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Necklace of Stars, Projects

DERBYSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL SHORTLISTED FOR HEARTS FOR THE ARTS AWARDS 2021

The shortlist has been announced for the National Campaign for the Arts’ (NCA) Hearts For The Arts Awards 2021. The awards celebrate the unsung heroes of Local Authorities who are championing the arts against all odds. 

Derbyshire County Council has been nominated for Best Arts Project for Necklace of Stars – an embroidery and creative writing project set up to tackle the lack of person-to-person creative engagement opportunities for housebound individuals, with arts organisation arthur+martha.

This year’s winners will be selected from the shortlist by a judging panel of key arts industry experts and practitioners, including:

Le Gateau Chocolat, Drag artiste and cabaret performer

Paul Hartnoll, musician, composer, founder member of Orbital

Adrian Lester CBE, actor and director

Petra Roberts, Cultural Development Manager, Hackney Council (2020 winners for the Windrush Generations Festival)

Samuel West, actor, director, Chair of the National Campaign for the Arts

Despite the incredible hardships faced by Local Authorities in 2020, this year’s awards have seen the NCA receive a record-breaking number of nominations, as local communities turned to the arts for solace, strength and connectivity during the pandemic. 

Nominations were received from across the UK for each of the three award categories: Best Arts Project; Best Arts Champion – Local Authority or Cultural Trust Worker; and Best Arts Champion – Councillor.

The shortlist was judged by representatives from some of this year’s partners in the awards: Culture Counts; Wales Council for Voluntary Action; Local Government Association; National Campaign for the Arts; and Voluntary Arts Wales.

Discussing Derbyshire’s nomination Hearts for the Arts Award partners said about Necklace of Stars:

“This is an inspirational project that has supported an extremely vulnerable group of individuals, made more vulnerable by COVID-19. It has clearly given participants purpose and focus, helping to reduce loneliness and mental ill health. The way the project adapted to provide one-to-one support to individuals remotely during lockdown is impressive and we were struck by the strong partnerships across a range of partners that allowed the project to expand its impact by signposting participants to other services”. 

The winners of the Hearts for the Arts Awards 2021 will be announced on Valentine’s Day, 14th February. 

The National Campaign for the Arts present the Hearts for the Arts Awards each year. The awards are delivered by the NCA, in partnership with Culture Counts; the Local Government AssociationThriveUK TheatreVoluntary Arts WalesWales Council for Voluntary Action.

For more information on the shortlisted nominees visit forthearts.org.uk/campaigns/hearts-for-the-arts/

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Notes to editors:

  • Hearts For The Arts is a National Campaign for the Arts initiativedelivered in partnership with Culture Counts; the Local Government Association; Theatre NI, Thrive NI; We Are Voluntary Arts Wales, Wales Council for Voluntary Action.
  • The National Campaign for the Arts (NCA) is a charity and independent campaigning organisation, run by a board of volunteer trustees. They campaign for more investment in the arts, to improve the lives of everyone; and they champion those who make that happen. forthearts.org.uk

Here Comes the Sun

Here Comes the Sun, Projects, quilts, Whisper to me alone

The Here Comes the Sun quilt hangs on my studio wall, it’s nearly complete, 3 hems to be stitched, a hanging system to be devised, a bit more stitching, more colour to balance the composition. It’s now time to pause, to reflect on this unique and wonderful project, to thank everyone whose joined in and to share. It takes time for me to write, for ideas to percolate. There has been much learning, some heartache and lots of joy with this project. I’m splitting my reflections into parts, so as not to overwhelm. So here I start at the beginning.

(artist Lois Blackburn)

Detail, Amy Rubin’s embroidered sun. “How exquisites is the beauty of an ordinary day.”

Bringing of people together through creativity. 

Phil and I working as arthur+martha have always aimed to breakdown boundaries through the arts;  to bring people together, forge a greater understanding of each other, share experiences. However previous projects have been limited to one sector of society, for example: older people, people living with dementia, people with experience of homelessness, war widows, carers…  This project gave us a unique opportunity to bring everyone together, without hierarchies, without labels.  

Drawing, anon (from Back on Track) and Embroidery, Sara Scott, Volunteer.

How we worked

We invited people from across the globe to make embroidery and write a short piece of poetic text for a new quilt, Here Comes the Sun. It was open to everyone,  wherever people lived, whether they regularly make art, or haven’t picked up needle and thread since school, everyone was welcome.

The project researched and developed new ways of working for artist Lois Blackburn during the Covid 19 pandemic. It built on the learning from recent project War Widows’ Quilt,  and current project Necklace of Stars. It looks and prepares for an uncertain future.

Lois’s first goal was to engage a cross section of people in the project, from many parts of the world and many backgrounds, then from this participant group, build a team of volunteers to stitch on behalf of those who were struggling. Lois started by spreading invites to join in the project via social media and the web, and targeting groups that have previously worked with us, such as War Widows. 

The interest and take up was fast and enthusiastic. Approximately half way through the project, due to time and financial restrictions, Lois stopped promoting the project to new participants, as she didn’t have the capacity for more contributions to the project. 

Detail of Here Comes the Sun, work in progress

In figures

130 embroidery squares have been created

28 embroidery squares were made by volunteers 

18 new volunteers

37 drawings/paintings/designs were made by people with experience of homelessness

11 embroideries where stitched by people with experience of homelessness/or struggling with economic hardship. 

Paul holding his embroidered sun.

Themes

Suns, are a symbol of alchemy. It represents life, influence and strength. It symbolizes energy, power, growth, health, passion and the cycle of life in many cultures and religions throughout time. In Egyptian culture, a winged sun disc symbol stood for protection. The Egyptians also worshiped the sun god Ra. In 20th century pop culture, the sun gives superhuman strength to comic book hero Superman. Such strength allows him to protect and rescue people in danger.

Particularly important during the crisis, for many of our participants and audience members, it’s a symbol of joy and hope. 

“Beautiful piece of work and I love the connotations of the sun shining again.” Julie New, Personal Recovery Coach

The sun theme of the quilt and poetry is easy for everyone to understand. Yet if can be interpreted in countless different ways. Each of our 130 embroideries are unique. 

We offered people the option of embroidering someone’s name on the quilt. This raises questions about remembrance, personal and national, the idea of a Covid time capsual. It also raises questions about how we give support, grief, hope. 

Liam is my 15 year old son. I have suffered badly with my mental health over the years and the lockdown has made my condition worse. He is my inspiration to keep battling on everyday. He is in year 11 and is one of the children that will not take exams, I have found that his attitude to this and everything that is thrown at him is exceptional. I am so proud of him.

Julie

‘Liam’ embroidered onto a sun by Julie

I haven’t embroidered a single name on it as so many people have done so much over this period. I wanted it to be inclusive of the people who have done simple gestures which have improved my days immeasurably. Such as someone smiling reassuringly from across the road, the post people still working and bringing supplies, my colleagues who have set tasks and set up groups to inspire and entertain whilst we are furloughed. The hospital staff who did my tests despite being in the height of the pandemic.

Deborah Louise Partington

Here Comes the Sun, is part of the project WHISPER TO ME ALONE, and is supported by Arts Council England. Partners include The Booth Centre,  Back on Track, Bury Art Museum and Arts and Homelessness International.

Life going through the cosmos

Here Comes the Sun, Projects, quilts, Whisper to me alone

As sometimes happens in a workshop, todays was a game of two halves. Before the break, a couple of the participants where distracted, sat on the edges of the room, engaged in their own thoughts, and their own troubles. But after the tea break, gradually the atmosphere changed, as the art worker said;

If you leave out clay for long enough, people will pick it up and start making…

Some new people joined the group, and gradually everyone around the room fell into peaceful activity.

Karen Bowen, Project Worker at the Booth

Alongside the clay making workshop, my table of art materials and examples of embroidered suns. Karen, a Project Worker at the Booth Centre, took 5 or so precious minutes to sit and paint, explaining she hadn’t had a chance to create anything for so long, and how wonderful it was to sit and paint. Her work was immediate, energetic and joyful. She took a pack of embroidery materials away, with full intentions to stitch a sun tonight.

For others the process was a slower, more thoughtful one. ‘H’ had gone away after last weeks session with paper, themes and a head full of ideas. Today he arrived with pages of photocopies, the starting of designs of complexity, humour and thoughtfulness. The first thing he showed me was the beautifully written ‘Here Comes the Sun?’ he explained; “It’s the question mark that’s important.” ‘H’s work is never simple, there are always ideas of complexity behind them.

That question mark is so important in these times. Today listening into conversations around the room, I noticed more the undercurrent of unease, a sense of frustration, of mistrust of the government. Conspiracy theories abound. Thankfully the creativity also offered a sense of calm, release, distraction and purpose.

‘H’ design for Here Comes the Sun. ‘There was a science fiction film from the 70s, Demon Seed, the Alien’s DNA- Life going through the Cosmos

I come home tonight with a new collection of wonderful designs to be interpreted in stitch by our volunteers.

‘H’, “The old circular sun is out of date now, we need a new sun, with shapes we are not used to, for The Uncertain Future.

Thanks to everyone at the Booth, and thanks so much to Merida Richards for allowing me to work alongside her pottery session.

It’s not to late for you to join in with the project, our deadline for embroidered suns is 30th October. More details here. https://arthur-martha.com/portfolio/here-comes-the-sun/

Lois Blackburn.

Here Comes the Sun, is part of arthur+martha project WHISPER TO ME ALONE gathers words and art from people who have experienced homelessness — and the experiences of other vulnerable people in Manchester during lockdown. Supported by Arts Council England, partnered by the Booth Centre and Back on Track.