Gavin Mart is a first year student on the Pioneer Mission Leadership course. Helen Harwood talked to him about Engediarts.com, a new community arts venture in North Wales that’s breathing new life into a run-down pub.
HH: Gavin, can you tell me a bit more about yourself and the work you are engaged in, please?
GM: I’m the new Methodist VentureFX Pioneer for the Conwy and Prestatyn Methodist Circuit. This is a structure for mission into non churched communities setup by the national Methodist Connexional team. Rather than directly serving the traditional church life I was appointed to work outside of the walls of the church to seek out fresh expressions of church within the heart o f the local community.
My vision is to seek the development of a creative hub within the community which serves local established community organisations such as the theatre, the arts and media, local regeneration work, community kitchens, and more. Within this hub I envision the facilitation of a small venue for an arts cafe, acoustic music performance, dance, drama and spoken word. The hub would clearly resource local churches in their own forms of fresh expression by creating an open space which such groups could harness for their own events. The venue would be an unintimidating, central point in the town, with a high passing trade and footfall, and would seek to encourage the ‘passer-by’ to seek out the wide ranging activities within.
Where has Engediarts.com grown from?
My experience over the last ten years is in curating art multimedia art exhibitions, producing live and multimedia events such as Greenbelt Main stage Sunday Communion, BA in Managing Major and Cultural Events, performing and touring as a drummer in local band ‘Dare’ and as a solo singer songwriter, three years as an itinerant youth and schools worker for YFC, partnering a property portfolio and rental company in Leeds, founding an African mission administration for Link-International Innovation, visiting Kenya and Uganda on over 10 mission trips, and facilitating three international vehicle imports across Kenya and Uganda including delivering the first Mobile Eye Operating Clinic on behalf of Lions UK. In amongst there somewhere I was a full time fire-fighter for four years. These projects have all helped be grow a diverse skills base which I think is really essential for pioneering in general.
Who are you working with, and why the arts?
The new venue for the ‘Engedi Arts Easter exhibition’, and hopefully the ongoing community arts hub, will be what used to be the ‘Imperial Hotel’, in Colwyn Bay. In the lead up to Christmas we had planned to use a redundant United Church on Abergele Rd, Colwyn Bay, but to cut a long story (and a stressful week before Christmas) short, we lost that building as it was sold. A dramatic scramble for a new venue ensued and we have now obtained a short term lease on The ‘Imp’ which secures the use of the building through till mid April… It’s a stunning central high street location.
Engedi Arts has grown out of an idea already supported by ‘Trust Greenbelt’ in 2009. I jointly curated its parent exhibition at Leftbank ‘advent’ in Leeds as one Leftbank Leed’s showcasing events. On the success of that event its organisers have been asked to help with other similar exhibitions around the country including, ‘new leads’ music showcasing, and through yearly involvement in the Visual Arts at Greenbelt Festival.
The ‘Engedi Arts Easter exhibition’ 2012 has accepted submissions from 40 local and national artists, some handpicked and some openly invited, to choose from 40 Bible passages telling the Easter story. The artists are mostly chosen to represent ‘non-churched’ communities, and the aim is to expose the gospel through the lens of an external worldview from the church. In other words; asking non Christian artists to look at the gospel and produce a piece of work that tells the Easter story from their own world view. We are keen to make the event accessible to the multi-faith community within which the venue sits.
Engedi Arts is interested in what Jesus’ story looks like to non Christians, without the perceived barrier of the traditional church building standing in the way. We have handpicked all of our artists ranging from some of the top Welsh contemporary names to some established and up and coming new talent. Of our confirmed artists 80 per cent are based in Wales, and we have received an overwhelmingly positive response from the artistic community.
The 40 passages chosen range from the resurrection of Lazarus to the resurrected Jesus, and the fish breakfast of John 21, and are intended to highlight issues concerning: Life, death, women’s role in the gospel/Christendom, betrayal, economy, the Eucharist, loyalty, justice, gambling, denial, self denial, violence, doubt, theology and friendship, the community’s relationship with the church.
During the show’s run we’re planning a range of community (mini) events at the venue including an opening launch party, a song and creative writing workshop day and evening performance, a spoken word workshop day and evening performance, an acoustic evening, a meditative service, various arts workshops, a student open afternoon, an alternative worship event, a Maundy Thursday event, and a closing Easter Sunday Big Feast.
How are you attempting to form new community?
The exhibition is intended to function as a ‘two way street’. In that the artists open up a dialogue with the subject by way of engaging with the scripture, and in return the presented material opens up a dialogue within the local community through the use of a non threatening environment.
Further to the Methodist Church funding in place for 5 years for the VentureFX Pioneer, the project has also so far been backed by Princess Drive Baptist Church, which was able to secure the lease for a quarter of the year through a gift of £3,000. This allows the project time to gather the attention of larger, ‘Communities First’/ Arts Council / WREN / Comic Relief / Regeneration Area, funding and county council funding pots; to fulfil a dream of the venue becoming a restored building and Community Arts Cafe. The structure of the organisation will see a self sustaining social enterprise manage the cafe, whilst an oversight group of local church leaders empowers the management of the space for ‘Fresh Expressions’ and community outreach projects.
Engedi Arts hopes the show will capture the interest of the local community, drawing folk into the building and showcasing the potential of the venue. The build-up to the show will involve the local community in helping to ‘clean up’, and restore the venue in readiness for the exhibition.
What is the community like around the Coast?
The Glyn Ward is known along the coast as the worst performing area for anti social behaviour. The project aims to tackle this trend by building the skills of local people, whilst increasing community cohesion through its teamwork based activities. The regeneration of the venue will help to build a wider perception that the area is improving, as it is a key landmark building directly opposite the train station. The building is currently seen as ‘yet another run down and closed pub’, and, as it stands, helps to promote ‘the broken windows theory’; that if it’s already broken, what’s the point in respecting the area surrounding it? Local people build their pride on the state of their landmark buildings, of which the old Imperial Hotel is a dramatic example, and it desperately needs regeneration to restore its viability on the high street.
How do you engage with the local community?
The Engedi project also aims to create a community kitchen which provides facilities for people directly affected by the issues found in Colwyn Bay to work within programs provided by local agencies in food and health education. The project includes learning how to cook, understanding where food comes from, and recognising the power it can have on our health, happiness, and even finances. The project will do this through teaching, training and employment, and also by making good clear information available to as many people as possible. The community kitchen at Engedi would empower local people to engage in food and health awareness courses supplied for them through specialised local organisations who are in need of such facilities. These organisations already have clear and immediate knowledge and understanding of the needs of the local community.
People who learn how to cook are able to go onto to discover employment opportunities in the catering industry, they also gain an understanding of the health implications surrounding; appropriate food portions, choosing a healthy diet, budgeting for their dietary needs and improving their general well-being and happiness.
How do you plan to bring the community together?
The community kitchen is part of a wider vision to see the regeneration of the old hotel venue for multipurpose use in community cohesion through the arts, music, dance, cafe hub. People using the kitchen facilities will be exposed to the venue’s other activities and wide spectrum of community resources. There will be opportunity for them to volunteer within the Art’s cafe itself and within the running of the community hub.
Engedi is currently pioneering an Easter Story exhibition over the holidays in 2012 for the sole purpose of showcasing the potential created by bringing the community together. The exhibition has attracted over forty local and national artists who have confirmed a submission to the event.
This overwhelming response to our appeal to the artistic community will provide a ten day framework for some fifteen mini events within the exhibition schedule. The events are design specifically to bring the community together, providing something for everyone, they include: several venue clean-up and paint days, private viewing/opening night, dance workshop and performance, a “Tape” Community and Film workshop day and evening film showing, schools open afternoon and insight to the Artwork, glass and enamelling workshops, Easter candlelight reflection, Thursday of mysteries evening, Acoustic music performance night, spoken word/poetry workshops and performance, and a community big ‘Feast’ day on Easter Sunday
What do you hope will come out of the project?
The outcome of the project would be to produce a standard of event incomparable to anything the area has experienced before. The aim is to fill a much needed middle ground in the arts sadly lacking across the whole of North Wales.
The project aims are twofold; to introduce a non-churched community of artists to the gospel narrative where possible, and to allow that expression to engage with the local community. If the event receives anything like the positive press that smartproductions 2009 Leftbank advent achieved it will be a huge success where the local community benefits from engaging with the gospel and the arts. Alongside this, if the local community is drawn together through the exhibition and mini events throughout the two week program, it is more likely that the project will become endorsed by the local councils and ultimately achieve its longer term funding.
The Easter exhibition will undoubtedly introduce a diverse and fresh audience into the venue and with the hotel’s central high street location, the event will be a very positive experience for the town’s local communities and organisations. Out of this experience Engedi hopes to attract good press and word of mouth from which to launch the ongoing renovation of the venue and create a legacy from which to develop the community arts hub.
Over time and through further events the project aims to develop non-confrontational relationships with individuals who express an interest in the spiritual dimension to the project. Some folk may decide that one of the local churches is a place where they can explore their faith more deeply, whilst others may begin to form a new faith community around the project hub itself.