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By Annalie |

Celebrating the Majesty of the River Great Ouse

Bedford River Project Culminates in Spectacular Exhibition at 2024 Bedford River Festival

Painting by Anita Powell

After a year of artistic exploration and engagement with diverse communities, the Bedford River Project, supported using public funding from Arts Council England, will culminate in a vibrant exhibition at the Basement @ Bunyan from the 14th May. The event will feature emerging and established artists from the local community, who were commissioned to create stunning works of art inspired by the river. 

Lead creative producer and Artist Anthea Davis-Barclay said she had a deep passion for the project, which was personal to her on several levels.
“As a black-led project, we have embraced our role as stewards of our natural environment. Our goal is to champion conservation efforts and inspire people from all cultures to appreciate our natural surroundings,” Ms Davis-Barclay said. 
“I live close to the river and find it so beautiful and calming.  The peace and health benefits it offers is something we should celebrate more.”

Hazera Forth, a Bedford based, British Benagli poet said, ‘I’ve been drawn closer to my heritage while navigating a culture and its relationship to water and rivers. Bengalis, ‘brought with them an immense respect in how they interact with the river in Bedford’.

The Bedford River Project kicked-off in the Spring of 2023 as a multi-disciplinary arts initiative supported by public funding from the Arts Council England. At the heart of this project lies a commitment to creativity, diversity and conservation. Participating artists have shared their passion and expertise, through a series of workshops with schools and community groups. 

“The commissioned artists visited four schools in Bedford and presented poetry, sculpture, illustrations and different creative arts. And after the workshops, the students responded by making their own work, like poetry, sculptures, 2-D arts and photography in the project-led competitions.” Ms Davis-Barclay said. 
“Central to our purpose was celebrating the children, no matter what social background or ethnicity and giving them a sense of achievement and connection with the river Great Ouse.”

Maxine Owen, teacher at Camestone Primary school, one of the four schools, said that the children were very enthusiastic about creating the art-pieces. 
“The workshops inspired the children to create pieces linked to the river and the issues it faces. They worked with Anne-Marie using mixed media and even mod-roc to create a 3D bird to create artwork. They also wrote poetry or a story based on the river inspired by the amazing story telling of Anthea,” Ms Owen said. 
“A trip down the river on the John Bunyan Community Boat helped them to appreciate our local environment and the plants and creatures that live there. Once their final pieces were created, we held an exhibition in school where the parents of Year 5 children and all of the other year groups visited to see their work.”

The grand finale of the Bedford River Project will take place at the 2024 Bedford River Festival. The exhibition will kick off at the Basement@Bunyan 14th- 18th May,  before moving to The Higgins Art Gallery and Museum from May 20th – June 1st, showcasing the talent and creativity of the commissioned artists, community members and school children.

Among the roster of commissioned artists are Anthea Barclay (Poet and Creative Director), who also serves as Project Director, Leon Barclay (musician), Anita Powell (painter/podcaster), Paul-Michael Berwise-Ebanks (photographer), Antaya Lendore (illustrator), Anne-Marie Abbate (mixed media), and Hazera Forth (poet and podcaster). Together, these artists have crafted a body of work that celebrates the majesty of the Great Ouse and the enduring power of art to unite and inspire.
As the Bedford River Project puts together its first exhibition, we invite you to join us in celebrating the beauty and resilience of the river Great Ouse and the talents of local community artists who have brought its story to life.

Celebrating the Majesty of the River Great Ouse


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