

Naomi Wilds continued, “Equalities and diversity are at the heart of these interventions, which prioritise freelancers from currently underrepresented backgrounds and communities which are currently underserved.  When we launch these roles in September we will offer guaranteed interviews to people whose voices are underrepresented at the moment, including disabled people, Black and Asian people, and people from other ethnic backgrounds, Welsh Language speakers and members of LGBTQI communities. “

The Mycelium Story Hub, will be a nationally focused network embracing local distinctiveness. The hub will issue an open call out for Cyfarwyddion and Producers in September, as well as artist and community representatives to be part of the Story Hub.  Webinars and one-to-one conversations will provide more information and support to anyone wishing to apply.

Many of these partnerships have already started working together with Beyond the Border – People Speak Up, Citrus Arts, Menter Iaith will be at the Beyond the Border Festival 2-4 July.  Beyond the Border Wales International Storytelling Festival takes place at NT Dinefwr, Carmarthenshire 2-4 July as well as an Online Festival from 26 June to 10 July.

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