The Women Leading Wales: Woman in Culture

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Byline: Stephanie McNicholas

The three finalists in this year's Woman in Culture award have used art and music to create links between Wales and other countries.

This category, sponsored by Cardiff Council, in The Western Mail Welsh Woman of the Year Awards 2003, celebrates the achievements of women who play an important role in portraying a positive image of cultural Wales.

The awards promote the role of Welsh women in the workplace and in every sector of society and are sponsored by The Western Mail and supported by S4C.

Winners will be announced at a ceremony at Cardiff International Arena on Friday, November 21.

Stephanie McNicholas profiles the latest finalists

CHERYL BEER

WHEN Cheryl Beer said she wanted to be a singer/songwriter after leaving school, she was told it was a dream and not a career aspiration.

Cheryl, from Bridgend, listened to her careers teacher and went into nursing.

But she eventually followed her dream - and now runs her own record label, writes and records albums, and teaches songwriting.

Brought up in Hertfordshire on a council estate, Cheryl came to Wales to study at the age of 19 and soon felt right at home.

'Welsh culture has had a major impact on my career,' she said.

'I do not think I could have done these things unless I had moved here.'

After working as a community development worker and in a circus skills project she took the plunge and become a self-employed singer/songwriter in 1997. Her work now takes her from the Welsh Valleys to Africa and she has been able to broaden her work beyond her own expectations.

'When I am writing songs in Zimbabwe with young people, when I play alongside people who have been my heroes like Van Morrison, that's when I see how multi-faceted culture is and how my career fits within it,' she said.

Cheryl admits that in the music business, it has sometimes been hard to be heard as a woman, with engineers assuming she didn't know how to plug in her guitar and pressures to change how she looked.

Her plans for the future include a project called The Welsh Songstress, in which she will work on oral histories with women over 70. She also plans a visit to Russia next year when she will be shadowing a music therapist via Cardiff-based charity Leaves of Hope.

'I am passionate about music, not just playing and writing but in sharing it,' said Cheryl. 'That's what song is about for me - it breaks down barriers, it is universal.

'My nomination is not for me, it's for all ordinary women who live extraordinary lives, it's for all the women with whom I've worked. My career is a message to other women. We can do what we want to do in our lives without selling out to stereotypes.

'You are never alone, even though you are an individual. If I can make it work, so can you.'

HEATHER SUMMERS

WHEN Heather Summers founded the charity Women in Tune six years ago, it really struck the right chord.

It had become apparent to Heather that there were very few women performers and she wanted to enable others to enjoy the benefits of playing.

And so the Women in Tune Festival was created, allowing women to explore musical creativity. It was a success - and now the work of Women in Tune extends far beyond the festival.

Events are staged during the year; the organisation is a recognised provider of Open College Network Accredited training courses in sound engineering and DJ skills, and there is a WIT website and newsletter.

Heather, from Llandysul, Ceredigion, said, 'Women in Tune is highly successful in the work it does - it fills a niche and fulfils a need. …