Ceri Shaw is a Web Designer and freelance writer. If you remember, he wrote What is Anglo-Welsh Literature and why Should Anyone Care?. Ceri is a former college lecturer from Cardiff, South Wales. He wrote this article for us.
Social Networking and the Left Coast Eisteddfod 2009
There is an art to constructing social networks. Anyone can join Facebook, start a group, give it a catchy title and invite everyone on their contacts list. But building a true online “community” involves a lot more than that. My preferred tool for this job is the “Ning” platform.
One such project that I am involved in at the moment is Americymru. The site itself is an American Welsh heritage site and it welcomes members from anywhere in the world who are either Welsh, of Welsh ancestry or who have a love of Wales ( Cymruphiles? ) for whatever reason. The site has proved highly popular and is rapidly approaching the 1000 member mark.
The question is, of course, what purpose should such a site serve? Should we all vie with one another in forum discussions for the distinction of being the most enthusiastic supporter of Welsh culture? Should we all devote ourselves to learning the Welsh language? ( not a bad idea ) Or perhaps we should all exchange holiday snaps of our most recent visits to Snowdonia? Of course Americymru is a social network and so it is used for all of the above purposes and a host more besides.
How much better though to put these networks to a novel and creative purpose. In Wales the “Eisteddfod” tradition ( which is basically a talent competition ) dates back to the 12th century. Here is how the Wikipedia defines it:-
‘An eisteddfod is a Welsh festival of literature, music and performance. The tradition of such a meeting of Welsh artists dates back to at least the 12th century, when a festival of poetry and music was held by Rhys ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth at his court in Cardigan in 1176 but, with the decline of the bardic tradition, it fell into abeyance. The present-day format owes much to an eighteenth-century revival arising out of a number of informal eisteddfodau. The word eisteddfod is derived from the Welsh word eistedd, meaning “sit”.’
We decided to use Americymru to organise an international “online” Eisteddfod.
We have departed from the traditional formula in several significant respects. There are Welsh Pirate Lookalike and Tom Jones Impersonators competitions along side the standard literary and poetic categories. We feel that these features will enhance the appeal of the “event” and give it a more contemporary feel
All the competitions are open to everyone. Neither Americymru membership nor Welsh origin are requirements.
The poetry and short story competitions are already starting to attract some talented entrants and judges Lloyd Jones ( short stories ) and Peter Thabit Jones and John Good ( poetry ) will have some hard choices to make.
The online Eisteddfod will culminate in a live event in Portland in August 2009. It is here that winners will be announced and prizes awarded. It is also our intention to hold a series of concerts featuring major Welsh and American Welsh artists and performers. In short the “Left Coast Eisteddfod” will be a celebration of all things Welsh and in particular of the American Welsh heritage which has so enriched the history of the American nation. It will also introduce this tradition to a whole new audience and seek to involve the widest possible participation.
It is also possible to build a “constellation” of supporting blogs around your social networking “event”. In our own case we have been fortunate to enjoy the support of artists such as David Western who is probably the worlds finest carver of traditional Welsh lovespoons. He explains the reasons and the means of his supoport for the event in the following quote from his “David Western’s Portland Eisteddfod Lovespoon” blog:-
“To support the development of the Left Coast Eisteddfod next year, I am donating a handcrafted, one-of-a-kind Welsh lovespoon which Americymru will raffle off to help raise needed funds.
I’m proud to be able to contribute to the creation of the Eisteddfod and to help highlight Welsh people and their culture here in North America. Everyone knows the Scottish and Irish and it is through events like the Eisteddfod that people will come to know the Welsh.”
David’s blog has already encouraged others to try their hands at this ancient craft and his work in general is vital in order to ensure that this art form continues and thrives into the 21st century.
It is my belief that the potential for social networks to drive artistic creation and collaboration is immense and I am very excited to be a part of a project which is exploring this potential.
In closing I would urge you check out the online Eisteddfod ( linked and accessible from the home page of Americymru ), consider entering one of the competitions and above all, think of novel ways to utilise your own social networks so that they can become a real spur to human creativity and not merely glorified “chat” rooms.