Category Archives: Art

“An Empowering Narrative for what is usually, a very Disempowered History” An Interview with Lawrence Hoo.

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?

Through fear.

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.

The Invisible Ones Are The Influencers For Those Who Are Always Visible. An Interview with Ffion Campbell-Davies

I had the pleasure of interviewing Multi-disciplinary artist Ffion Campbell-Davies recently. In this interview we will be talking all things arts, creativity, Identity and Wales.

Credit Vikki Marie Page

Hi Ffion, it’s lovely to meet you and to get the opportunity to pick your brains. So just to introduce yourself to our readers, please can you give them some background on yourself and how you define yourself as an artist?

I was born and raised in Wales and moved to study at London School Of Contemporary Dance, graduating in 2013. I have since worked in various avenues within the industry as performer, teacher and choreographer. Over the last 5 years I have been developing my own artistic practice and creating my own work as well as collaborating with other artists.


I term myself as a multidisciplinary artist as a few of my disciplines other than dance are at the core of my work. My self produced work cross pollinates with music production, text, voice, expressionism, exhibitionsim, dramaturgical principles and [more recently] visual & digital art.

Credit Celine Fortenbaucher


I am a co-founding member of all female company collective House Of Absolute; we are a diverse group of multidisciplinary females creating boundary crossing, politically active theatre, sight specific and digital movement, sound & visual works collectively and independently.


My work explores themes and subjects around psychoanalysis, gender, race and spirituality, working with experimental devices and the influence of ritual to dismantle conditions around definition, power and politics.

So moving to London from Wales to gain better opportunities in the arts seems like a common trend among young people. Why do you think that is and what can we do here in Wales to change that?

I believe Wales has a lot of resources within its artistic demographic, with multiple communities of various levels and spheres of skill and knowledge. I recognise that infrastructures have excluded and disabled social mobility for many communities in being able to exercise and contribute to the collective central culture of arts in Wales.


There are many conditions which are similar in all cities here in the UK, but I believe London has an effective fluency in generating micro economies for artists to exercise and contribute to the collective culture. There seems to generally be more structures in place for diverse sources of funding to support varying different artistic communities, where sub cultures are actually at the core of reinforcing and empowering the collective. Because of this naturally people of any socio economic background have more of an access point to engage in the artistic climate, with more spread for opportunity and information to be easily accessed.

It is difficult for communities/artists outside of the capital culture [in regards to Wales; the traditional welsh cultural agenda] to be part of the solution of development and empowerment when many organisations of funding, or spaces of information and power are gated for exclusive representatives.


I see diversity as a fertiliser for soil, just the same way varying different types of stimuli rapidly develop the neural connectors in our brain, we need constant interaction with varying different human beings of different traditions, sciences, arts and practices to fuel innovation. This is something London taps into very well, in which I believe people from all over the world are drawn to.


Traditions are never lost and I believe Wales has a wonderful opportunity to find synergy with its ancient history and the fertility of its vastly diverse origins to energise and activate all representatives in wales of all different cultural backgrounds to cross pollinate.

As you have mentioned whilst in London, you’ve been a member of the company ‘House of Absolute’ which combines various street styles alongside other styles of movement. How has Hip-Hop culture helped to develop you as a Contemporary artist?

Hip-Hop has been at the axis of my growth and development. It is one of the most iconic symbols for the term ‘contemporary’ quite literally it is with the times. Hip-Hop is not only a ‘style’ but also a culture and even a philosophy with which most people involved would say it is a way of life. Hip-Hop is a mode of resistance, a political instrument for reconstruction. It is one of the most influential cultures on the planet, because of its wealth of knowledge and teachings through trans-generational art, it is legacy.


It is a cultural library archive of the preservation of people of the diaspora, which houses many different languages of the body, many trans-migrational stories of the intersectionality between races and cultures, and serves as a global home for people of any origin to communicate through mind body and spirit.

Of recent years Hip-Hop ‘theatre’ has emerged as another form of innovation to supplement indoctrinated Eurocentric modalities of black box performative culture. The marriage of visual art, story telling, acting, poetry, immersive engagement, grime music and the genius of Hip-Hop movement language and musicality. This has had a great impact on transforming my perception of using theatre space as ritual, broadcasting cultural and ancestral presence.

Overall my support and mentorship has come from;
Dance communities and peers in the underground Hip-Hop scene,
Artist4Artist an organisation run by artists for artists 
Founding members and representatives of Sadler’s Wells Breaking Convention festival. 

Growing up in Cardiff, do you think there is a significant Hip-Hop scene here and what do you think can be done to help it evolve?

There is definitely a Hip-Hop scene in Cardiff, however maybe lacking a cohesive integration of the multiple layers and dimensions of inclusivity. It is important for artists of all practices, sectors, class and culture to be in dialogue.


For examples different Hip-Hop music and visual artists, writers, poets, event organisers, venues and dancers could have more consistent relations with each other. If there aren’t visible invites and hubs/centres for representation, cultural information remains fragmented, and the overall culture cannot develop infrastructures for impact. Funding is also at the core of this.

Credit Vikki Marie Page

I understand that a lot of your work uses Identity as a concept. When in WHO (2017), you said “#TheSystem and #Society do not provide space for authentic self”, what did you mean by that and do you still find it relevant today?

I do believe society has had a long term relationship with resistance to change, and the notion that homogeny is safe, difference is threat. I recognise the culture of duality that has been at play for a long while, and that at present we may be realising as a collective society in our need for each other, dependence and preservation as a whole, which is the acknowledgement of polarity and the active inclusion for unity.


We still seem to have many protected and guarded infrastructures which dictate our attention towards fundamentalism, with which any organically evolving contemporary innovations outside of societally validated constructs are met with fear, discomfort and rejection, unless it is something recognised and originated within elitist culture.

So to draw from these concepts and bring it into the personal sphere, I believe we as individuals have the capacity to re invent ourselves any way we choose, but at the cost of being questioned and challenged constantly by those who are still existing within societal constructs.


On the one side, anything foreign to those constructs causes great discomfort, essentially the unknown, an anomaly to which we feel out of depth with our relatability. On the other side there is fatigue; being misunderstood, misrepresented, displaced, excluded, silenced, ignored, isolated and questioned. For many that is a lived experience that is still happening today. I think these polarities exist everywhere because it is essentially to do with consciousness and perception.

I feel lots of things have become cataclysmic in our society of recent. People are really fighting for spaces to empower authenticity and difference. Actually pioneering companies and representatives look to bespoke and eclectic minority individuals for inspiration and influence. The invisible ones are the influencers for those who are always visible. For example if we’re talking about fashion and media, it’s everyday people who inspire and influence those making decisions on top about what gets modelled and represented.  

I still believe there are conditions we are pressured to obtain in the broader mainstream culture which restrict us, only validating and respecting things we are a custom too, things we are told and taught have value, anything outside of that does not posess the same power.   Things we do not understand, we do not like or we do not feel comfortable with we disregard. But authenticity, originality and honesty is so powerful, in the overall context of polarity, we as a society now are recognising we need these attributes, and we are seeing willingness for difficult and uncomfortable conversations in the wider culture.

In my perspective for the majority there’s still a lot of shame, fear and taboo around self expression, and this is what makes art so evocative. When many people feel the fear of judgment, they look to artists who do and say all the things most people are terrified to do, there is this sacred unspoken empathic emancipation shared between artist and audience.  

You also spoke about the concept of ‘Mind, Body and Spirit coming together at a meeting point’ in an interview with Catch the Vibes last year. How does this psycho analysis come into the process of your making? Be that your movement or your other creative outlets?

It is particularly through the lens of dramaturgy that I get the opportunity through my work to investigate psychology. I often find that for performative works to have concrete coherence in how the work is experienced, there needs to be psychological integrity, either between the relationship of the performance and audience, or also the chronology of the work, and what the work is doing, what role it serves as an experience.

Quite often I have a focal drive to want to evoke and impact the audience in some kind of interpersonal way. In order to do that safely I really do need to understand the effect on myself of what I’m experiencing. The effect of the process, what psychological journey am I undergoing just to create the work, and then from that process constructing an infrastructure that allows me to guide the viewer into the areas of enquiry that exist in the work.


I work with all layers; the visual, the audible, the sensory, the intellectual, to find different ways of inviting my audience into the non verbal conversation between spectating, listening and actively responding. Regardless of how big or small those social queues are, we all feel it when an audience collectively holds their breath at a certain point, sometimes its the silence that communicates consent, or the twitch or cough coming from the upper left auditorium, we know that particular person just non verbally objected ‘subconsciously’.


If it’s an immersive work, there are other dimensions at play, with proximity being a massive psychological conversation. There is our body language and our power dynamics; whether an audience member sits on the floor cross legged, or stands right behind me, we have varying different capacities of what access points we have to a psychological dialogue. And then I wonder which way can I communicate this performance. Of course eye contact and touch being the most dynamic contributions. 


All of these elements play a vital role in my process, and its why ritual is such a pivotal instrument for creation in my work. Ritual allows the mental/psychological space to be more transient, meaning I can access the collective mental space with the openness and safety of a held experience set by intentions. This naturally propels the willingness of an audience to be vulnerable with me in the conversation, allowing for suppleness and great changes to occur in perception.

Performance work is always a conversation for me, it’s not about interrogating my own psychology to create work, it is about really understanding psychology to execute distinct forms of communication between my work and the audience. To do that effectively I need to understand a great deal of my own psychology. I feel that’s where the freedom to shift perception and rewrite history comes from, the game changers who change the world through art.      

Credit Vikki Marie Page

How has lockdown affected you as an artist? And also what long term effects, do you see Covid-19, having on your artistic practise?

Covid has given me the opportunity to redefine my priorities, values, boundaries and reinforce my principles. I have had to question my purpose beyond the industry, and become aware of areas that I have not developed and the areas which I have neglected in myself.


This time has also allowed me to rediscover a new way of living, a new way of working and a new way of communicating. I have had many moments of exhaustion, overwhelming bewilderment and uncertainty, but none of these feelings are new to me, in fact the last two years have been so groundbreaking’ly challenging that lockdown was like a breeze. The political and economic climate however has had a great impact on my perception of reality and my stability within that. But it’s the sense of community that has become more evident during this time for me, with a beautiful anchoring in the various relationships I have with people that have grown deeper and stronger during this time.  

Following on from that actually, how has lockdown affected you personally? I recognise that we often separate performers from people and that needs to be raised.

Lockdown has allowed me to journey inwards with a great deal of introspection and time to reconstruct myself from the core. These are elements I do practice, however there is never usually time to really uncover the uncomfortable subconscious patterns that need redefining, when I am moving from one project to another with usually no recovery time.

Although challenging, I have been able to sit with myself and confront difficult things and rewrite those narratives.
I have also been able to connect with people I would have never usually connected with prior to Covid, simply because online networking is far more direct and immediate. Fundamentally I have been able to slow down and have moments of stillness and solitude, amongst the chaos.

I’m a big fan of the ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ podcast and something they do on each episode is ask their guest “If they were in government as an advisor for their specialist field, what would be the first change that they would make?”
So I’d like to ask you, if you were an advisor/ representative for the Arts sector, what would be the first change that you would make?

I would want to change the ‘perceived’ division between economy, finance and the arts. I believe so many fundamental movements within history and society sit on a large library of knowledge in strategy, financial infrastructures, economic preservation, assimilation as well as generational business modes that support successful agendas in all industries.

Often even the simplest areas for accessing training in these fields are seen so far removed from the arts. Educational models are often attuned to industries regarded superior, operating purely from strategic principles within business sectors.

We as artists have major blind spots because of the lack of accessibility to especially tailored training schemes, courses, workshops that provide tools within understanding the financial politics of the arts and its economy. We are unhealthily dependant and unempowered to a degree with previous models such as Arts Council funding applications being the main and only doorway for many. Yet this cannot guarantee long term support and struggles to give artists/companies/organisations stabilised independent agency over their future careers. I’m sure at some point in time we have all witnessed the impact of funding cuts for companies/artists, resulting in the immediate amputation of their capacity. Funding has already been challenging particularly for individuals outside of certain socioeconomic class groups and artists who haven’t had the opportunity to generate credibility with sponsors or funding audiences. Many artists with an excellent capacity are unable to generate work at the rate of their potential. This is debilitating and capping our capacity for genius as an overall industry, only select few names get to exercise their worth. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can say a great deal of artists do not get the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding on modes of financial strategy in relation to the artistic climate.

I’m not saying we all as artists need to study business and finance, because often all of that knowledge is difficult to contextualise in specific relations to the neurodiversity of an artist and the unprecedented lifestyle that an artist might live. But what I am aware of is the benefit of having specialists within business, economy and finance working with artistic representatives to establish an access point hub for freelance artists/organisations and younger generations educated to equip themselves with the knowledge and tools to create financial and economic engagement, allowing agency and fluidity within their artistic career.

We as artists promote ourself like business products, we sell ourselves through business models, but if we are to now look at the future of the arts industry, the greater economy an it’s impact on the rest of the world we need to be equipped with the tools to know how to adapt, preserve and not only survive but thrive as artists. I do feel such aspects should be addressed and mandatory within the training of an artist, not just be trained on how to become an artist.

In order to create powerful art that actually has long lasting impacts on humanity and society in the evolution and rewiring of the human conscious, we need money, and we should be educated about how we can generate that independently.
We see the value in funding science, it shouldn’t be any different for the arts.

So to conclude, Is there anything that you’re currently working on or anything that you’d like to highlight/ share with our readers?

I’ve been refining and redefining the development of my personal practice, which has felt like a monster to tackle as I exist in multiple sphere’s of discipline. Looking at the intersectionality of where a process begins and ends and where meeting points bridge between one discipline to another within the practice. How voice informs the body and vice versa, and also how multiple forms of conditioning/training practices converse/overlap or contradict within the body. What technique do I hold onto and what do I let go of.


In the productivity of what I’m currently working on is a body of work that holds both my music identity and my visual art and movement identity. I’m generating a portfolio which involves self produced songs with the layers and the depth that I would usually engage with in my conceptual theatre work. Looking at how I can make my approach to music production more performative, and have my body as equally a visible voice as my lyrics and my singing. I’m wanting to use the medium of music and song composition to speak on behalf of things I would usually devise and create dance theatre. I want to present narratives both through live art and digital where the boundaries and cultures blur between music gig and dance theatre. I will be supported by Kaunstrum Gallery to create and present an exert in the autumn.


Aside from that I am collaborating with musician Soweto Kinch for a conceptual music video, and composing/producing/researching with Isaac Ouro-Gnao and Tyrone Isaac Stuart for a production called the Oreo Complex.

Thank you ever so much for your time Ffion, it’s truly been a pleasure talking to you.

Participatory Arts: Thinking Beyond Lockdown – Community Arts. Jên Angharad, CEO, Artis Community

Jên gave the presentation below as a part of the recent Zoom Participation Meetings. This meeting was supported by Art Works Cymru, NDCWales and Tanio. Thanks to Jên for sharing her statement.

Cyflwyniad Presentation: Participatory Arts: Thinking Beyond Lockdown – Community Arts. 18/06/2020

Bore da… good morning! Jên Angharad ydw i… I’m Jên Angharad… a year into my current post as prifweithredwr… CEO with a wonderful organisation that is Artis Gymuned – Artis Community.

Cyn i mi ddechre… before I begin… hoffwn jesd diolch i Guy, Lisa a’r partneriaeth, sy’ ‘di gwneud y sgyrsiau ‘ma’n bosib… ac am fy ngwahodd fel un o’r siaradwyr… I’d just like to say a big thank you to Guy, to Lisa and the partnership, that has made these discussions possible… and for inviting me to contribute as one of the speakers…. Diolch o galon!

So here we go…. Yn meddwl tu hwnt i lockdown… Thinking Beyond Lockdown … catapulting between what was…. what is … and what MIGHT be… at a time projecting into a future that is still unknown! Sounds like a dance improvisation to me! 

I’m not going to talk about the work that Artis did before lockdown, (perhaps you can visit the website if you want to know more about that – https://artiscommunity.org.uk) because beyond lockdown is of course, about our futures… the future of us… as creative, cultural organisations, of independent artists… the future of us as a practice… and the future of us as a community of practice that includes the people who we are building relationships with and people who we’ve yet to have the privilege of meeting, making and growing with…

A future that sits within a broader arts ecology, currently in crisis.

Mae ‘na fwy o gwestiynnau nag atebion… There are many more questions, than answers and so, I asked the Artis team and board, what are the questions they are asking about our future as an organisation and as part of a national practice beyond lockdown and I’m focusing this reflection on just some of the many questions they’ve shared with me!

So this is a collective effort that we can continue to explore further with our communities.

The first question is a big one! It asks for thoughts on how the community arts sector might navigate its way out of lockdown? This is probably a question many of us are trying to answer!

When we consider community arts as a sector, currently capsuled into zoom boxes and flat screens, I think navigation requires kindness, it requires us to take good care of our health and wellbeing and to support our colleagues and friends, so that we are then able to maintain good connections and support as best we can, the people in our communities who make and feed our collective creative practice.

Then I like to think that we can draw strength from being a community of practice that holds a common unity locally, regionally and nationally, we are after all a people practice. We are a community of improvisers, planners, dreamers, strategists, collaborators, communicators and engagers and isn’t it fantastic when we come together to share concerns, find solutions to puzzles and celebrate successes! Conversation platforms like this one are providing a space to reflect, share and learn… connecting, re-connecting and I hope, strengthening our collective knowledge, practice and passion into the future. The more we do this, the more we can feed a shared understanding and form a united voice, which I’m sure we can all agree, is needed if we are to convince the Westminster government, that the social and economic value of community and participatory arts, is crucial to the wellbeing of our both our current and future generations.

The next question asks… What impact can we have now, in the next few months and further ahead into the future? 

In Artis we’re learning through the stories of current lived experiences that in as much as it can never replace social 3 dimensional gatherings and interaction, we are making some difference to people who are engaging in our current digital, local doorstep drop offs, telephone conversations and posted activities… for some living in isolation and without access to digital technology, the non-digital activities provide a crucial connection with the outside world and that of their own imaginations.

Our digital activity has had a surprising impact, I think mostly on our own thinking about the possibilities that digital engagement can create!

The main driver for this development was an urgency…. a concern about how, during lockdown, we could possibly maintain a connection with the people who regularly take part in activities.

Refocusing practice into a digital domain is time-consuming work, but it’s worth it in terms of connecting people during social distancing, it means we can continue to employ freelance artists and we’re learning new skills!

But, if we are to survive beyond lockdown, we face an even bigger challenge and that is to add our voices to the voices of Arts Council of Wales and Welsh Government in influencing the thinking of the Westminster government… to call them to understand the need for and the benefits of, locally driven community and participatory arts experience… on health & wellbeing, on learning, on skill development, on identity, on our sense of place in this world, on our environment and on the economy and regeneration of communities. [These are] Community and participatory arts practices and experiences that are priceless and can be life changing.

Efallai mwy nag erioed… We now need perhaps more than ever, financial investment in the arts, and importantly, not just in the larger organisations, but in smaller companies and charities and independent artists who do incredible work in and with communities of people who can otherwise be invisible and feel the weight of injustices, amazing people who are entitled, after all, to explore a world of imagination, creativity and growth.

I attended an ArtWorks Cymru partners meeting yesterday to discuss the Parliamentary Committee for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s call for evidence, of the impact of Covid-19 on DCMS sectors… the deadline is Friday – that’s tomorrow! ArtWorks Cymru is drafting a national response and if we can, as organisations and individuals also submit responses, however small, our national voice – our sector voice can be louder. Our immediate challenge is to convince the current powers that be, of our relevance. 

Projecting forward… Beth yw’r heriau… What are the challenges of facing a new and different future?

There are undoubtedly big challenges ahead, not only in the practicalities of coming out of lockdown, and transitioning into choreographed… physical… social… spaces, but also in how we approach this… mindful that social distancing, isolation, ill-health and grief will have impacted individuals in many ways and require sensitive approaches to re-engagement.

Lockdown has unearthed the ugly truths about inequalities and injustices in our society and in as much as the Artis vision is well intentioned, we, as an organisation need to question what we mean when we say:

Mae ein gwaith yn ceisio creu lle i bawb

I brofi rhyddid mewn creadigrwydd a grym i ddarganfod gwychder mewn dathliad o fynegiant artistig.

Our work seeks to create space where all people

find freedom in creativity and are empowered to discover great moments in a celebration of artistic expression.

If we truly mean ‘pawb’ … ‘all people’, then we must proactively change our focus towards areas and cultures we are failing to reach in the South Wales Valleys. We know that we can’t do this alone. We need to work together with organisations and individuals to achieve this.

The unknown is perhaps, for most of us an uncomfortable prospect. But I think if we look to our community and participatory practices, that are by their very nature, improvised, uncertain, adventurous, unexpected… we can remind ourselves, that we can call on these same resources to propel us forward into the unknown, knowing that our collective creativity and resilience will see us through.

Diolch am wrando… thank you for listening!

Participatory Arts – Capturing The Learning, A Response From Naz Syed Freelance Creative Practitioner, Visual Artist and Travelling Teacher

In response to the lockdown triggered by COVID-19, many arts organisations have taken their work online, sharing content for audiences to view for free. However, creating participatory engagement online is much more challenging and, as a sector used to being face to face with people in their practice, it’s clear that the current restrictions change the nature of participatory arts based activity substantially.

Following a vital conversation on social media led by Guy O’Donnell, Learning and Participation Producer, National Dance Company Wales which opened a discussion on how we can deliver participatory arts effectively, a range of partners are collaborating to lead Zoom discussions for the sector where we can talk about the impact of the lockdown on our work and work creatively together to think beyond the lockdown.

In partnership with ArtWorks Cymru a series of free Zoom meetings have been set up to discuss and share current working practices in participatory delivery.

Capturing the Learning

These Zoom meetings will explore how we capture the learning from organisations and artists who are currently delivering projects. We’ll explore what methods are working well, what are we learning through this experience, and how we are adapting our working practices.

Naz Syed a freelance creative practitioner, visual artist and travelling teacher with over twenty years’ experience in community engagement and education. She will be speaking at the meeting organised by Youth Arts Network Cymru 5pm – 6pm Tuesday 9th June. The meetings are free to attend but numbers are limited. At the meeting Naseem will outline some of the challenges and solutions she has created to support the public to access the arts in the current climate.

Photography by Women of Newport

In the photograph above I was featured in the Women of Newport exhibition in my home, my mother’s art work on the wall and the textile banner I created with the community for charity Baby Bundles. 100 women’s hands created by different groups and individuals, including Go Girls, Public Theatre, The Riverfront and Llantarnam Grange. The banner was featured on BBC news and was part of the Processions to mark 100 years of women getting the vote.

Hi can you tell me a little about yourself and your practice?

Hi, I am a freelance creative practitioner, visual artist and travelling teacher with over twenty years’ experience in community engagement and education. Working in community and education settings across a range of visual art disciplines, specialising in fashion, textiles, mixed media and applied arts.

My type of work is in the heart of the community with The Night Out Project ACW, I am a freelance facilitator, I work with school groups from Primary to Secondary and community groups with children, young people and older adults in South East Wales, Cardiff, Newport and the Valleys and more. Supporting schools and community groups to promote, market and deliver an event with a selection of touring theatre groups in unique settings. Sessions include; PR, design, promotion, print, fundraising, budgeting and health & safety. Each event is organised with a leading theatre company for the public after 6 weeks of event planning. I have worked on the Night Out Project for over 6 years. Working with each group for 6 weeks with creative tasks, enterprise, building resilience, collaboration and confidence. building up to a final show with a touring theatre, including PuppetSoup and Circo Rum Ba Ba.

One of my favourite pieces of theatre to be involved with was Dirty Protest Theatre, ‘How to be Brave,’ I worked on audience development in Newport and supported the promoters with Coffee and Laughs at Community House, Maindee to create a community event. A really powerful and moving on woman show and totally captivating and even better that it was about Newport!

http://www.dirtyprotesttheatre.co.uk/now-on-how-to-be-brave

Credit Fez Miah, Night Out Project
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Credit Fez Miah, Night Out Project

Women of Newport

I work as a freelance art tutor in different venues including the Riverfront, Llantarnam Grange and local community spaces and organisations. Delivering arts classes, holiday workshops, family sessions, school visits, Criw Celf.

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I have developed and delivered creative projects in education including an eco fashion project called Ringland Runway, with KS2, year 2 class and year 4. Eco Fashion project I developed and delivered with support from Newport Fusion at Ringland Primary School. Creating outfits with a Year 2 class and year 4 eco team, in recycled and reclaimed paper, plastic and upcycling donated clothing. The children won the enterprise troopers foundation award with the enterprise and sustainability project and featured in the Big Splash festival.   

Photos Ringland Runway – Gareth Croft Films, Newport Fusion.

With Arts & Education and the innovation seed grant, I worked with Blackwood Primary School to develop new ways to create, respond and reflect, making their own sketchbooks, collages and using mixed media. Using the exhibition in a box, a portable multi-sensory resource that explores the theme of silence in connection to the First World War by Head4Arts. The children’s poems and artwork were published in a book by Burst Publishing

I am an Arts Award Advisor and I deliver and support accredited courses. I am Lead Creative practitioner trained. I have delivered creative CPD workshops to teachers, and arts organisations as part of the Arts & Education Network, South East Wales and created learning resources.

I enjoy working with others and building their confidence to develop creative skills. I am currently delivering Art Clwb workshops voluntarily in my home each week on facebook live, Sofa Share Wales. Where people engage live, ask questions and create work along with me. I also run a featured artist each week where people send in their artwork created with the theme, inspired by the workshop and one artist chosen by the public wins an art bag. I have found this a way to support families and teachers with workshops and ideas for children at home.

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My passion lies in the power of the arts to connect, empower individuals, communities and cultures, bringing a sense of belonging. How art can transform the perception of yourself and others, promoting wellbeing and mindfulness.

What challenges did lockdown present to delivery of your participatory practice?

Lockdown has affected my freelance work in projects and venues which I have worked for years. My work is based in the community and in education – creative practitioner visiting schools and Night Out Facilitator, ACW. The schools I was working with at the time had created such wonderful work and unfortunately the week it all changed was their theatre events with PuppetSoup, Land of the Dragon. I was absolutely gutted to not be able to host these wonderful shows with the children, but they were all understanding, and I plan to go back and do a creative workshop once things have settled. It all just went silent and the main part I love about what I do had just stopped suddenly, I found it quite isolating at first and I was worried about the groups and individuals I worked with. A wonderful group I connect with called Coffee and Laughs set up a zoom and then I started to reach out and have conversations with others to see how we could adapt and move forward.

I also deliver creative workshops within heritage, cultural sites and communities, theatre and arts centres, in the holidays, at events and some weekends. Until further notice, all of it just stopped, due to outside visitors in schools stopped and then all the venues and schools closed down. It is a people facing job and due to the venues being closed, other staff furloughed, schools shut and community spaces my current freelance work was cancelled.

Once projects and communities are back, there will still be restrictions and possibly they could not accept visitors and some of the groups I work with are more vulnerable, so they may not want to attend events and projects afterwards. Future work is uncertain and difficult to determine. Creativity and the arts, now more than even is key to wellbeing and to connect us all.

What systems did you put in place to ensure delivery?

I had conversations with other artists, practitioners and organisations to discuss and share best practise, safeguarding and digital delivery through zoom and calls. I spoke to community groups I work with and some parents, teachers about ideas and ways to adapt things.

The sharing of our learning process aswell as others, is key to moving forward and navigating our way through.

Did you have any particulate challenges or success that you would like to share?

I am currently delivering Art Clwb – #CreatewithNaz each Saturday on Sofa Share Wales, with live workshops, community art gallery and featured artists each week, who win a creative bag. Promoting creativity and being resourceful in your home, using recycled and reclaimed materials.

The current times have made us feel isolated and arts is a ways of bringing people together. Creating in their homes and making us be more resourceful with the items around us. The community gallery shows work from families, children, artists collectively. A featured artist is chosen each week to feature on the page and I have been putting together bags of creativity for them to use. The connections with artists helping donate bags, Newport museum supporting some of the materials going forward and the conversations I have had each week have meant so much. It has helped me greatly too, when all my work is focused on others being creative and that spark and energy, also moments of calm and concentration are so important. To see videos, creative pictures and happy faces and videos of others sharing their work..there are just no words to describe it! I have had to adapt and look at new ways of bringing people together and getting my workshops out to them. As I don’t have many set groups, I am a travelling teacher and artist at different events, community spaces and schools. So this static creativity has to move and adapt in a different way.

A creative learning in the arts project was cancelled, so I had to find new ways of working with the teacher, to keep creative ideas alive for the children in Year 6, Blackwood Primary School. So I have been sharing the resources and online workshops with the teacher. To have videos and images of the creative tasks each week sent to me, has kept me connected to the group and one of the group has even been making his own videos as a presenter, which as wonderful.

‘One of the best aspects of distance learning during lockdown was the impact of Naz Syed’s Art Clwb activities. As a teacher at Blackwood Primary School I reached out to Naz for some inspiration on what creative tasks I could set my Year 6 pupils as part of their home learning. They have absolutely loved watching the videos and creating their sketchbooks, birds of peace and sockipillars. Parents responded by saying how much fun their children had in making the crafts and the results are amazing! A huge thank you to Naz and Art Clwb for supporting us during this difficult time.’ – Mrs Phillips, Year 6 Teacher, Blackwood Primary School.

The challenges are digital access, safeguarding, access to materials at home, a different space and way of learning and so much more. Online tools can feel overwhelming for some and difficult to navigate. How to create a more personal touch when communicating through a screen. To create authentic connections, projects and outcomes.

I am thankful to all who have connected, shared their thoughts, ideas and creativity and artwork.

Art Clwb community gallery snapshots
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Blackwood Primary Twitter

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Blackwood Primary Twitter

What are your plans for future delivery?

I want to share as much as possible, so it is looking at how to make it sustainable moving forward. To keep sharing creativity, ideas and workshops for others to access. Looking into what Funding is available to continue this and to work with other organisations to deliver and develop this effectively for digital learning at home.

I am taking part in the ICE 5 to 9 Club virtually each week with ICE and Business Wales. I am developing a creative business idea that has been on my mind for a long time.

To keep Art Clwb going and delivering creative packs and workshops. I have to adapt and be resourceful. Going forward I would like to develop more sustainable projects and use of materials in the community and education.

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In my own practise, I am currently developing work and sketchbook ideas at the moment, Lockdown stories..using collage and mixed media to portray thoughts and feeling of this time. 

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A range of organisations have worked to continue delivery of their art form during lockdown are there any that you would like to mention that you found either professionally or personally useful?

I have been keeping in contact with the organisations I work with, as collaboration is key and keeping those conversations and ideas alive is really important. As I am a travelling artist/teacher and it can feel lonely at times. I have found these organisations have been adapting to the needs of the community and freelancers to support.

Weekly Art workshops Art Clwb on Sofa Share Wales: https://www.facebook.com/sofasharewales/ 

#CreatewithNaz every Saturday on Facebook live. 6pm (May be subject to time change 3pm or 6pm)

Each week has a different theme and Naz will create ideas and mini workshops for you to make along with or after the live workshop, using materials around your home. You can share and send in your work. One artist is chosen to feature on Sofa Share and wins a creative bag. All work sent in, is featured in a live gallery.

I been creating workshops online for Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre, holiday club workshops on their facebook page and Criw Celf. The Grange are also running a sketchbook community gallery, linked with Art Clwb.

Free holiday workshops with Naz #CreatewithNaz

You can access these workshops at the Facebook Page at the link here

I currently work as a Co-ordinator for Newport Fusion, part time. Developing ways to support cultural and community organisations and network partners. Supporting projects currently including; Sofa Share Wales, Beat Technique, Tinshed Theatre in new ways to develop and deliver their programmes and workshops to their groups and the community, also Operasonic with wellbeing.

Newport fusion, Sharing and posting local creative projects, heritage sites, arts and cultural organisations. https://www.facebook.com/NewportFusion/  

Get in touch with Naz if you have any projects, ideas, events etc running in Newport.

More about Fusion here: https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/publications/2019-11/fusion-programme-report-2019-to-2020.pdf

Arts Council of Wales have continued to support artists and open up new funding strands. The Noson Allan/Night Out project has supported and kept in contact. With the Creative Learning in the Arts I delivered an expressive arts masterclass – online workshop and resources, using materials and equipment at home, My creativity book – creating concertina books and collage, which will be available on Hwb.  https://hwb.gov.wales/

Arts & Education Network they have been releasing all their educational resources for free by artists on their site and facebook page – #StudioAdref. My resource – Digital visual journeys through collage, is available to download, as part of the Make it digital project. Cultural and Arts Organisations. https://artsed.wales/en/digital-collage/?fbclid=IwAR19Yewj3-SpD7PuATsCKB8wx2Efv1XLo6HaalJDMSflvgkU4VrQJRfA4tU

Arts & Education Network South East Wales– educational resources #StwdioAdref https://artsed.wales/en/ 

Head4Arts have supported by practise and development of ideas, as events I had booked were cancelled. I have produced creative packs for families in the community and designed printed bilingual resources. #DoorstepCraft

Newport Museum & Art Gallery have kindly donated materials towards the Art Clwb bags I have been creating.

The Riverfront theatre are still supporting and advising creatives moving forward.

Contact Naz to collaborate, for workshops, creative packs and resources.

naz.syed@outlook.com 07860 660870

Instagram: @nazeeba22

Twitter: @nazeeba

Facebook: Naseem Syed

Thank you for sharing the stories of others and letting me be a part of this.

Thanks for your time Naz  .

Participatory Arts – Capturing The Learning, A Response From Kelly Barr, Arts and Creativity Programme Manger, Age Cymru

In response to the lockdown triggered by COVID-19, many arts organisations have taken their work online, sharing content for audiences to view for free. However, creating participatory engagement online is much more challenging and, as a sector used to being face to face with people in their practice, it’s clear that the current restrictions change the nature of participatory arts based activity substantially.

Following a vital conversation on social media led by Guy O’Donnell, Learning and Participation Producer, National Dance Company Wales which opened a discussion on how we can deliver participatory arts effectively, a range of partners are collaborating to lead Zoom discussions for the sector where we can talk about the impact of the lockdown on our work and work creatively together to think beyond the lockdown.

In partnership with ArtWorks Cymru a series of free Zoom meetings have been set up to discuss and share current working practices in participatory delivery.

Capturing the Learning

These Zoom meetings will explore how we capture the learning from organisations and artists who are currently delivering projects. We’ll explore what methods are working well, what are we learning through this experience, and how we are adapting our working practices.

Kelly Barr, Arts and Creativity Programme Manger
Age Cymru hosted the first Zoom participation meeting. The meetings are free to attend but numbers are limited. Kelly gives an overview of the work Age Cymru has created to meet the challenges and the companies solutions to support the public and her service users in the current climate.

Hi can you tell me a little about yourself and your organisation?

Hi, I’m Kelly Barr, and I am the Arts and Creativity Programme Manager at Age Cymru, who are the national charity for older people in Wales. I have been working on participatory arts projects with all sorts of organisations for 6 years, including NDCWales, Earthfall and the Sherman.

The two main arts projects here at Age Cymru are Gwanwyn Festival, an annual celebration of creative ageing which happens in May each year, and cARTrefu, the largest arts in care homes project in Europe.

We also run other projects throughout the year that might try to tackle isolation and loneliness (like our Gwanwyn Clubs), stereotypes of ageing or representation of older people.

Your organisation is hosting one of the free Participatory Arts – Capturing the Learning / Beyond the Lockdown meetings. Why do you agree to support these events?

I am in a very fortunate position to still be working at this time, and I felt like I had a responsibility to support conversations within the participatory sector. I saw many people reacting wonderfully quickly and adapting their practice, but I also recognised that that isn’t always an option, particularly with the groups of people that I work with. I have always believed that we have much to learn from each other so it was an ideal opportunity to do my bit to support some good practice sharing.

What challenges has lockdown present to the delivery of your service?

Gwanwyn Festival has often been about bringing people together, many of whom are in the high-risk category at the moment, so we made the decision fairly swiftly to postpone the festival.

We had a duty of care to protect the people that might attend the festival events, and those that are running them.The creative ageing sector is very supportive so I have been lucky enough to have regular chats with colleagues across the UK and Ireland (Gwanwyn Festival was inspired by Bealtaine Festival), so that we can support each other to think about how festivals like ours might work moving forwards.

We also knew early on that it was going to be difficult to continue to deliver the cARTrefu project, as care homes were starting to close their doors in early March. We’re lucky to have supportive funders who we will be able to work closely with as things progress. We have multiple scenario plans but are very much being led by what care homes want and need right now.

What issues have your service users/participants faced?

I’m really proud to be part of Age Cymru, as they have been able to adapt really quickly during the pandemic to ensure that older people in Wales are supported. We run an Information and Advice line, which received a 200% increase in calls at the start of the pandemic; people needed advice on whether they should be self-isolating or shielding, where they could get support with food shopping and collecting prescriptions. People have also struggled to access their money, and needed support to find new ways to stay in touch with family members. I’m pleased to say that we have been able to help, in partnership with our local Age Cymru partners, Age Connects and other voluntary services across Wales.

What systems did you put in place to ensure delivery?

Many of us are well-used to working from home, but it’s been really important to find moments to connect with colleagues. Many of us are spending most of our day making calls to older people through our Check In and Chat service, so it’s not always easy to have online ‘meetings’ as often as we used to have physical meetings. So we’ve set up Whatsapp groups, we send voice-notes, have catch-up phone calls, send pet pictures (in my case, plants!) as well as whole team Zoom and Microsoft Teams meetings. It’s ever changing and adapting!

With my specific work, it’s about being available to our partners and being flexible and open about the realities. We’ve been taking time as a team to think further ahead, and problem solve, and take any opportunities we can. We’re also keen to use Gwanwyn and cARTrefu Facebook, Gwanwyn Twitter and cARTrefu Instagram to promote creative opportunities for older people as far as we can.

Did you have any particular challenges or success that you would like to share?

Back in April, I, like many people who are in a position to, wanted to offer out informal chats to anyone interested in running creative ageing projects, or having to adapt current projects. I had no expectations of what would come from this, only that it felt like the right thing to do, but it’s introduced me to new practitioners and individuals, which has helped to build up my understanding of what’s happening in Wales. Many people I might have struggled to physically meet pre-lockdown, due to being based in Cardiff, I have been able to connect with over the phone. I hope to continue to offer this out and to meet more people – digitally!

What are your plans for future delivery?

We’re exploring a range of options at the moment, but we’ll be working closely with our Gwanwyn Festival event organisers to look at how this might be possible. There may be ways to replicate events online, or using social distance rules. I have no doubt that our event organisers are already coming up with innovative and interesting ways to continue to connect to people and I’m looking forward to working together to adapt and learn!

With cARTrefu, we are ensuring that we are listening to care homes, and being led by their needs right now. We have developed a fortnightly e-newsletter that gives care homes low-resource activities to try, and links to lots of online performances and activities from Age Cymru (like Tai Chi classes, now on our website) and other organisations.

I’m aware that we’re now regularly speaking to people that are more isolated, some of whom who aren’t connected to the internet, so a lot of my thinking has been about how to stay connected to them and to provide interactive creative opportunities that are offline.

I’d like to highlight Age Cymru’s Friend in Need service that has launched this week, and direct anyone to it if they’ve been supporting someone who is self-isolating or shielding through lockdown. There’s lots of useful guides and resources, as well as details of our new Befriending scheme – Friend in Need

A range of organisations have worked to continue delivery of their art form during lockdown are there any that you would like to mention that you found either professionally or personally useful?

I’d love to highlight the wonderful speakers from our first Participatory Arts Capturing the Learning Event:

Artis Community, Re-Live and Welsh National Opera.

And I’d love to shout out to all of the cARTrefu artists whose work has suddenly come to a grinding halt with us, but have been helping us to provide creative activities for care homes remotely.

Thanks for your time  Kelly

The meeting notes from Participatory Arts, Capturing the Learning – Older Peoples Zoom Meeting that Kelly hosted hosted on Thursday 28 May, can be found at the link


Creativity Rocks the Arts Factory, MaDCaff 2020 By Ann Davies

Take me back to the days when we were never alone – well, let’s see, it was the month of March when creativity rocked the Arts Factory in Ferndale and we were altogether. The scene had been set in 2019 when the forward looking company Avant Cymru introduced a MaDCaff evening event to The Factory in Porth as part of the FestYPorth celebrations. It sparked an idea for such an event to be held in the Rhondda Fach. Proposals for a venue were put forward and the nucleus began to evolve as the Arts Factory (the Trerhondda Chapel Arts Centre in Ferndale) took up the baton for it to be staged as a Community activity to raise funds for Mental Health.

A MaDCaff event is an experience which is encompassed in its very title

Music Dance and a Café

It is an open mic where people can perform or be entertained, pressure free with a quiet place to talk if required. With DAC (Disability Arts Cymru) and the Arts Factory volunteers, the evening became a cornucopia of colour as musicians assembled their electrical equipment and sound tested their instruments, dancers waited in anticipation of opening the event, whilst people bought Raffle Tickets on their arrival, sourced the Refreshment stand and marvelled at the artwork that had been kindly donated by local artist Carole Kratzke for the Art Auction.

The young dancers of Avant Cymru, coming from their recent performance at the Millenium Centre in Cardiff, blew caution to the wind with their energetic and exhilarating movements, incredibly intricate and jaw dropping showing the skills that they had been taught by Jamie Berry, a company Director of Avant Cymru, who, in January 2020 won the deserved accolade of Wales Creative Tutor of the Year bringing his distinctive talent to develop the health and wellbeing, through dance, to the Valleys.

Gaudy Orde announced their arrival with their usual toe tapping eclectic music with Jeff Japers (aka Andrew Powell) on the ukulele, keyboard and main vocals; Tall Joy (aka Joy Garfitt), Helen Spoons (aka Helen Probyn-Williams); James Parr – Superstar; Barry Sidings (aka Alex Coxhead) and Romany Bob (aka Andy Roberts) providing a surreal and distinctive experience of music, song and humour into an intoxicating mix as the evening progressed.

In turn Jeff Japers, as the evening’s Master of Ceremony, introduced the Nutz ‘n’ Bolts duo which normally consists of husband and wife team Dawn and Dave Hoban, but on this night we were invited to meet Jowan who sang with Dawn. It was an experience of emotions entwined harmonies and excellent guitar playing.

Les Allen, Linda Michele, Ann Davies and Anne Lord, who are members of the RCT Creative Writers Group, read selections from their 10th Anniversary publication “Handle with Care” ably supported by Members Jess Morgan, Gerhard Kress, Helen Probyn-Williams and Rachel Williams.  Jakey (12), our favourite therapy dog was present to ensure that everyone was feeling safe and well.

The interlude that followed included the results of the Raffle, closely followed by the Art Auction which had bids bouncing from every direction in the audience. The Open mic participation was offered to the audience as one of the young Avant Cymru dancers stepped forward to sing, closely followed by singer guitarist Lee Harvey from Aberdare. Talent can be found in quiet places as Josh and his “companion” dummy took up the Ventriloquist mantle for the night in a comedic conversation. The Bella Vista Coffee Club brought the house down with their jazz performance provided by Ann and Paul Hughes, Jim Barrett, Helen Probyn-Williams and Sally Churchill.

TimeLine a trio of local singers and musicians namely Nigel, Gary and Keith, opened the second half of the evening’s entertainment. Their songs were rich and melodious and the audience were soon joining in with the verses of the songs that brought back so many treasured memories.

Tricycle, comprising of Gerhard Kress, Paul Rosser and Michael Morton brought the event to a close with the atmospheric musical sounds of a fiddle combined with guitars alongside their passionate lyrics.

Louise Gaw, Project Coordinator for Changing People Changing Lives at the Arts Factory Ferndale introduced Sara Beer, South Wales Regional Officer of DAC (Disability Arts Cymru) to bring the evening to a close. Thanking all within the Arts Factory and DAC for their hard work in organising the event.  Goody Bags were given to people as they left including items from DAC. Gifts were kindly donated by Francesca Kay the noted WordArt, Poet and Letter Press professional from Hay on Wye, who is a friend of RCT Creative Writers Group

I would like to personally extend my appreciation to all who responded to the request for participants and to RCT Creative Group Members who supported me in arranging this event giving their time and energy freely to provide a true Noson Llawen Merry Night to remember for those who attended. 

We were all left with the memories of songs, music, dance, poetry and stories echoing the creative talent that is within the community.

Times have changed and we are now finding ourselves in an unprecedented situation.

WE are all the waves on the same sea, and at this moment we send each other a virtual hug with the message to stay safe and well.

MaDCaff maintains the talent of RCT.

With thanks and appreciation to
Sara Beer and Volunteers of Disability Arts Cymru
Louise Gaw and Volunteers of Arts Factory Ferndale
RCT Creative Writers Group Members especially Anne Jess Les Gerhard Helen and Rachel not forgetting Jakey
Carole Kratze
Francesca Kay
To photographers for their kind permission

Sara Mayo Gerhard Kress Anne Lord Jess Morgan
Open Mic performers 

Jamie Berry of Avant Cymru and dancers Jeff Japers for his Master of Ceremonies Gaudy OrdeNutz ‘n’ BoltzTimeLine Tricycle
and for all who gave their support for this event to raise funds for Mental Health

Diolch yn fawr iawn

Artistic EVOLUTIONS, a new Arts Podcast

Wales based writer Neil Bebber has recently launched a new arts Podcast.

EVOLUTIONS. Is an arts-based show, finding out about how artists started out, where they are and where they’re going. For the first episode, Neil has been lucky to be able to talk to Harry Holland, who was pretty inspiring and a lot of fun.

Its available at Apple podcasts https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/evolutions/id1510572110
It’s also available on Buzzsprout:
https://www.buzzsprout.com/1044886/3521839?fbclid=IwAR2udKx9pEDrOyOPRG37wa6vKoX-09kCI_Anwd0OMFzU6EXiFVo64ciKj1Y
and on Spotify:
https://open.spotify.com/show/0ASjUleKphNcUaLgOpr8Y5

Graduate Showcase Heidi Murtagh- Smith

Hi Heidi great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

I am a textile surface pattern designer and have studied at Cardiff Met for the past 3 years. Whilst studying for my degree I have also completed a variety of work experiences in relation to my practice which have helped me to grow as a professional and shape the career path I want to take.

So, what got you interested in the arts?

I have always had a natural talent for creativity. The process of creativity is so enjoyable it becomes motivating in it self which is useful when it comes to gaining qualifications. I experience a high amount of flow when it comes to being creative meaning I have just been drawn to it from a very early age.

Can you tell us about your creative process?

Whilst at University my creative process has grown exceptionally and I have developed many much needed skills a designer needs. My creative process generally follows the path of creating work by hand before digitally manipulating it. As well as this I am very comfortable working completely digitally, using my Wacom tablet to create imagery on screen. Over my time at university I have experimented with a range of mediums and styles in order to develop and diversify my portfolio.

As a young Welsh artist graduating during a very difficult period what investment and support do you think is required to enable your career to develop and prosper?

Finding a graduate job in the world of design is not recognised as easy within the best of times and im not sure there is anything much that can be done. Graduates are in need of jobs; however, the same could be said for people across the field who have also lost their jobs at this time. I think design graduates just need to support each other at this time, reminding each other to not give up and keep pursuing our dreams.

A range of arts organisation and individuals are now working online or finding new ways to reach out to audiences. Have you seen any particularly good examples of this way of working?

Myself and others within my class have been participating in compititions running on Instagram from a variety of accounts. This is a great way to fill some of the time we have in isolation and also get our work noticed. You can checkour Heidi’s Instagram account here Or her profile on Zealous here

If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?

I think it would be great to have a museum or art gallery in Cardiff which relates directly to the field of textiles. Coming from London I am use to being able to immerse myself in a great variety of exhibitions and shows in relation to my practice; however, I feel Cardiff lacks this. Not only would this be of use to current artists and designers but also inspire children to follow this career path.

What excites you about the arts in Wales?

Whilst studying an art and design corse it is great to immerse yourself in a new place as you are never sure where inspiration will come from. Whilst in Cardiff I have been very fortunate to participate in a variety of work experiences which I am really grateful for.

What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?

Last summer I got the opportunity to participate in an international internship to Colombia for six weeks where I worked with a sustainable fashion brand. Whilst there I learnt to live and work in a different culture as well as develop my skills and knowledge in relation to my career path. Although having completed work experiences prior to this, this was a whole new adventure and was a great way to spend my summer, whilst preparing for my future career.

Thanks for your time

Graduate Showcase Rhiannon Blythe

Many Welsh or Wales based arts graduates are finding this current period especially difficult. Their usual opportunities to meet agents, prepare for final year exhibitions or productions may take place later in the year or sadly not at all. To raise awareness of the diverse talent graduating this year GTC is offering any Welsh or Wales based graduate the opportunity to be showcased on our website. If you are interested, please do get in touch.

Hi Rhiannon, great to meet you. Can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

Hi! I’m a bilingual illustrator from South Wales, currently finishing my degree with Swansea College of Art. I’m hoping to do a Masters degree in Illustration next year.

The main thing I like to draw is portraits, I love drawing people and I always have, they’re fascinating and allow for so much detail. I’m also very interested in illustrating novels, though specifically books geared towards more mature readers – my current project is illustrating the novel Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

So, what got you interested in the arts?        

It sounds cliché, but I’ve always been drawing ever since I can remember! When I was young, I used to get home from school and sit in front of the telly with a pile of paper and just doodle all evening until dinner! I’d copy characters from cartoons I was watching, and I loved the show Art Attack. I could get through at least 20 sheets of paper at a time! My love for drawing has carried me through my entire life thus far, I’ve always loved just sitting down and making something.

Can you tell us about your creative process?

My creative process usually consists of sketching out a drawing on paper before scanning the sketch and colouring it digitally using a drawing app on my mobile phone called Autodesk Sketchbook. Although digital drawing has been a forefront in my practice at the moment, when I do draw traditionally I use a mixture of mediums – mainly marker pens, watercolour paint, and coloured pencils. I tend to start with a wash of watercolour and then build up layers of colour with the markers and coloured pencils. I love using bold colour schemes in my work, especially when drawing digitally, I like my portraits to look clean and sharp. I post a majority of my work on my Instagram – @doughnutkingdom.

As a young Welsh artist graduating during a very difficult period, what investment and support do you think is required to enable your career to develop and prosper?

Graduating at the moment seems very unreal, and I’ve almost put it to the back of my mind! However, I still feel as though having a degree show would be very beneficial to all arts students whose shows were cancelled. Being able to run these shows once things are looking up would be amazing, and would allow us to have the same opportunities as the students who came before us. Understandably, this might not be possible for some time, so I’ve been concentrating on working on my portfolio as preparation for when we can return back to some kind of normality.

A range of arts organisation and individuals are now working online or finding new ways to reach out to audiences. Have you seen any particularly good examples of this way of working?

I’ve seen a lot of artists on Instagram giving each other helping hands, mainly through sharing other artists’ work on their stories, and promoting artists who may need help with commissions and so on. A lot of art pages have been posting challenges, prompts and tasks to help people keep busy too, which I think is a really great idea.

If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales, what would this be and why?

I think I’d definitely want to focus on giving art education in primary schools and comprehensive schools a lot more love and care. I honestly believe art is so important for primary school children, as it’s an outlet for their feelings, and a way for them to show their interests. Art clubs were something I really enjoyed going to when I was in primary school, and I feel like it’s very important for children to have some time in the day to be creative. I also believe that comprehensive schools could focus more on this element too, and continue to nurture this creativity in young people. It would be wonderful to be able to provide comprehensive schools with more art materials, resources, and a curriculum that focused on art history and the more technical aspects of art.

What excites you about the arts in Wales?

It makes me very proud to see the art community in Wales growing as much as it is. Wales has always been known as a creative country and I can’t wait to see how far we’re going to go in the future. I’ve noticed our galleries and museums getting some more attention lately too, especially Cardiff Museum. With the diplodocus living there for a little while, their Leonardo DaVinci exhibition, and housing a Botticelli painting, the museum has gained a lot of publicity!

What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?

I think the fact that our communities are stronger than ever right now is something great in itself. We’re all living in a very bizarre world, and everyone’s readiness to help each other and be there for each other is amazing. Although it might feel like all this will never end, the fact that we’re all in this together is a great comfort and it’s shown that despite our differences, we can all work together.

Thanks for your time.

Thank you for the opportunity! Diolch yn fawr!

Graduate Showcase Grace Hubbard-Smith

Many Welsh or Wales based arts graduates are finding this current period especially difficult. Their usual opportunities to meet agents, prepare for final year exhibitions or productions may take place later in the year or sadly not at all. To raise awareness of the diverse talent graduating this year GTC is offering any Welsh or Wales based graduate the opportunity to be showcased on our website. If you are interested, please do get in touch.

Hi Grace great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

I have always been interested in the arts since I can remember, mostly due to my mum being an artist herself and my dad a theatre director and film enthusiast! It’s in the blood, you could say. 

Can you tell us about your creative process?

I’m focusing mainly on painting, but I work with illustration and film as well. In my painting I am centred around creating light and space, I do this by lightly building up the image with transparent layers of paint. You can see Grace’s work at her website here

As a young Welsh artists graduating during a very difficult period what investment and support do you think is required to enable your career to develop and prosper?

Graduating right now from the Fine Arts BA at Aberystwyth and entering the ‘real world’, is a daunting prospect. In terms of my art practise it is very unlikely I’ll be able to continue with it as I do in uni, studio spaces are expensive and coming straight out of university with no money makes getting one very unlikely. Funding and support groups that encourage the growth of communities would be the best at helping those coming straight out of uni so we don’t feel as isolated.

A range of arts organisation and individuals are now working online or finding new ways to reach out to audiences. Have you seen any particularly good examples of this way of working?

I have joined a project titled ‘The Quarantine’ that has encouraged art students to continue creating art by responding to our current situation. It has been really amazing to be a part of this, it has helped encourage me in my practise and doesn’t make me feel as separated from my peers. It’s an exciting response to our situation – as artists we cope and express our situation through art, and it’s an incredibly unique and unusual time which needs expressing! 

If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?


There doesn’t seem to be a lot of funding for individual practise or for those coming straight from education. And as far as I’m aware community and group fundings are also being cut. I think all of these areas are important not only to us personally but to society as a whole. If I was to be selfish I would say more funding for those coming from education!

What excites you about the arts in Wales?

I’m Welsh and seeing the art scene grow and develop in Wales is wonderful. I would like to stay here and enjoy the prospects of Welsh art – I believe that art is integral to Welsh identity, we pride ourselves on being a nation of bards, creatives with everyone having a right to express. 

What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?

I’ve had a really fortunate experience of living in America for three months, I was surrounded by a new culture and beyond beautiful natural scenery with gorgeous mountains and expansive forests, however, above all those months reminded me of how Wales was my home. 

Thanks for your time 

Thank you, for this opportunity.