Cultural Vandalism in Swansea University

Artists and activists campaign to save a much loved gallery from closure

Ceri Richards, who died in 1971, was one of Wales’ greatest, internationally renowned artists. His works are to be seen in Tate Britain, and the National Museum in Cardiff.

In 1984, as part of its new Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea University opened an art gallery

dedicated to him, open to the people of Swansea. In the following 30 years, Oriel Ceri Richards Gallery has provided space for exhibitions by local artists both established and new, as well as work by famous artists such as David Hockney, with admission free to all. The gallery ran at a small profit, contributing to the costs of the arts centre as a whole.

In 2017, without any discussion or consultation with local people, the artistic community or even their own students, the University administration announced plans to close off the ground floor of the Arts Centre to the public, and destroy the gallery. Its replacement? A ‘student learning and creativity zone’, involving ‘digital wayfaring’, and a ‘flexible space to study, learn, explore, meet and create activities…’ In other words, cutting out the PR waffle, a student common room with digital facilities. While more student resources and spaces are undoubtedly needed, the University has two campuses to play with, and several new buildings – posing the question: why take this particular space?Oriel Richards 1

The news, when it leaked out, produced a lot of anger. Local artists and their allies quickly formed an action group which organised petitions, and held a series of ‘pop-up’ protests on the campus. The aim was to embarrass the University into backtracking, or at least into giving some assurances that the gallery would be replaced. But they met a stone wall. The University Vice-Chancellor has refused to meet protesters.

On 12th August, the gallery finally closed, although campaigners have vowed to keep the campaign going, to press for a replacement public exhibition space.

Given the cuts in services being made by Swansea’s Labour Council, the closure of a small gallery might seem relatively unimportant. But it is one more way in which working class people are being systematically denied their right to access to culture. The working class needs bread first – but we need roses too. The closure of this public gallery, for no good reason, can only be described as cultural vandalism.