Successful First New Paths Gathering (Part 1)

We have recently decided to develop the format of New Paths by holding the first monthly gathering. On Wednesday 11 January we invited a group along to the library so they could meet other people doing projects and also get the chance to find collaborations.

The session included a presentation from Marion Webber, who completed her project in October 2016, before a fascinating Skype chat with RISE Propaganda inroduced by Bongo Peet [pictured below]. In the second half we had a talk by Steph Roberts and a detailed presentation of Dilip Sinha’s work on the Maindee Photographic Survey. It was a really absorbing two hours with lots of enthusiasm for our next session – at 5pm on Wednesday 8 February.

Bongo Peet

This blog outlines what we heard from Marion Webber, Bongo Peet and RISE Propaganda. The second part of the gathering with Steph Roberts and Dilip Sinha will be reported very soon in a second blog article.

Marion Webber

In April 2016 Marion started her New Paths project which centred on creating a tapestry that tells Maindee Stories. She had the ‘Coffee and Laughs’ group at Community House, Eton Road, at the core but also knew that she would need more help to create the Maindee Tapestry.

 

“At times when we felt that there was something that we couldn't do - we made sure to team up with someone who had the skills that we lacked.”

 

Looking for help she gave a presentation to a sewing group in Beechwood. From such visits the wider group developed and Marion was able to have a total of 32 people working on the project. Marion recommends that New Paths projects are documented right from the start – and you can read about this particular adventure on her own blog http://marioncheung.blogspot.co.uk/. She said:

 

“At first you will be shy about writing; start and get better. Don’t go into too much detail.”

 

Seeking help was part of thinking hard about how to manage the team – especially with a group of volunteers. She explained that getting to know each personality - and what they are good at - resulted in being able:

 

“…to rely on particular people, especially when the going got tough, with deadlines “looming.”

Marion Webber

Marion gave people sewing homework to complete between sessions and the chance to think about what they had done and would do next. This reflection helped to build up a regular approach to learning, what Marion calls evaluation from the start:

 

“Evaluation was never something tagged onto the end, but something that we did every week. After each session, we looked at what we had achieved and thought about where we needed to go to move it forward. It often meant doing something over and beyond what was expected...but that's what made it all the more worthwhile.”

 

Although Marion was in charge of the budgets and timescales, she wanted the project to be participatory. For example, at the start she organised a trip to Bath for the project group to see the Vanity of Small Differences by Grayson Perry. Consequently people had an idea where the project could go and the weeks and ends of work ended up with an exhibition shown here in the libray and a wonderful book. Marion explained that:

 

“This project has done wonders for our confidence [the groups at Community House]. The benefit of working over a longer period of time enabled us to get to know each other even better, make friends and connect to other groups who have stayed with us.”

 

On reflection Marion said she could have been more business-minded about the project; that’s to say that she worked very hard for the New Paths grant. However, she was glad that she took time to support other people's skills and to develop relationships as it has led to a job working on the 1,000 Voices heritage project with Community House. Having the chance to manage her own project - to play the long game on this New Paths project - proved to be successful.

Maindee Unlimited trustee Jo Sutton, whose role on the charity’s board is to develop the arts, thanked Marion for her presentation and commented that this project had been so good because Mation played particular attention to structure and method: that’s to say having a plan upon which creativity could happen.

RISE Propaganda with Bongo Peet

Having recently done an interview with the enigmatic John Frost from RISE Propaganda we already knew a little about his approach. Today we were excited to get even closer to him through a Skype conversation. By way of introduction we had some background to RISE’s work from Bongo Peet. He started by telling us that:

 

“Anonymity is important.”

 

From his perspective Peet had wanted to protect his identity when he emerged as a musician [mostly for his parents’ benefit]. In a similar way much street art, such as that of RISE, has to involve a degree of mystery as it is still widely perceived as flirting with the edges of illegality. Much of Peet said questioned the perception of street art / graffiti/ whatever as being a bad thing. For he repeated the oft-used alliteration of:

 

“Guns, gangs and graffiti…”

 

He thinks that this last statement is an act of linguistic convenience with three words beginning with the letter 'g' rather than explaining the complete story; pointing out that people like RISE are part of a movement to improve the quality of street art by putting some planning into their work. The RISE street art is in the form of stickers [as below] rather than spray painting.

RISE art work on former TJ's building

Bongo Peet was able to give a lot of background to street art and graffiti in Newport – of which we hope that he will come back again one day to tell us some more.

Before we got a chance to hear from the distorted voice of Mr John Frost we were left with another interesting point from Peet. In his view there is a certain impression attached by other people to us in Newport, something that we should perhaps subvert and capitalise on:

 

“Use the reputation as being gritty and hard; be less prudish… and get involved in events.”

 

Pete sat down, stopped speaking [proving that he was not the real John Frost] and Fez turned up the speaker. We heard John Frost introduce some of his art work and the purpose of standing up for Newport and respecting the city.

Hearing from John Frost AKA RISE Propaganda

Though he did not give a lot away about his identity, we told that we get amazing feedback through art. The message of RISE is that art can 'spread love. break hate.' For example, he mentioned how the Newport street artist known as ‘Enemie’ had been encouraged to channel his negative feelings through art [as detailed in an Argus article]. Though it is not all greatly appreciated, RISE said that Enemie’s work had got a lot better recently.

In terms of supporting Maindee he told us that one of his first larger artworks was a piece donated to the library – and presented by Fez [below].

Fez with RISE artwork

There were some questions from the audience about the illegality of street art. RISE said that good street art can brighten up lives and push to get a message across. He went further to question the ethics of the multinational companies who ‘invade’ our public space with imagery and messages which sell their products.  In saying this he suggested that there is a wider debate than just regarding street art as graffiti and therefore anti-social behaviour - and that there is a benefit to planning any approach which puts powerful art and political messages into public space.

A good link to what RISE said is that which we learned from our December 2016 trip to Stokes Croft in Bristol. At the Bear Pit it was evident that space for public art can have a financial value; they were offered quite a lot of money to turn one of their outdoor art hoardings into commercial advertising. They refused the offer!

And so the discussion with Peet and RISE Propaganda ended. There was still much uncertainty about who is behind the movement, but we were left with a better idea that a group in people in Newport are trying to help people come together through art in public space. We are sure to hear more about this in the coming months.

And the next blog article...

We are going to follow Marion's writing and not make this too long... and so we will soon write about the second half of the gathering - to find out what Steph Roberts did for her New Paths projects and how Dilip has been producing some beautiful images of the people and spaces of Maindee.

Related Links

Bakcground to New Paths tapestry project Maindee Stories

Marion's blog http://marioncheung.blogspot.co.uk/

The Vanity of Small Differences by Grayson Perry

The 1,000 Voices heritage project with Community House

More about the music and artwork from Bongo Peet

The story of Enemie from an Argus article

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