On a cold October evening as Winter drew nearer and the sky darker, voices rose from an “abandoned” old department store in Haverfordwest town centre. Ghostly lights flickered and the sounds of traditional folk music could be heard floating down the Cleddau. From behind the clock tower an 11ft skeleton appeared to glide over the bridge, leading hundreds of bobbing lights towards her resting place at Fortunes Frolic.
The River of Lights of procession, and the public lantern-making workshops over the half-term running up to Halloween, was my first experience of helping to run socially-engaged arts projects as part of The Lab, Haverfordwest.
The unpredictable psychology of a swarm of 1-12 year olds in the presence of long pointed sticks and secateurs, and the precious fragility of someone else’s children make for a nerve wracking combination. And that’s before you’ve set them off along a river path carrying a lighted candle in a paper lantern, in the pitch black. But witnessing the level of engagement, the joy at having spent time making something tangible, something beautiful that will be paraded and enjoyed, paid off the fraying patience, exhaustion, and loss of my voice through incidental solvent inhalation.
Recently employed as part of the JobsGrowth Wales scheme by community interest company, and one of the partners running The Lab, Spacetocreate, I have been working with The Lab since October after returning home as an arts graduate.
Working with The Confluence team since October I have witnessed just why socially engaged arts projects, and the public funding they receive are so valuable for the communities that they serve. Confluence’s first year at The Lab (formerly Ocky White’s travel Bureau) has been a hectic one. Since working with school children and local designers A and E adventures, to create some fantastic festival flags for the project launch, The Lab has been providing space and resources for some exciting arts and regeneration events in Haverfordwest. As the project’s first artist commission Serena Korda’s Black Diamond produced a fantastic CD with local musicians, and Davis and Jones set up a riverside booth hosting conversations with people from around Haverfordwest, with which they have created a series stories through a digital “random story generator”.
More recently the headline-making River of lights procession and lantern making workshops with artist Toby Downing, saw over 1400 people of all ages lighting up the Cleddau on a dark October evening.
Building on the successes of the last year 2016 looks set to be just as busy at The Lab, with arts-led public talks from visiting and local practitioners, workshops and events designed to engage and empower the people of Haverfordwest to create positive change in our County Town. This includes artist commissions to explore and broaden how local people perceive art and I’m looking forward to seeing what film maker Karen Ingham (who has worked with S4C and BBC Wales) produces for her piece entitled Pembrokeshire Drover.
The Making Connections Open Space event, with photographer and academic John Kippin, in November produced such fantastic ideas for the way in which art can help regenerate Haverfordwest, these events will become a regular fixture. Once a month, starting in January, residents, artists, local business owners, council members and anyone with an interest in the town will be invited to come together and crowd-source new thoughts and ideas for the future of Haverfordwest.
The new year will also see Confluence partners, iDeA architects Kevin and Chris, develop the Big Map in to The Big Model. Following the series of Big Map workshops, as part of the exploratory process in reimagining the town, investigating what makes a place ‘work’, they have commissioned Narberth-based model-makers Autodromo to create a scaled 3D model of Haverfordwest. The model will inform the next series of workshops with the resulting “People’s Map” helping to influence future developments and planning decisions in the town.
Using the arts and creativity to engage in a more hands-on way with Haverfordwest is at the core of The Lab and October’s Wild Hack with Bloc Creative Technologies saw some fantastic collaborations between different groups such as robotics and tech enthusiasts, students and academics, artists and outdoor adventurers, including TYF founder Andy Middleton. Combining their different skill sets and knowledge with digital tech the group explored new ways to engage with the rural and urban environment around the town. With so much enthusiasm and progress made in one day, there is definitely another collaboration with Bloc on the cards.
In just a few months I have seen the ways in which The Lab has brought groups of people together who wouldn’t necessarily work or socialise together , but when they do, they produce fantastic results, both visually and in terms of producing and sharing ideas.
I can’t wait to continue to explore and broaden my understanding of art alongside old friends and neighbours, engaging with it to make positive change and pool creative ideas together to influence important decision-making in the town. It’s a big ask for a three-year project but bring on 2016!
You can find out more about what The Lab has in store as well as details on how to get involved by joining the Lab group on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/thelabhaverfordwest, or following on Twitter (@HarfatLab).