If you were describe Cardiff’s city centre to a tourist, which unique feature would you choose to illuminate their eyes? Cardiff’s Victorian arcades have often been heralded as the vital veins running through the city – both a source of pride for natives, and delight for visitors.
But recently the arcades have revealed the extent of financial damage to the independent businesses occupying their space following the recession, which has left a smatter of empty shops sadly sitting unused.
The voluntary group will take over a disused shop in Castle Arcade (the old boutique opposite National Theatre Wales) and for one weekend provide a series of performances, art and workshops to inspire new business in the winding mini-museums of Cardiff life and history.
Julian and photographer Jorge outside the empty shop in Castle Arcade Photograph: Hannah Waldram/guardian.co.uk
On July 2 – 4 the shop will open to the public and also run a series of business workshops for the independent businesses in Cardiff’s arcade.
Julian Sykes, who is heading up the Empty Shop Project, said he hoped the weekend would be the start of something bigger and create a network to build a firm future for businesses occupying the arcades. He said:
“We’re not exactly the first empty shop project but our fundamental difference is that we will use design to create social change.
“Most empty shops projects just put on artwork and performances, and are largely successful. We’ll also be doing some of this but also put on some business clinics to try and get the independent business here working together.”
Sykes, 29 from Old St Mellons, founded the branding company Hoffi four years ago and started thinkARK as a side project to explore the routes of social design in Cardiff. But what exactly is social design?
“We don’t just look at an empty shop and see how we can solve it – traditional design is very much about understanding something and solving a problem – but social design is service design, which is allowing people within the community to express the problem by giving them certain tools and then go some way towards solving it by helping with design skills.”
Despite the arcades generally being open on Sundays many of the shops close up for a days rest. Sykes says he hopes to inspire something like a monthly Sunday festival in the arcades to generate more income and hype around the businesses.
Inside the empty shop in Castle Arcade, Cardiff Photograph: Hannah Waldram/guardian.co.uk
Sykes envisages the Empty Shop Project running each month until October if it is successful – which is marked not only by whether it attracts a new business into the vacant premises, but also on whether a community begins to form.
“I live above an arcade so I walk through them everyday, and see that because they are independent sometimes they don’t work together. We want to challenge them to work as a community arcade – and perhaps move towards each arcade having a certain character or theme.”
A bit of arcade history
The Wyndam, Castle, High Street and Duke Street arcades are owned by landlords Curzon, which offer a bit of friendly rivalry to Morgan and Royal arcades.
Curzon recently featured in the South Wales Echo speaking of their difficulties experienced in securing new businesses throughout the recession – but expressing a feeling of relief in reaching a turning point financially. Read the full article here.
You can find out more about the empty shop project on their blog and follow them on twitter @ARKEmptyShops. ThinkARK also runs a Wednesday club at Cardiff Arts Institute which holds monthly academy night’s to promote new work from graduates.
The ARK Empty Shops Project is an ongoing project run in Cardiff by the social design group ARK. The aim is to turn empty shops in Cardiff into vibrant and exciting creative spaces. Our first project will take place July 2nd-3rd 2010.
ARK meets every Wednesday 7pm – Cardiff Arts Institute