We’ve just started something new in Newport. With the support of Arts Council Wales, National Theatre Wales TEAM and Newport City Council we have begun a new arts collective called Newport International Airspace. You may well ask where that name comes from or even what it might mean but to us it epitomised our intentions as a collective. N.I.A. was established off the back of The Meeting, a project procured and produced by local artists keen to change an empty high street space into a pop up arts centre last November. The Meeting was a reaction, a reflection even, to the words from the local community about the present state of Newport. Artists and performers were challenged to use these words to create an exhibition, a tour of the city and a performance that inspired some contemplation, debate and, in this case, further action.
Newport has not faired well in recent years and as a collective we wanted to reflect not only on the city but the actions of its artists. In ‘The Reenchantment of Art’, Suzi Gablik considers the role of the arts and the artist in accelerating movements towards changes needed to bring human beings back into balance with their ecosystem. With specific reference to social issues, Gablik argued that art is a catalyst for change which could in turn help us to ‘heal’. In difficult financial times Newport Council has been forced to close one of the most innovative visual art spaces in the museum, the temporary exhibition space, with the loss of its experienced and proactive curator. This may well seem to many as a sensible solution to a budget that will not meet the needs of the services provided across the city but we firmly believe that the arts matter and in times of difficulty they are essential. John Tuso wrote exactly that. He said ‘The Arts matter because they embrace and define the soul of civilisation. A nation without arts would be a nation that stopped talking to itself.’
So we have begun to develop our own vision of what an arts collective could offer. We are just four at present, from varied and diverse backgrounds and with a commitment to share and develop our ideals. We began this with a week of sharing that included workshops in photographic storytelling, drawing and mapping, mosaic sculpture and devising theatre. These workshops have enabled us to share our practice and highlight our collective inspirations and objectives to connect what we do with a wider community.
Furthermore as a collective we are aiming to explore the City in a number of ways including walks and talks with community groups and artists alike. We are just beginning and look forward to the journey ahead.
It was a Sunday, it was tempestuous weather at times and it was an open and random plan that we had with no idea how long or how far we would walk. Ten mighty brave souls pitched up outside the Westgate Hotel and at 11.15am we followed Marega Palser towards an unknown destination located with in the city.
Marega had given us small stick-on eyes and told us that we should stick them on anything that caught our eye. I have to say that the first half mile took a long time as we all stopped constantly to gaze, comment and apply our eyes to the changing landscape behind Newport market and then down into the underpass. This was going to be a long day I thought to myself and I was not wrong. However the opportunity to stroll, reminisce and discover was really enjoyable and the company was excellent. Marega led us in silent single file to the old abandoned Sainsburys store near the river where we climbed through a hole in the fence to enter what felt like ‘the zone’ from Tarkovsky’s film Stalker. We were given Chinese paper flags to distribute around the vast, overgrown and erie space and we all wandered off to complete the task with a sense of solemnity. It was a wonderful start and impossible to describe beyond these words but the walk had a sense of unspoken purpose.
We set off and I led the group up the river to the park sharing tales of the riverbank. We were occupied by the pigeons for a moment and then found blackberries in abundance. We followed the road back towards the centre and through an underpass that offered shelter when the clouds broke abruptly causing a minor flood. We discovered an almost perfect theatre space beneath the roads and pondered midnight walk ideas before the rain eased enough to move on. Via the subway underneath the railway we climbed stow hill and then rounded the Cathedral before entering Bellevue park. I complained about the lack of facilities in this fine park only to discover the cafe was open so had to eat my words with a toasted sandwich. The views of the bridges were delightful, framed by the trees and the sky shifted from blue to dark grey to blue again before we headed off following our next guide.
Stephanie took us down Vicarage Hill after setting us a brain teaser based on the Chartist March of 1839. The hill offers spectacular views of Pill and the Transporter bridge and a short cut to the new square on Commercial Street. It was on this iconic straight road that we marveled at some fine regeneration schemes, got creative around burnt out buildings and ate kulfi ice cream lollipops from Clares. We stretched ourselves into the shape of the letters of the city in a Tai Chi style exercise and then headed on to the old foundry.
Jo decided the best way into the site was through another hole in the fence despite some very open access on the other side. We strolled around this wreck of place fascinated by its scars and debris and rejoined the newly finished path and cycle route that leads back up the river towards our starting point.
This is the first walk-shop organised by the members of Newport International Airspace but I am sure it will not be the last despite the 6 hour duration. It was not all walking, there was a lot of chat, observation and inspiration and an hour sat in the Pavilion cafe but it was most definitely a creative journey and one we are all interested in developing. We have since met another group who do something similar and we are interested in finding people who would like to lead a walk and share something about the city. This activity was supported by NTW TEAM and we are grateful for the support and the wisdom in encouraging these type of events.
So until the next time…