Best of 2021: A selection of cultural highlights from the last 12 months
As the year comes to an end the great and the good of Welsh culture – and some of the Nation.Cymru gang – share some of their cultural highlights of the last 12 months.
Krystal S Lowe
On November 7th I attended Jo Fong and Sonia Hughes’ Neither Here Nor There at The Wales Millenium Centre, accompanied by my four year old son and his scooter. This wasn’t a performance; it was an arts experience.
We gathered outside of The Centre and took a slow walk around the building – my son, rolling beside me – before we were welcomed into the space. A coat rack stood in the corner; fresh fruit, teas and coffee were huddled at the side; two chairs sat across from each other, separated by a table holding a card that said ‘small talk’. It was clear from the start how essential these artists made the ‘audience’ to the delivery.
We had six-minute conversations, spurred by simple yet provocative questions; questions we were encouraged not to answer but to respond. When the experience ended, I realized that I had spent an hour reflecting on my life and future alongside people I had never yet had the pleasure of connecting with. It was a brilliantly guided experience of art that felt like a warm golden light calming the pieces of me that were shaky and allowing the release of the parts of me I held tight.
Krystal S.Lowe is a Bermuda-born, Wales-based dancer, choreographer, writer, and director creating dance theatre works for stage, public space, and film that explore themes of intersectional identity, mental health and wellbeing, and empowerment.
Promises – Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra
A collaboration from heaven. The new and the old, the electronic and raw all combining to create a journey that you barely knew existed. But a journey that reveals and enriches more and more with every listen.
Birds of Wales (Adar Cymru)
The gift that keeps on giving. A huge, magnificent and mind-blowingly informative tome mapping the history, breeding and status of birds in Wales that you will never fully finish or even want to come close to finishing. Also another pertinent wake-up call to the potentially terminal damage being suffered by the Welsh ecology unless meaningful action is taken now.
Mike Parker’s Seasons Salon (Culture Colony channel on AM) broadcasting live regularly from a small studio in Machynlleth (and subsequently available on demand), an inspiring series that sees, without the constraints of traditional TV, the brilliant Mike Parker expertly explore different themes with hand-picked guests giving an intimate, warm and though-provoking hour of free conversation. Welsh gold.
Alun Llwyd is Chief Executive & Co-founder of AM, Wales’ first cultural digital platform.
Ifan Morgan Jones
2021 has been an odd year and has felt more like a very long continuation of 2020 than its own stand-alone entity. As a result, I’m having a hard time remembering what happened this year and what happened last year. Unfortunately, despite all the restrictions the time to relax in the middle of everything that needs doing has been very short so I haven’t read as much as I’d like to have done. But in terms of Welsh language novels, highlights have included Safana by Jerry Hunter and Bedydd Tân by Dyfed Edwards – two reminders that our language’s literature can tackle essentially any location and genre and consistently punch above its weight in doing so.
A special mention too for the bilingual History Grounded / Hanes yn y Tir by Dr Elin Jones which is a great guide to Welsh history for young people and will no doubt form a cornerstone of the new national curriculum. Hopefully, today’s kids are the last generation that will grow up without that age-old complaint of ‘we didn’t learn hardly any Welsh history at school’.
When you’re the parent of four children, including a one-year-old, of course a huge amount of the culture you’re exposed to isn’t really aimed at your age range. So in reality almost all of everything I’ve watched and listened to this year has been Cocomelon on YouTube. Individual videos in this series have 5 billion views on YouTube, and I think I’m at least 1 billion of them.
One of the main pleasures from a cultural perspective this year has been joining the new School of Arts, Culture and Language at Bangor University which has meant being able to take part in a whole lot of very interesting seminars on a wide variety of topics outside of media and film. Highlights have included Dr Elis Dafydd discussing John Rowlands’ ‘campus novel’ Tician Tician.
But the real highlight for me of course was the tremendous and continued growth of Nation.Cymru, which has shot up like an oak from a tiny acorn I planted back in 2017. The hard work of editor Gareth Hughes, cultural editor Dave Owens, CEO Mark Mansfield and others has been a real joy to behold and I’m grateful to everyone that has contributed financially, contributed words and time, and to all our 10m+ visiting readers over the last year. It’s already succeeded far beyond my wildest dreams but there doesn’t seem to be anything stopping us in 2022, either.
Ifan Morgan Jones is the journalism course leader and director of marketing and recruitment at Bangor University’s College of Arts, Humanities and Business. He is the author of five novels and won the Welsh language Wales Book of the Year award in 2020. He continues to dabble in journalism, including setting up the website you’re reading now.