With two and a half weeks to go before the Cardiff National Eisteddfod Proclamation, Eisteddfod Chief Executive, Elfed Roberts looks forward to a very different festival in the capital next year.
“The 2018 Eisteddfod will be different to the regular festival, and we did have to convince our visitors at the beginning, but by now, and especially when I speak to some of the fantastic volunteers we have across Cardiff, I think people like the idea and the opportunities it offers. People are now starting to look forward to being part of something new, and to see how we can make sure the Eisteddfod evolves and develops in the future.
“We said from the very beginning that the urban or city Eisteddfod in Cardiff next year is an experiment, and this remains an important point. We’re not planning to move away from the traditional Eisteddfod Maes, but rather we want to see if we can do things differently in some areas, if we can open the Eisteddfod, make it more inclusive and welcoming, and give different regions the chance to invite us to the area in the future.
“Cardiff is used to hosting large-scale events and activities, and we’re lucky to be working closely with the Council to plan and prepare for next year. Last week, tens of thousands of people came to Cardiff, and the response both from visitors and local people to the preparations was excellent. We’re looking closely at these plans so we can try and ensure a similar level of success next year.
“Although the Eisteddfod will be different, there’ll be plenty of familiar elements there as well. We’re still working on the details at the moment, but I can say that we’ll be using a combination of permanent buildings in the Bay and temporary structures to create the Maes. And there will be a Maes in the Bay, with clear pathways to lead visitors as they explore, making sure everyone has a great Eisteddfod experience.
“The atmosphere in the temporary structures will be similar to regular eisteddfodau, but the atmosphere in buildings like the Millennium Centre, where the competitions are held will be very different. We already know that many of our competitors are excited at the concept of performing on the stage in the Donald Gordon Theatre – one of the world’s great stages – and it’s sure to be an unforgettable experience for individuals, groups, bands and choirs.
“We’ve already said that next year’s Eisteddfod will be an experiment, and that’s how most of our most recent developments began. I remember us experimenting with a space for young people on the Maes a few years ago, and Caffi Maes B is now an integral part of the Eisteddfod.
“The Tŷ Gwerin was also an experiment, created because we wanted to provide a visible and viable stage for folk traditions on the Maes, and this proved such a success, not only for the Eisteddfod, but also for the scene which has been rejuvenated over the past few years. And let’s not forget that Llwyfan y Maes and the bar were originally experiments, and it’s very difficult to imagine the kind of festival today’s Eisteddfod would be had we not experimented, developed, evolved and learnt a few lessons after trying out new ideas. And this is what we’ll be doing over the next year and when evaluating the project at the end. What worked? What can we do differently? How can we use elements of what we’ve learnt in an urban environment on a traditional Maes in the future – and so on.
“We have an excellent team of volunteers here in Cardiff, and for the first time, most of them are young people. The awareness and fundraising work is going well, and ambitious events are being planned and have been held. Seeing teams of young people actively discussing ideas is great for the Eisteddfod and for the language. Developing opportunities to use Welsh is so important, and the Eisteddfod’s community project creates these opportunities in a totally natural environment.
“Next Monday, work on the 2017 Eisteddfod Maes will begin, and then, at the end of the week, we’ll celebrate that there are only 50 days to go before the Eisteddfod begins. Anglesey, of course, is very different to Cardiff, but there are definite elements of what we’ll learn there which will be relevant to our work in Cardiff over the next year. This is how we work. Finding new ways of doing things and taking good practice with us as we travel around Wales – as well as trying to avoid repeating some pitfalls in the future of course!
“Work with Welsh learners is going to be so important in Cardiff, as it was in Monmouthshire and as it has been in Anglesey. In Monmouthshire, it was our role to introduce the language to people, while we’ve been encouraging people to rediscover their Welsh and to have the confidence to use the language in Anglesey this year. I think both elements will be needed in Cardiff over the next year – and we’ll need to make sure that everyone has pride in the language and our culture and see the Eisteddfod as a national celebration.
“On 24 June, the Gorsedd of the Bards will be taking part in a procession through Cardiff to ‘proclaim’ that the Eisteddfod is on its way. This is one of the Eisteddfod’s traditions, and a colourful celebration of what’s in store. This celebration has changed very little over the years, and this is what makes it unique and very traditional.
“Our work over the next year is to convince the people of Cardiff that the Eisteddfod itself, the week at the beginning of August, is far from traditional, and that we’ve changed and developed over the years, creating a vibrant and forward-thinking modern festival, considered to be one of the UK’s largest music and arts festival. Competitions are at the heart of everything we do, but there are also hundreds of events and activities happening around the Maes, celebrating all cultural genres.
“And there’s plenty of work still to do, but it’s going well. We’ve seen a huge shift in people’s attitudes, and feel that organisations, businesses and politicians are far more receptive to what we do nowadays. But more work is needed, and we’re still looking for volunteers to help us to ensure the success of the Proclamation as well as the Eisteddfod in Cardiff. Without volunteers, there would be no Eisteddfod, and without the Eisteddfod, the language and our culture would be far less accessible and inclusive.”
The Proclamation Ceremony is held on the City Hall Lawn at 15:00 on Saturday 24 June, with the civic procession starting at 14:00. Artists and local groups will perform on an open air stage during the day. The Cardiff National Eisteddfod is held from 3-11 August 2018. For more information go to www.eisteddfod.wales.