I’ve often wondered what defines the United States. Is it the polarising politics? The proud, hammering patriotism?The melting pot of cultures and lifestyles? Within this reassurance of nostalgia hyped up by popular culture, one book returns from the past with a subtle yet brilliant impact.
Though met with puzzlement when first published, Stephen Shore’s American Surfaces is a very telling piece of its time. Having traveled in 1972 from New York to Texas and back, Shore inhales everything around him. No sight is too banal or sordid and we get these really telling moments from a bygone era. A “palette of the age” seems to capture what I’m trying to say here. All images appear to utilise flash, all are in landscape and their breadth remains impressive.
We see meals, buildings, portraits and everything in-between. Though the shots of food make us think of today’s influencers, he seems to capture houses and other buildings rather well. The pop art feel comes in with the many photos of adverts, stands and sign posts throughout his American journey. Though only 24 at the time, his eye for a real cracking image is proven here and would herald a fine career in photography.
You can see Andy Warhol and his numerous polaroids soon to create similar sights, though on a much more intimate scale. An interesting feature here is the ominous shadow which lingers over models for their portraits, due to the intensity of the flash. This is undoubtedly the most 70s thing you will ever see…the fashion, design, cars and advertisements are all its testament. This is very much my parents era, yet I still have a pang for this yesteryear. There truly is a real joy in these haunting, candid shots.
Although this revised and expanded edition is sold out, we can only hope more copies come out soon.
Local artist CONSUMERSMITH has kindly given The Riverfront Theatre & Arts Centre permission to sell prints of his headline-hitting lockdown-inspired street art ‘May Love Be What We Remember Most’.
The prints show the piece in its original home, the street where it was created, as a nod to the fact that it originated as a site-specific memorial for the coronavirus pandemic.
The money raised from the sale of these prints will go back to fund future projects that The Riverfront will be working on with artists and the community to bring people back together to enjoy the arts and being creative in person once again.
CONSUMERSMITH comments ‘I think it’s fantastic that The Riverfront are using my work to raise money to fund projects that will bring artists and the community together. The very nature of street art is being for the people.’
Sally-Anne Evans, The Riverfront’s Community Arts Development Officer adds ‘We are so honoured to be the home of this wonderful artwork. It was central to our community project ‘Share the Love’ that we ran while closed and now the piece is going to allow us to run more activities and reach more people now that we’re back open. As a registered charity Newport Live and The Riverfront are extremely grateful for donations and public support to be able to do a lot of the community work we do and we really hope that these wonderful prints prove popular so that we can use the money raised to run some wonderful workshops and community sessions. Lockdown showed us that the people of Newport love being creative, and we would love to be able to invite more people through our doors to join us for exciting new projects in 2022.’
Throughout the Riverfront’s closure the artwork was on display in the front windows of the building for passers-by admire. The piece stands as a memorial for life lost in recent times and during the pandemic. The elderly, the vulnerable, the isolated, the lonely, the people in care unable to be visited, so apt was its new home in the window of a building built for people to come together to socialise and share joy, yet a building forced to stay closed to keep people safe.
The piece will be on display in the Riverfront’s first floor gallery from the Art on the Hill weekend of 26-28 November through until the new year so that visitors can admire the vibrant portrait in person and up close.
The A3 prints of May Love Be What We Remember Most are available for purchasing at the price of £8 each from the Riverfront Box Office. You can view the Box Office opening times and find out how else you can support The Riverfront online at newportlive.co.uk/Riverfront.
If you go up to the woods today, you’ll be in for a great surprise. Open your eyes take a deep breath and let Mother Nature take you on a tour of her wonderland.
Amidst the spectacular and historical Rhondda Fawr Valley lies an environmental organisation that is open to all. It is called “Welcome to our Woods/Croeso i’n Coedwig” incorporating the Skyline Project.
It is surrounded by the drama of Pen Pych Mountain and the majesty of the Cwmsaerbren Woods Treherbert. With the legacy of Nant Saerbren powering the micro hydro electrical resource which channels the supply to the area.
Avant Cymru, in partnership with the organisation brought the Hydro Jam event to Treherbert over several weeks during June and July. The event proclaimed a collection of creativity and activities, so many to note here. Marquees were erected to enhance the surroundings and supply covering in the event of changeable weather conditions, with refreshments and seating accommodated by hard working volunteers.
The event began with a dancing session bringing ballroom dancing to the forestry of flora and fauna, all taught on an outdoor dance floor and stage; then the BeatBox Boys added their specialty to the prize-winning Lewis Merthyr Band, combining the band’s brass instruments to the sound of the beat. “Cwm Rhondda” was never so melodic, with the ‘beat box’ technique adding to the enjoyment for both sets of performers. The event continued during the week with Sewing demonstrations, courtesy of Julie the Stitch, make up demonstrations, Zumba on Zoom, Pilates, BeActive, the Vogue group performed, there were Swing Sessions, plus demonstrations from young dancers all leading up to the eventual Hip Hop Jam Competition held on the very last day of the event.
It was an eagerly awaited eco-friendly attraction of entertainment from local Rhondda Artists which included BAGSY, LLOYD the Graffiti master, SUZI JOSHI who produced some fantastic paintings on Perspex, Rap Cyphers presented by Larynx, together with the support of James and Bridie DOYLE-ROBERTS of Citrus Arts. The Bella Vista Coffee Club brought their folk and easy listening music to the event, performed by Helen Probyn-Williams, Sally Churchill, Gerhard Kress, Jim Barrett and Ann and Paul Hughes.
Members of RCT Creative Writers Group read their poems and short stories – who can forget the poet’s admission of being “A Naked Gardener”? (All said in fun highlighting the creativity of words).
On one night there was a battle scene performed as a rehearsal for Avant Cymru’s forthcoming performance of Shakespeare’s Henry V.
The last day was the culmination of much planning, hard work and ingenuity during this time of Pandemic. Welcome to the Woods arena, courtesy of Avant Cymru, saluted the UK Breakin’ scene with BBoys and BGirls from across the UK participating in the UK Breakin’ competition. How can I describe such enthusiasm flexibility and sheer joy of expression in one sentence? Enough to say I didn’t quite know what it was all about until this day, I now know I’m a fan. An incredible intergenerational gymnastic dancing spectacle (how the heck did they get into that position?) and what was more, everyone – and I mean every entrant was happily encouraging and congratulating each other on their routines. Let us just say it showed what taking part is supposed to mean.
The final came down to BBoy Nene who had travelled from Birmingham and BBoy Callum from Cardiff with the ultimate winner being BBoy Callum who was a student of Emma’s Motion Control Dance Group of Barry. Representatives of the Breakin’ Organisation WOOSH had a lot to consider, (one had to be in quarantine for a fortnight as he had travelled from the Netherlands to be at Treherbert for this competition) there were three judges (who each performed their own routine to much appraisal) plus DJ Jaffa from Cardiff and DJ Silence. The anchor woman was BGirl Sunanda Biswas a Choreographer and Teacher from South London.
With thanks to all who provided the entertainment refreshments accommodation and an especially warm welcome to those who came to assimilate just who or what was where at Welcome to Our Woods.
Appreciation to Rachel and Jamie of Avant Cymru for the invitation to contribute as RCT Creative Writers Group Members to this event. To Gavin Owens for the media film and Lee Williams for the photographs.
The Valleys were alive with the sound of a community enjoying life and being entertained at the same time!
Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru – in collaboration with Literature Wales, Adra (Tai/Housing) and the lead artist Iola Ynyr – are delighted to announce a year of activity for people affected by addiction through the project Ar y Dibyn. This new development has been made possible thanks to the support of the programme HARP ( Health, Arts, Research, People), financed by the Arts Council of Wales, and Y Lab (Cardiff University and Nesta).
Ar y Dibyn gives people affected by addiction – whether they themselves are living with addiction, or supporting other people with their addiction – the opportunity to come together and share those stories in a creative way and through the medium of Welsh. With the artists Iola Ynyr and Mirain Fflur at the helm, the aim of the workshops is to promote creativity to celebrate the possibilities of addiction, rather than the obstacles it presents, and to develop heart-felt creative work to share more widely. Iola Ynyr, lead artist and founder of Ar y Dibyn, said: “It’s a pleasure to begin another series of Ar y Dibyn workshops within a year of activity funded by HARP. It takes great courage to participate in activities such as these after periods of isolation in the grips of addiction. But we offer an environment of acceptance without having to reveal any details. Creativity is the tool we will be using to open the door to our inner treasure. We look forward to discovering what will be created by our participants over the coming year!”
This year of activity will expand on earlier projects held face to face at Galeri, Caernarfon, and on-line during the lockdown periods. One participant who took part in a workshop at the end of 2020 said: “Fear held me in a tight grip, and I didn’t mention to a living soul apart from my husband that I was attending the workshops. Fear, shame, nervousness… but by the end I was looking forward to the next session. I hadn’t realised that there was an intention to create a film or script or anything – I had no end goal in sight, I just wanted to give myself some time and space to recover, to be in a room with people who were similar to me, people who understood, and to have the opportunity and the permission, in a way, to be myself, in my own language.”
With support from the North Wales Area Planning Board for Substance Misuse, Adferiad Recovery and Stafell Fyw, Ar y Dibyn also highlights the importance of the relationship between the arts and the fields of health and well-being, and responds to the need to develop the support that is available through the medium of Welsh. Professional health specialists are at hand in every creative session to give support as required. Rhian A. Davies, Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru’s Executive Producer, said:
“We are very grateful for this grant provided by Nesta, as part of their HARP (Health, Arts, Research, People) scheme, to develop the Ar y Dibyn project that gives people throughout Wales living with addiction an opportunity to come together to share their stories in a creative way and through the medium of Welsh. Our ambition is for the project to become permanent – in collaboration with partners in the health, care and third sectors, both current and new – and to show the importance of the role of the arts in recovery and health, and the health and well-being of Welsh-speakers.”
The HARP programme also focuses on giving the arts an opportunity to play a leading role in the health and well-being of the people of Wales. Rosie Dow, HARP’s Programme Manager for the Arts and Health, said:
“We’re delighted to be working with Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, Iola and their partners to explore how Ar y Dibyn can reach as many people affected by addiction as possible. We know that there is a need for Welsh-language creative interventions to support people’s recovery and wellbeing, and the team’s combination of passion and expertise will really help to change peoples’ lives for the better. HARP is all about how innovative projects like this can grow and become embedded in health and care in the long term, so we look forward to exploring with the team how that might be possible.”
The first series of Ar y Dibyn workshops in this new year of activity started on 6 July 2021 – but a warm welcome is extended to any participants or artists who are interested in joining the project. Go to theatr.cymru/arydibyn for information.
Hi Brad great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
Hi Guy, it’s great to meet you and be here for the interview and to share some about the exhibition with your readers.
A transplant from Alabama, I’m a visual dramaturge with a diverse practice – from set, costume, and projection design to assistant directing to more management/producing/development roles across a variety of genres, from opera to theatre for young audiences to new and queer works. I am the resident designer for Chicago Fringe Opera; was the program coordinator for Prague Quadrennial 2019; run the online magazine Ascending focused on emerging theatre designers, scenographers, and visual dramaturges; designed the award-winning British pavilion Make/Believe at PQ 2015; and have had work selected for World Stage Design 2017.
For me theatre is the ultimate art of collaboration – which I define as the exploration of ideas that do not exist until everyone is in the room. Really great theatre (wether narrative, musical, dance, opera, physical, or any other type) thrives on the intersection of a diverse group of people bringing their talents together to create a unique experience for audiences, and I try to always approach my work in that spirit.
What got you interested in the arts?
Originally it was music – I have vivid memories of these concerts on public television with two nested grand pianos playing full orchestral scores, so for most of my childhood I wanted to be a concert pianist. This led into choir and eventually theatre. However, I have always been interested in both the theatre making itself and the wider system, having studied business management and organizational theory at the undergraduate level. I’ve also always had a deep love of literature and history which have fed into theatre, as well as growing up around some great storytellers.
Some examples of Brads work below
You are curating a new exhibition at the Wales Millennium Centre called Your Voice which runs from 22 July – 29 Aug 2021. On the WMC website, the exhibition is described as “During the first lockdown the Wales Millenium Centre invited people of all ages to share their stories and experiences during this challenging time through art. The call out captured the imagination of the nation, and you received hundreds of pieces that responded to lived experiences over the past year – from lockdown to Black Lives Matter, to reclaiming the environment and our hopes for the future. Artworks were sent from all parts of Wales – from Pembrokeshire to Newport, Builth Wells to Caernarfon, and by artists aged 4 to 90 years old. The pieces include paintings, spoken word recordings, digital art, photography, installation, mixed media and film.”
How did you decide what artwork to exhibit and what are your hopes for the project?
Actually we didn’t decide in most cases – that is to say that almost all of the art in the exhibition was submitted through the open call and there was no curation in regards to what was included – everyone who submitted has their piece on display! There are a few pieces which were commissioned from community-based artists and some pieces which have come to the centre through partner organizations or other community groups, but overall the exhibition has emerged from the wide range of work submitted through the “Voices of Change” open call. We have also really striven to treat each of the over 400 individual pieces with real integrity – treating each equally as a wonderful and exciting contribution and having all photographs and digital creations professionally printed.
A selection of artwork from the exhibtion below
What I was charged to do was more curating the experience looking at the visitor’s journey through the building and how the art would all be installed. We looked at a number of approaches and ultimately settled on a series of thematic galleries, which give some sort of narrative frame to each group of works. We have also tried to create a unique one-way journey through the building, which includes all the major public spaces, three different views into the Donald Gordon theatre (including walking through a tech booth), and number of interactive engagement points. I have sought to be inspired by the spaces in the building and to create dynamic conversations between the physical space and the works in being placed in them.
Examples of Brad’ design for the exhibition below
I hope that people get a sense of the diverse communities and groups that not only make up Cardiff but all of Wales and of the creative force that lives here. The exhibition should not only be reflective, but also a real celebration of the creative resilience that has lived on and thrived over the last 18 months.
You are also exhibting work from the Theatre Design course at RWCMD, how did they come to be involved?
Actually, we are exhibiting work of emerging designers from 4 different courses across Wales –University of South Wales, Aberystwyth University, Coleg y Cymoedd, and RWMCD. We have some of the best training in the world for theatre designers in Wales, and many of the course have been industry leaders in the last year of finding ways to continue practical training and making work under all the COVID challenges, and I wanted to celebrate these amazing artistic incubators that contribute so much to Wale’s cultural life.
When I was offered the role of curator, part of it was a commission to design an installation to be part of the exhibition. Instead of which, I decided to showcase the work of these emerging artists working in Wales. The last year has particularly hit emerging theatre designers, who are often making less than minimum wage to begin with in addition to the emotional and mental stress that the industry places on those just starting out. And yet, there are a good number of designers who are working in Wales regularly with smaller fringe companies but are often overlooked by more established producers who go after London-based designers. So, I wanted to really bring some of these creatives to the forefront.
We are hoping that the general public gain a greater understanding of what designer’s do, with 4 of our designers offering more in depth looks into their process. It might also inspire some young people who have not considered theatre design to think of it as a possible career path or to pursue at university. There are so many opportunities developing now for those interested to get involved and for fresh voices to be developed, and I hope that this part of the exhibition plays some small role in encouraging people to become storytellers themselves.
You are an ex RWCMD student yourself what designers inspire you practice?
There are so many thst I find that really difficult to answer. Last summer I was on a podcast called Beyond the Lights and on listening back I realized I mostly just talked about other designers.
I’m definitely inspired by the work of Gary McCann and of the late Paul Brown, but also that of Sophie Jump, Vicki Mortimer, Stefano Poda, John MacFarlane, Colin Richmond, Leslie Travers, Luboš Hrůza, and so many others. I’m particularly interested in how different genres and disciplines intersect and can create new or more impactful audience experiences.
Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision. Are you aware of any barriers that creatives in Wales face? If you are, what might be done to remove these barriers?
Specifically in theatre, I think there are three big barriers. One, at least as an emerging designer, is the list of skills that you need to even get someone to look out the window – let alone get your foot in the door – is immense and basically only acquirable through doing a good university degree, which are often competitive entry. However, courses like RWCMD are eager to have a greater range of voices on their courses, but really struggle in connecting with young people who might consider that a career. So the whole industry has to do the work directly and support degree courses in planting the seeds early with people from all socio-economic backgrounds that encourages and inspires them to pursue theatre as a career.
Secondly, the performing arts industry is almost exclusively operated on a “who you know” basis, so there is a huge pressure on networking and continuously putting yourself out there despite a continuous stream of rejection (or in most cases unanswered inquiries). Adverts for roles as a theatre creative (whether designer, director, or choreographer) are few and far between, with theatre’s inviting artists to make work with them most of the time. So it becomes a very insular system with breaking in being a game of sheer luck. When I moved back to Wales in autumn of 2019 I reached out to almost every company I could find in Cardiff and the surrounding area, some of whom I had met previously or had mutual connections that encouraged me to introduce myself, and only 3 even returned my emails, and all of those responses were “thank you for your interest but we have the people we like to work with and have our next three seasons already planned out”. I can’t think of any other industry like that.
And finally, there is a real barrier to establishing yourself in this career, which is now at least being discussed more widely thanks to platforms like Scene Change, but still in nowhere near as honest or dynamic terms as it needs to be addressed.
Most emerging theatre designers are working obscene hours – sometimes 60- or 80-hour weeks – making far less than minimum wage trying to make it all work and often getting almost no credit for their contributions to productions or projects. It is absolutely emotionally, mentally, and financially draining. Many of the people I would have said would be the greatest designers of my generation have already left the industry – people whose work was so beautiful that it would catch my breath and leave me speechless in brilliance far beyond their experiences – they have moved onto other brilliant careers, and that is terribly sad. The industry really is overdue a reckoning about career development and paying people a living wage at all levels.
With the roll out of the Covid-19 vacancies, the arts sector is hopeful audiences will return to venues and theatres. If theatres want to attract audiences what do you think they should do?
Venues and producers really need to consider and actively listen to their audiences. They need to find authentic voices and ways of connecting with those who they want to attend the work and ask themselves how they can better serve the communities that surround them, whether that is a small local organisation or one with a national pull. Far too often decision makers think they know what audiences want or engage projects which are only superficially giving voice but at the heart are quite hollow or ego driven by an artist. Why this story? Why now? And why is this person (or group of people) telling it?
And a big soap box of mine is don’t just ask global majority artists to work on or tell stories that are uniquely theirs. Engage artists and ask them what stories they want to tell and support them in doing so!
If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?
It would definitely be smaller companies that are doing really dynamic work both in engaging young people and new audiences and those taking chances on new creatives! There are some really wonderful people working hard to produce work on tiny budgets and what they could do with more funding would really be industry shifting.
What excites you about the arts in Wales?
The shear breadth of quality work that happens across Wales. But also I look around and see so much potential – there are so many places, building, and institutions that are ripe for a renaissance of sorts and I hope that potential really blossoms into an even more dynamic and flourishing global arts scene.
What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?
I got to sit in on a dress rehearsal of the RWCMD puppetry performances inspired by the Artes Mundi artists – there were some absolutely inspiring moments ranging from reflectively poetic to slapstick style comedy – the creativity and dedication of the first year designers never ceases to amaze me!
National Dance Company Wales’ young Associates premiered their new Dance film titled ‘Now Begin’ at the U Dance Cymru 2021 Digital Dance Day on Saturday 15 May, it was made in collaboration with Artes Mundi, and creatives from across the theatre and dance sector in Wales. The Associates film has now gone on to be selected (along with other dance films) to represent Wales at the National U Dance Showcase 2021.
NDCWales’ Associates meet weekly at the Dance House, Cardiff between September and April through workshops led by a team of NDCWales dancers and leading instructors in dance. Each year the Associates work towards creating a final performance.
Guy O’Donnell, NDCWales’ Learning and Participation Producer said of this years final performance “We were really looking forward to creating a new piece in collaboration with Artes Mundi 9, which would have been a performance at the Artes Mundi exhibtion at National Museum, Cardiff and at the Youth Dance Night event held each year at the Dance House. Fortunately we were able to evolve and adapt this performance for online audiences, which has resulted with us working with some exciting creatives and now results in a special premiere for us at U Dance Cymru 2021.”
‘Now Begin’ is a reflective piece inspired by the current work exhibited at Artes Mundi 9 by Indian artist, Prabhakar Pachpute. The film portrays young dance artists sharing their desires for change in the world. Inspired by Prabhakar Pachpute’s Artes Mundi exhibition’s themes of protest, these dance artists share their vision for a new beginning through movement and voice. Choreography is by Kokoro Arts and The Associates. Music by Tic Ashfield and Film by Gavin Porter.
You can watch Now Begin below
Below you can watch a Behind-the-Scenes look at the making of ‘Now Begin’ featuring interviews with Prabhakar Pachpute, Kokoro Arts, The Director of Artes Mundi 9, Nigel Prince, Curator of Public Programmes, Artes Mundi 9, Letty Clarke and Associate Dancers Ellie Gale, Heidi Thomas and Harly Videan.
The National Dance Company Wales Associates programmes is currently open for applicants to audition for the term starting in September 2021.
For over a decade, National Dance Company Wales has been nurturing some of the most talented dancers from across Wales and developing their skills
Based at the Dance House, the home of NDCWales, the Associates (ages 14-19 years old) follow a programme created by Faye Tan, our Learning Lead Dancer, with the guidance of our Artistic Team. The Learning Lead Dancer is a member of our Dance company and is a point of contact for the Associates. The LLD gives feedback and support during the programme.
Over the course of the year, our Associates programme focuses on improving creative and technical skills, along with developing work for performance opportunities that the Company creates for them through the year.
We have a limited number of places available and successful applicants are chosen through a free audition workshop. The audition workshop consists of a contemporary technique class where dancers can show their skills and potential to our Company dance experts.
NDCWales Associates provides high level contemporary training for young dancers. Sessions run on Sundays during term time (Welsh schools’ term timetable) from 10:30am – 12:30pm and are taught by Company Dancers and guest artists.
As part of the Associates programme, members can access;
Assessments and guidance from our Learning Lead Dancer.
Additional creation and performance opportunities available to those interested.
Mentoring opportunities from NDCWales Associate Artists.
Access to reduced price tickets at The Dance House and Wales Millennium Centre.
Opportunities to access dance activity in collaboration with National Youth Dance Wales.
Career Development Talks
Work Experience Opportunities
The Associates programme also offers two bursaries, applicants are invitedto apply for the bursary upon acceptance on the programme.
With bursary one, you’ll need to pay £202 for all of the weekly contemporary training classes and Dancer Wellbeing Days. The optional Creation Week package will cost an extra £77. (Total amount payable, £279).
With bursary two, you’ll need to pay £50 for all of the weekly contemporary training classes and the Dancer Wellbeing Days. The optional Creation Week package will cost an extra £20. (Total amount payable, £60).
You can apply to audition at the link below, applications close on Friday the 4th June. Auditions take place on Saturday the 10 July and Sunday the 11th July. Applicants will audition in small groups for approximately 150 minutes.
Hi Kate and Jo, great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
Kate: I was born in London and spent my early years in Tanzania and Mexico before returning to the UK aged 11 to go to a quaker boarding school in North Yorkshire. After school I trained as a dancer at Thamesdown Contemporary Dance Studios in Swindon and then did a BA in Dance Theatre at Laban, in London. Then I started a feminist dance company called Nomads which ran from 1989 – 1995, doing performance and education work. When the company ended I spent a few years doing all sorts of things, car maintenance courses, creative writing courses, stunt training, delivery driving, caretaking. Then I got a job as a dance lecturer at University of Surrey where I spent 10 years. In 2010 I moved to North Wales to be in the mountains and feed my passion for rock climbing. I got a part-time job at Bangor University as a lecturer in performance. During the 10 years I have spent here, I began my own vertical dance company, Vertical Dance Kate Lawrence (VDKL).
Joanna: I’m an artist from North Wales, I grew up on the coast near Conwy. I left Wales when I was a teenager to study art. I ended up living in the USA, working in a really eclectic range of jobs that included furniture maker, running a market stall, selling pizzas, working in a shoe repair shop, photographer for the US government and then working in the art department of film and theatre productions. In 2001, shortly after September 11th, I got a job as a videographer on a sailing boat doing a global circumnavigation, as part of an pioneering interactive, online education project. That was a turning point that eventually bought me back to Wales and took me into working in documentary, in many different forms.
What got you interested in the arts?
Kate: I come from a family of professional musicians on my father’s side (although my father was an amateur) and my mother is a visual artist and potter so I grew up in an arty environment. I did a lot of dancing alone in my bedroom as a child – the pandemic has reminded me of this as I have returned to my bedroom as a dance studio. I think what I love about the arts is that it is really a way of thinking, a way of being in the world that is centred on experience, expression and communication.
Joanna: I grew up with a parent who had a severe mental illness. In the 80’s in North Wales mental health services were poor to non-existent, both for those with mental illness, and their families. In the arts I found a way to express ideas and connect with others that I hadn’t been able to previously. I specifically credit the generosity of the wonderful artist and teacher Dave Pearson who I met as a young art student, he saw some of the weight I was carrying at that time and encouraged me to tell stories with my work and experiences, and also to find playful ways to get it out into the world.
Kate I believe you are working on a new project called ‘Portrait and Landscape’ its described as “a series of online bi-monthly events for the international vertical dance community and beyond. It was conceived by Wanda Moretti incollaboration with Kate Lawrence and Lindsey Butcher. The series runs bi-monthly until the end of October 2021 “.
For those who may be new to the term what is ‘Vertical Dance’ and how did you come to be involved ?
Kate: Vertical dance is a newish term that refers to dancing in suspension – the dancer is suspended using climbing or access equipment, such as harnesses, ropes and abseil devices. Often this is against a vertical wall (hence the term vertical) which becomes the ‘dance floor’. So it often takes place in public space, on the sides of buildings.
I got involved with vertical dance when I started climbing in the late 1990s – as part of training to be a stunt woman (that never happened!). I found the movement of climbing very similar to dance and when I began teaching at the University of Surrey I asked if I could run a module called vertical dance. That began in 2001 and was the beginning of my development of the practice. I began teaching dancers to climb in the climbing wall and getting them to develop choreography from that and then gradually I introduced suspended dancing. In 2005 I embarked on PhD study into vertical dance and that led me to meet other vertical dance artists from around the world. The first two I met were Wanda Moretti from Venice and UK- based Lindsey Butcher, and we are still working together. I finally finished my PhD in 2017 – it took me a long time because I was working and creating at the same time!
Kate, what is your ambition for Portrait and Landscape?
During the pandemic it has been impossible to do vertical dance practice for me and I spent 2020 doing other things – gardening mostly and some writing – this has been quite a healthy break from a very busy time. This series of events was the brainchild of my colleague Wanda Moretti and she invited Lindsey and I to collaborate with her on running it.
The ambition is to bring international vertical dance artists – and anyone else who might be interested – together at a time when we are all isolated and distanced. The current time is an opportunity to connect across borders and learn about how different artists practice the form and also to keep our artistic minds working! My company, VDKL, has received some funding from Wales Arts International to support this project which means we have offered 3 bursaries to Welsh artists. It also enables us to explore making the series more accessible.
You are both working on a project researching into Dance for people who are blind, this sounds fascinating please tell me more!
Kate: Yes, Jo and I are working on a project called Yn y Golau/In-visible Light, which began in 2016 as a collaboration between myself and photonics scientist Ray Davies – a Synthesis project funded by Pontio.
Photonics is the science of light – I didn’t know that until I met Ray. The project developed and in 2019 we did a research and development project funded by ACW with a couple of test performances. Our purpose was to make a show that tried to build accessibility for blind and partially sighted people into the creation process, rather than audio describing a finished product. It was a huge challenge and we were assisted by a visually impaired actor and aerialist, Amelia Cavallo.
We constantly asked ourselves: what would this experience be like if we couldn’t see? And this led to some new ways of working for me as a choreographer. Sometimes I would close my eyes and listen to the dance… It also reminded me that dance is a kinetic art form not a visual one. Sometimes I think we focus more on shapes we see than movements we feel. We invited blind audiences to the test performances and then interviewed them afterwards to get feedback on how successful our approach was. We then received further funding from ACW to develop a touring show, but the pandemic has made us change our plans. We are now working on a film and we also have some seed funding from Clwstwr to do further research into access for blind and visually impaired people to performance.
Joanna: Kate first asked me to work on Yn Y Golau as a documentary filmmaker. In my work in documentary I’m especially interested in how new technologies can be used in storytelling. In Yn Y Golau I felt there was potential to explore how to share the work in an interactive, non linear way, which might better enable us to think about how to move beyond the screen, and think more deeply about how the embodied experience, that was central to Kate’s live work, can be expressed or shared digitally. There are also a lot of documentary elements in the project, and we are exploring how the project audience can choose which aspects they want to engage with.
Prior to this project did you have any knowledge of areas such as audio description for theatre/dance?
Kate: Yes, I first started thinking about audio description back around 2008 when I was asked to do a workshop at an audio description seminar at University of Surrey. The topic then lay dormant for me for several years, and then in 2016 I was asked by Mari Emlyn to make a piece of work for the foyer of Galeri. It was the year of the centenary of Roald Dahl’s birth and so we made a new story built from the drawings of primary school children of their favourite Roald Dahl characters. The piece was called Omnibus and was performed in the foyer of Galeri with the dancers flying in the space overhead.
We created a bilingual (Welsh and English) recorded audio description alongside the soundscore so that everyone in the audience could hear it. From our current research I know that this is sometimes referred to as ‘open audio description’. The traditional method is that an audio describer is in a booth describing events as they unfold, straight into the ears of the visually impaired person, who wears headphones. Headphones can however be distancing, muffling and isolating so I felt it was important to search for ways in which to make the work with accessibility built in.
Joanna: Absolutely none, and that is really motivating me. When I started looking and learning about it, I am not proud to say, I realised how I had never really considered this aspect in any meaningful way. I know I was also, unfortunately, in a majority.
If a dancer wanted to stay and train in Wales and then pursue a career, what support system would you suggest they require in order to be able to do this?
Kate: I can only speak for North Wales, where it is virtually impossible at present for a dancer to train in the conventional, vocational sense – I think there is more capacity in South Wales, but even there options are limited. To make a career entirely in Wales I think it is necessary to take every opportunity available and to be very self-motivated and resourceful. VDKL employs mainly North Wales based dancers, who I have trained in vertical dance techniques. This is because I want to build a community here, however small it is! The dancers I work with have trained in dance outside Wales and returned. I also want to provide employment opportunities for local artists and persuade them to stick around! My company used to run affordable twice weekly training sessions of 3 hours each but we lost our space in 2017, and now with the pandemic training has become impossible. But we are hopeful for the future – the beauty of vertical dance is that we can go outside! In an ideal world a dancer building a career in Wales needs regular affordable access to dance training sessions and also affordable access to space to dance. A vocational/degree programme would also be very helpful.
Are there any examples of training systems or support networks that exist in other nations that Wales could look to utilise?
Kate: France has a great system of support for artists that pays them whilst they are ‘resting’ between jobs. This gives them time and financial support to continue their training and professional development. Many European countries have arts centres that offer space and residencies for artists. Access to affordable space to practice is essential and it would be great if each region of Wales had dedicated spaces or ‘homes’ for dance. I have been doing daily practice sessions during lockdown with Wainsgate Dances in Hebden Bridge, England and this is an excellent example of an artist-led initiative that has built a community of dancers who are now contributing to the provision of residencies for other artists at the centre.
Joanna: I’ve been very inspired by people who have built their own networks where none exist. I’m part of the Arts Territory Exchange project, it facilitates collaborations in remote locations that are cut off from the networks which usually sustain a creative practice. I think as an artist it’s very important to be part of a community of support, to develop and challenge your work and ideas, and to share skills with others. There are some great DIY examples out there, the Artist Residency in Motherhood set up by Lenka Clayton is another inspirational network
What does Wales do well in dance or cultural training and delivery?
Kate: In my experience support for the arts in Wales is a friendlier affair than my previous experience in London and the South of England. I have found local venue managers and programmers to be great collaborators and the Arts Council of Wales officers are approachable. I think cultural training and delivery in Wales is ‘on a shoestring’; the positive side of this is that it is extremely adaptable and mobile – it has to be due to the geographically dispersed activities. But it needs centres too, and not just in Cardiff. The bizarre thing is that it is quicker to get to London than Cardiff for North Wales dance artists looking for training.
Joanna: In my experience Wales supports it’s creatives well and gets a lot out of small budgets. However there are real impacts currently in relation to access to arts education, and the financial barriers for those who want to study. I feel strongly that this will further negatively impact diversity in the cultural sector. About the centres that Kate mentions, I’d say something about the impact of Covid this last year, there has been more cross Wales collaborative working, in my experience, which is great, but the Cardiff region still has a hegemony in terms of cultural projects, and I’d like to see that be distributed more widely across Wales.
Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision. Are you aware of any barriers that creatives in Wales face? If you are what might be done to remove these barriers?
Kate: Well we are working on access for blind and partially sighted audiences. Our research so far is showing that provision for these audiences, particularly for dance, is very limited. A perceived barrier is that it costs of a lot of money to provide access and independent artists/small companies with very limited resources can’t afford to spend extra money; this is also true for the larger companies. I would like to challenge artists to see how they might begin to build accessibility into their work so that it can be appreciated by all. A big barrier for many in rural areas is getting to and from performances, so any schemes that provide transport can be really helpful.
Joanna: To build on my comments above, barriers to access can be many, including financial, but there’s also a lot of potential positive learning from the online way of working that’s been adopted because of Covid. Personally, as a carer and parent of a school age child I’ve been able to take part a lot more, due to events being online. It would be a shame for this to be abandoned when things open up physically, because in my opinion it’s cracked open cultural provision MUCH more widely. I’d like to see ways of live-online access being continued for people who can more easily engage in this way, and supporting people where access to stable internet is an issue.
With the roll out of the Covid-19 vacancies, the arts sector is hopeful audiences will return to venues and theatres. If theatres want to attract audiences what do you think they should do?
Kate: I think first and foremost, theatres need to ensure that they are safe spaces and then market that fact very clearly. Perhaps look at small, socially distanced audiences, and commissioning work for this kind of audience. Working outdoors is a great option for providing safer access to arts and this can then be a draw for people to return to the theatre.
If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?
Kate: Dance of course! I think dance is always the Cinderella of the arts and tends to receive less subsidy. We all have bodies – we all move – and our physical and mental well being can be enhanced through dancing. I would love to see the creation of small dance centres around the country so that local artists and the community in general have somewhere to meet and dance. They don’t have to be for dance exclusively, but should provide the space necessary for dance – and rigging points for vertical dance of course.
Joanna: Really good interdisciplinary arts education. The studio based art college system that supported so much groundbreaking creative work across the UK has been decimated. Artists are great problem solvers, and skills in the arts are widely transferable.
What excites you about the arts in Wales?
Kate: I love the maverick nature of the arts in Wales. People are making work in the most surprising places and this gives rise to exciting new techniques and approaches.
Joanna: It’s collaborative & supportive, there’s some great, innovative work happening in cross disciplinary settings. The arts in Wales is embedded into our culture in quite a unique way, the Urdd does amazing work with children and young people. There were 12000 creative works across music, dance, spoken word and visual arts made by children who entered the online Eisteddfod T this year for example- That’s amazing!
What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?
Kate: In our last Portrait and Landscape event San Francisco based choreographer Jo Kreiter shared with us her project called ‘The Decarceration Trilogy’ a long term project looking at the US prison system and its effects on citizens. It was a really moving and inspiring offering to our community and a great example of the power of dance and the arts in general as a tool for examining issues of social justice. Here is a clip of Jo talking about her work in general
and here is a link to a film of The Wait Room that she showed during our event:
Joanna: I am currently a research fellow at the Open Documentary Lab, MIT where I recently saw a presentation of Hatsumi VR It is an amazing project in development that uses virtual reality to allow participants to visually express experiences of pain, emotion and sensory experience in audio visual body maps.
In the article below members of the Get the Chance team share why the work of Get the Chance is important to them and their lives.
You can make a donation to support the work of Get the Chance here
Guy O’Donnell, Volunteer Director
Hi my name is Guy O’Donnell and I am the director of Get the Chance. In this short article our team share with you how vital Get the Chance is to them and their lives. If you can support our work, please donate at the link above.
Get the Chance is a social enterprise based in South Wales. We are Wales based with an international outlook. We work to create opportunities for a diverse range of people, to experience and respond to sport, art, culture and live events. We use our online magazine website as a platform to showcase our members activities. We provide a fantastic opportunity to develop cultural critical voices and ensure that people from certain groups of society, people that are often forgotten or unheard, are given a platform to share, review and discuss their lives and critique work in a public platform.
Not only have we supported conversations about the arts and culture in Wales, but we’ve also broken-down barriers and asked questions about who actually gets to critique art. It is this democratisation of criticism that is crucial to a healthy and thriving artistic community that listens to everyone. Thank you.
Gemma Treharne-Foose, Volunteer Director and Critic.
Hi, my name is Gemma Treharne-Foose. I’m a board member and volunteer with Get the Chance. We’re a community of volunteers, activists and enthusiasts dedicated to expanding the reach of arts, culture and sports in Wales. At Get the Chance, we exist to create a space and a platform for people to participate, engage in and respond to theatre, arts and culture. In particular, we help people who are perhaps traditionally hard to reach and support them to access and experience these spaces.
Part of the work we do with our community is to encourage and support them to build up their skills, responding to, vlogging about, and writing about their experiences accessing arts, theatre and culture, and also helping them access particular schemes and initiatives with partner organisations.
At the moment the arts and live event industries in Wales are hurting and they’re struggling right now as they try to access support and gain audiences in these uncertain times. I believe this is an arts emergency and I want part of my work with Get the Chance to support the industry to get back on its feet again and to get audiences enjoying live events and theatre again.
If you also want to support and highlight Welsh theatre, arts and culture then I’d encourage you to get involved. Let’s shine a light on the amazing work happening right now in Wales. The show must go on!
Barbara Michaels, Volunteer Critic.
As one of the most senior reviewers who has known Guy O’Donnell for many years, I can’t stress enough how important it is that Get the Chance continues to support the youngsters who want to become involved in the arts, many of them with the aim of a career in the media.
During the time over the years I’ve been reviewing, I’ve been really impressed by the young people who are coming up into the ranks, who have become very knowledgeable and very enthusiastic about their involvement with theatre. Unless we get some financial support, it’s going to be so difficult to continue with an organisation like Get the Chance which does so much good, giving opportunities to young people who wouldn’t have them.
With the cost of seeing the performances of opera and ballet and theatre rising, and inevitably it is going to rise more, it is absolutely vital that we have some support both financially and in all aspects of an organisation like Get the Chance. Thank you.
Kevin B Johnson, Volunteer Critic
Hi my name is Kevin, I work in an office, I like long walks on sunny beaches and I’m Sagittarius. Apart from that, I’m a member of Get the Chance because I like seeing new shows, new films and sharing them with other people, bringing my discoveries to others and getting a chance to view them. I like to highlight what I love about the shows that I’ve seen.
Becky Johnson, Volunteer Critic
Hi my name is Becky Johnson and I’m a member of Get the Chance. I’m actually a freelance dance artist based in Cardiff and I’m a member of Get the Chance alongside that. So with my practice I tend to create work, I tend to perform and I tend to teach, and a big part of me being an artist is making sure that I can see as much work as possible and then also understand the wider perspectives, on not only dance but also the arts in general and the things that are going on in our current climate and our local area.
So with having Get the Chance alongside of it, it allows me to access these different things and to get opportunities to see these, which I wouldn’t necessarily financially be able to do otherwise. Also, it allows me to have that time dedicated to just look at these things analytically and also just to really try and understand what is going on in what I’m watching and what I’m seeing, rather than just watching it and acknowledging what’s happening. Writing with Get the Chance gives me an opportunity to use my voice to promote the things that I really care about and things I’m passionate about, the things I think need to be highlighted, whether that’s something that’s problematic that I see in a show or something that I think’s wonderful that needs to be shown more of and we need to see more of.
Another opportunity that I’ve had recently which has been amazing is the opportunity to interview people that I’m very proud to have had the opportunity to speak to and to be able to give them a voice to speak about their platform and what they’re doing. This is really important to me as a lot of these issues are very important and very close to home and I think it’s something that without this platform I wouldn’t be able to do.
I’ve always loved writing, it’s something that I did always want to pursue but by being a member of Get the Chance I’ve been able to continue my writing in a way that’s still linked with my practice. It means that I can find the balance of both of these feeding each other. I’m really grateful for having this opportunity.
Leslie R Herman, Volunteer Critic
Get the Chance has been one of the ways I’ve been able to maintain a connection to the arts and culture in Wales. I’m writing this message from New York City. It is mid-August 2020. I’ve been unable to get back to Wales due to the Covid pandemic and the global lockdown. Not only am I really missing Wales, I’m missing connection, to people, to places and to the arts and culture that I’ve grown to love and live for – arts and culture that have helped me thrive throughout my life.
At the moment it really feels like we’re all of us spinning in our own orbits and cyberspace is our most vital tool but if that’s all we’ve got, I’m afraid it’s way too nebulous for me. I need to feel more grounded.
Get the Chance really has given me the opportunity to get grounded and to connect to people, to the arts, to culture. It’s given me the opportunity to mentor young people and it’s given me the opportunity to extend and rebuild my own career. What’s marvellous about get the chance is its open and flexible approach to giving people a chance to connect to culture. Why don’t you give Get the Chance a chance?
Beth Armstrong, Volunteer Critic
Hi! My name’s Beth. I’m 24, and I’m from Wrexham, North Wales, and I’m currently training to be a primary school teacher. I’m a member of Get the Chance because it allows me to watch a great range of theatre performances which I wouldn’t normally get to see due to financial reasons, and also allows me to see a really diverse range of different kinds of theatre which I think is great for expanding my knowledge and experience of theatre in general.
Having my work published online is a great opportunity for me because it allows me to have a wide audience for my writing, and it also allows me to engage with other reviewers and read their work as well, so it’s a really fantastic opportunity.
Samuel Longville, Volunteer Critic
When I left university, Get the Chance was a really amazing, creative outlet for me. I was able to see so much theatre for free which would have been really difficult at the time, having left university as a not very well-off student. I was working a quite tedious nine-to-five job at the time so Get the Chance really served as that kind of creative outlet for me, allowing me to see as much theatre as possible, and not only to see it but to think about it critically and write reviews about it. So it really let me utilise the things I’d learned on my drama course at university.
I’m soon to start an MA in Arts Management at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and I think, without Get the Chance, my enthusiasm possibly could have wavered over the past year, and I still may be stuck doing the same nine-to-five job that I was previously doing. So I really can’t thank Guy and Get the Chance enough for all the opportunities they gave me over the past year.
Helen Joy, Volunteer Critic
Hi! My name is Helen Joy, and I’m here to talk a little bit about my experiences with Guy O’Donnell and his extraordinary Get the Chance. I joined Get the Chance as a 3rd Act Critic when it started, which is a couple of years ago now, and I was a little less grey(!), and it has given me the most extraordinary opportunities that I would not have had the opportunity to take otherwise. For example, I was able to go to the Opera regularly, something I never thought I’d be able to do or that I would enjoy. I’ve been a keen follower of modern dance – ditto, never thought I’d do that – and it’s also given me the chance to really think about how I evaluate things.
So, for example, much more recently, I was given the chance to interview Marvin Thompson. I think this gave me one of the biggest challenges I’ve had for a long time. He, and the experience of planning and conducting an interview, and recording it visually and hourly on Zoom, made me really think about, not just how I wanted to react to him and to his work, but how I felt about it.
Often, I fall into a particular category: of the classic middle-aged, white, educated woman, where the opportunities are already ours, and we’re very lucky with that, but we’re also quite a silent group. People don’t really want to hear what we’ve got to say, which is why we tend to shout it from the rooftops I think; or why, equally, we disappear into the aisles of supermarket. This has given me and my colleagues tremendous opportunities to re-find our voices and to share them, to listen to what other generations have to say. It’s been a really important experience for me. Long may it continue. Thank you!
Barbara Hughes-Moore, Volunteer Critic.
My name is Barbara Hughes-Moore, and I recently completed my Doctorate in Law and Literature at Cardiff School of Law and Politics on Gothic Fiction and Criminal Law. So by day, I’m a scholar, a reviews editor, and a research assistant; and by night, I write longer retrospective pieces on film and television through a gothic and criminal lens on my personal blog.
I’m a member of Get the Chance because its mission is all about increasing the visibility of, and accessibility to, the arts for everyone. Since becoming a member, I have attended and reviewed numerous theatre productions at the Sherman Theatre, the New Theatre, and Chapter Arts Centre. I’ve been a featured speaker on the Sherman Theatre’s post-show panels. And, more recently, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing director Alison Hargreaves on her short film Camelot for the Uncertain Kingdom Anthology. Most importantly of all, Get the Chance has not only given me a voice – it has given me the space, the opportunity, and the confidence to use it.
Gareth Williams, Volunteer Critic
Hi! My name is Gareth. I am 29 years old and I live in North East Wales, and I’ve been asked to say why I’m a member of Get the Chance, and I want to answer by slightly rephrasing the question in order to say what Get the Chance means to me. And first of all, it means having the opportunity to respond to the arts in Wales; to contribute to the discussion around arts and culture in Wales; and to engage with various art forms.
To that end, it is an opportunity to support and promote artists and organisations, particularly those that I’m passionate about. So for me, that looks like theatre, particularly the work of Theatr Clwyd in Mold; music – I’m a fan of country music, and it’s great to be able to showcase Welsh country music talent on the Get the Chance website – and TV drama. Welsh TV drama is going through a bit of a golden age at the moment, and it’s great to be able to be a part of that as somebody who critically reviews these shows as a writer.
I’ve always been much better at writing than speaking. I’ve never been very good at expressing an opinion though because of low self-esteem and confidence. But being a member of Get the Chance has given me an opportunity to express an opinion. It’s increased my self-esteem and my confidence to speak about how I feel about the things that I see and watch and listen to and engage with. And I think, for me, that is the most important thing about being a member of Get the Chance: that opportunity to express an opinion which, a couple of years ago, I would not have had the confidence to do.
Sian Thomas, Volunteer Critic
Hi! My name is Sian. The main reason I joined Get the Chance is because I love reading and I’ve always loved reading, and I really like having a definitive place where I can put down my thoughts on any piece of media and see people respond in so many different ways, and even the authors of the books that I’ve reviewed responding in so many different ways as well. It’s really lovely to have that kind of freedom of expression and I really value being a member.
Amina Elmi, Volunteer Critic
I am a member of Get the Chance because it gives me a platform where I can speak my mind . It allows me to give my opinion and being able to do so enables me to explore the media, the news and whatever preferred genre or medium of entertainment I want.
When it was introduced to me I was into writing and that has helped shape what dreams and ideals I have while also keeping my writing skills at a solid, good level. I am fortunate to be a part of Get The Chance because it has given me opportunities that I would not have had otherwise.
Hannah Goslin, Volunteer Critic
I am a member of Get the Chance because theatre and the arts is what I eat, live and breath. To be able to connect with fellow performers, practitioners, critics and journalists is a wonderful chance to learn, be inspired and to network.
EXPERIMENTICA is a live art festival in Cardiff that encourages risk, collaboration and exchange between artists and audiences.
The festival commissions and hosts a dynamic programme of live art, performance and interdisciplinary projects and offers a platform for UK and international artists at all stages in their careers, to present experimental work in an open and supportive environment.
The 2021 festival will explore narratives and alternatives to the status quo; questioning accepted ways of thinking; giving a voice to the underrepresented and challenging existing forms of storytelling – exploring democracy, agency and open authorship.
Chapter will advertise a call-out for proposals for this in March.
In the meantime, Chapter is commissioning three artists to make new work for their interim ‘EXPERIMENTICA Presents’ strand.
They hope that this opportunity will create space for reflection and experimentation during these challenging times.
Chapter is looking for artists based in the UK whose practice, prior to COVID, focused on live art or contemporary performance and who need support to explore ways of adapting their approach to making and sharing their work.
Each commission will receive a £1,000 fee.
If required, Chapter can offer free access to one of their studio spaces in Cardiff for up to one month between March and August 2021.
Chapter especially welcomes applications from those who identify as having currently under-represented characteristics. This includes black and non-black people of colour, disabled people, individuals identifying as LGBTQIA+, those with parental responsibilities and people from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
The decision-making panel will include a varied demographic of lived experiences including Chapter programme staff and independent practitioners/curators.
Artist Jonny Cotsen, who performed at EXPERIMENTICA18 with Louder Is Not Always Clearer, is to join the selection panel. Produced and directed by Mr and Mrs Clark, Louder Is Not Always Clearer has since gone on to tour across the UK and Europe including a hugely successful run at 2019’s Edinburgh Fringe and most recently at Théâtre de la Ville, Paris.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Bristol based poet, Lawrence Hoo. It was a truly enlightening conversation and we discuss all things Race, Class and Education. You can find out more about his latest projects at www.lawrencehoo.com or more about the Cargo project at @cargomovement on Instagram and social media. (Becky Johnson)
Read Part 1 below to see what he had to say:
Hi Lawrence, it’s lovely to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
Hi, my name is Lawrence. I live in Bristol, well I’ve lived in Bristol for almost my whole life, and I’m a poet.
I was born in Birmingham and grew up in mostly marginalised communities in Bristol. I spent a lot of my youth in and out of the care system. I went to 6 secondary schools and after that, I didn’t have any form of education. I was a feral kid on the street from the age of 6 and a runaway. When I was 19, I had cancer and I went through a bad stage of my life after that. I thought that the cancer was going to kill me anyway and I went back to living on the road. And then at 30, I became a father for the first time. To be honest, it scared the living daylights out of me. But that’s about it vaguely.
I wanted to see if I could make myself a better person and make more of my life. So I went back and re-educated myself and began to teach others how to use computers. I did that for four years and got burned out. So, I started to do my poetry.
My poetry came from a place of rage and from questioning why the authorities were allowing situations to occur in these certain environments rather than in the rest of Britain. All the laws that need to protect people exist but for some reason the action isn’t being taken to enforce them.
A point of that was when my partner was picking up our young son from nursery in Saint Pauls and she was approached. We then, campaigned against paedophiles being allowed to stay in the hostel which backs onto our nursery. It came out and we succeeded to make Bristol safer.
And that’s why I use poetry as a platform to try and make these changes happen.
I acknowledge that a lot of your previous work and ethos is grown around Bristol and the things that surround you there. I know that similarly to Tiger Bay in Cardiff, Bristol is going through a huge gentrification process. I was wondering on what not only your thoughts are on this but also what impact you have already seen from this?
I think is painful to see the gentrification. It goes back to those laws again., they hold all of these problems in communities.
In Saint Pauls there would be safe houses to protect those from people who have committed crimes as well as hostels for those who have committed crimes. There was drug rehabilitation centres and parole offices, but they were put next to the only place in Bristol, where you could legally sell drugs on the streets. They put the drug users next to the drug dealers, they put the people at risk from sexual crime next to those who have committed sexual crimes and they put prostitution on the streets by schools.
They took all of these issues and put them into an area which was where the African Caribbean communities are, so they often associate these problems with the African Caribbean communities. But, if we take things back to sherlock Holmes times, there were people smoking opium and he would investigate the murders of prostitutes. All these problems came along a long time before we came to Britain.
The children who are growing up in Saint Paul’s, because of the violence, lose their innocence way too young. That’s what I find heart-breaking. The way Saint Paul’s was policed (well actually I say policed but it was more so ‘contained the issues so they didn’t affect the other communities’) means the influence and protection of those other communities, is so different to what happens in Saint Paul’s.
Building prices are going up which is forcing working class people to move out of the areas which they grew up in. With Saint Paul’s it’s the council assets. The things that the working class need the most will be the first things to go. There’s no chance for people to come back into the communities they’re from. And with the services are removed, the communities become very affluent causing the communities to shift and there is nowhere for those that grew up there to live in the area.
So adding onto that, what do you think of the increase of students and the spreading of students away from Gloucester road and into Saint Paul’s? Is this bringing a positive impact, or is it doing the opposite and removing opportunities for those that are from the area?
It was always going to be a natural progression that Saint Paul’s was going to be reclaimed because of where it is located. It’s just an expansion of an affluent area but, at the same time, all it has done is push out the communities that was there before. It just benefits one community and marginalises another. It’s heart-breaking.
I’ve grown up there and lived there. It’s always been my safe spot. Regardless of all of the chaos of the city, if you’re from African Caribbean descent, it’s a safe place. It’s just devastating. Gentrification is devastating. I don’t see any positives from gentrification.
As a homeowner, gentrification has increased the value of my property. But there’s not much of my community left. I feel like a stranger. Some people say yeah but you can make money from it, but I’ve lost my home. I’ve got my house, but the community is my family. That whole family aspect of life is gone. My home is gone.
I don’t think people actually understand what it’s like to lose that familiarity, that security and that family. What it’s like when its gone.
The university of Bristol is such a huge entity in the city, and it needs to do more. I’m working with the university now, but I want to work with it to help collect the wider communities of the city and to support them. Everybody says black lives matter. But working-class people’s lives matter.
The whole city is classist.
Its problem the main issue of the city. There’s the golden circle for a mile around the city which makes a very affluent area. But one thing that’s very rare to hear in this area is a Bristolian accent. A lot of Bristolians are cast out of opportunities here. I believe it’s time for those big institutions to connect and to gather communities to raise their platforms with them. A part of Bristol is accelerating so quickly but it is leaving a huge part of Bristol behind.
So your latest project, the Cargo project, has recently received National lottery funding (congratulations). Why was the Cargo project initiated and how was it developed into the current version in which it sits?
In 2007 I did a collection called HOO stories. Which was a response to the abolition to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It was an opinionated set of poems that held a non-Eurocentric view. It was holding up a light to the actions of Europeans and gave a positive light to people of African descent, allowing it to be seen from an African-centric view. It pointed out people that had contributed greatly to society but who had pretty much been emitted from history.
Cargo was an extension of this. Looking at what people have been told has been done and then showing what has actually been done as well as looking at what you have actually done yourself. Cargo showed African resilience and African’s generating opportunities.
The beginning of the collection probably looks at the first 400-500 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, when people were just classed as cargo. Covering that journey and how they were put in the conditions that made them in slaves as well as the achievements of those of African descent. It starts in Bristol and then goes into the slave trade, the Hacienda revolution, H Samuel Sharp, and the uprisings and then continues with those that fought against and contributed to civilisation. An empowering narrative for what is usually, a very disempowered history.
It was done because I live in Bristol and you cannot get away from Bristol’s history. Every building you look at is made from Bath stone which came from that industry. I live in a city that’s very painful to live in.
As a young black man, I couldn’t get my head around the fact that men didn’t fight to defend their wives and children. I always thought, my people didn’t fight then but I can fight now. When I realised that they did fight and rebel, that changed for me. I thought that people were so dehumanised that they stopped seeing themselves as human and it breaks my heart. But then, you realise that they did fight and what happened to them, was crimes.
But they saw that evil, and they fought and fought and fought. I wanted my children to not grow up with the same anger that I had and that’s where the collection came from. I want to give the children of Britain the opportunity to not be me.
It started off as an installation as four different shipping containers on College Green (Bristol). The idea of using shipping containers removed the permissions needed to display this information e.g. the approval of museums and galleries. We didn’t want to have to prove that our work had value to other institutions. So that although there were permissions needed, it was a lot more flexible than the others. But because of Covid-19, the idea of putting people in a confined space walking around stopped being possible.
Covid-19 took the installation and we thought, how do we keep this moving forward? How can we make it more digital? We wanted to give people accessibility to information. So we went forwards with the Classroom project. The installation although on hold, is still in process.
The Cargo Classroom project is so important and it’s brilliant that you’ve been able to kick off something as monumental as this. What do you believe is the next step to get this information into mainstream education?
We produce a product that they feel they can’t not use, that’s the first step. Making something that people want to use and then work towards getting that into the curriculum.
This is the crazy thing, for years, we’ve been pushing and pushing but because of what’s happened in the last 6 months, people have actually come looking for us. That has been a huge change. The most important thing for us to do, is to keep focussed on what we have already been doing and to not get involved in loads of things. This is what we were doing before we got national attention. We need to make sure we deliver what we set out to deliver before we then look at what the other opportunities are.
The funny thing is, I’m so excited for what were doing. The possibilities are insane. This is the right time, we have the right product and we have the willpower to push it.
The attention will soon fall off if people aren’t prepared to put the work in. What is happening currently isn’t new, we had a global black lives matter campaign 4 years ago. And literally, outside of America, in a few weeks, it had gone.
We don’t need huge numbers as long as we keep pushing the right buttons. The group who did the protest a few months ago are still going and are making sure its not going anywhere. This young group, I believe they’re going to keep it going and make some change, for real.
Here in Wales, where Get the Chance is based, there is a campaign calling for Black history to be taught to Welsh pupils in school which has received more than 30,000 signatures within days of it being set up, educating pupils on subjects like British colonialism and slavery.
Whilst many ministers in government (both in Wales and England) acknowledge the need to shine a light on how colonisation has been glorified, why do you think the latest bill passed through parliament was rejected?
I think a lot of this information has been oppressed for so long that if too much of the information came out too quick, it would undermine the whole of the UK government. The whole industrial revolution was built off the back of Africans.
What is actually owed? People ask are there reparations for the past? The gains are still received today. Companies are still using Africa as a resource. They gave the countries back their independence and to the people they gave back their freedom, but it was only on the surface level that they gave it back. They didn’t give back the land or the wealth that was generated from the land. Africa is not just filled with Africans. There are huge debts to be paid.
How would the English pay off the compensation that is needed? They could give them their natural resources, and then the interest of anything earned off those resources, and then, maybe, Europe would need the aid and Africa doesn’t. The economic balance would collapse.
We need to teach people their worth, their value and what was truly stolen from them. Not only their names, identities and homes were taken but so was the ability to nourish themselves from their ancestral background.
They’re afraid to teach the history because what happened was absolutely appalling and everyone would see that. England played its part right through the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the South African apartheid in the 1990s… The 1990s.
There’s just a lot of fear. With the crimes that were committed, there’s a lot of responsibility. People think Africa contributed a lot less to society than it has because a lot of African history has been emitted. But over time the internet will allow people to get this information, which before would have been through privilege. This will add some truth to history. And European governments will have to be accountable for their actions.
In part two (coming soon) Lawrence discusses Change and what changes we need to see (and make) to make a fairer and more equal future for us all.
Creating opportunities for a diverse range of people to experience and respond to sport, arts, culture and live events. / Lleisiau amrywiol o Gymru yn ymateb i'r celfyddydau a digwyddiadau byw