Get ready for an explosion of creativity in older age with the Gwanwyn Festival during May 2018
Published on 23 July 2018 03:00 PM
Throughout the month of May expect an explosion of colour, sound and excitement across the whole of Wales as hundreds of people aged 50 plus perform and deliver an extraordinarily wide range of creative activities as part of the annual Gwanwyn Festival.
Organised by Age Cymru, the Festival encourages older people to take part in visual arts, drama, storytelling, music, literature, photography dance or film. And this year the range of activities and performances is quite possibly our most diverse, exciting and innovative since the Festival was established in 2007. In all there are 45 organisations taking part, delivering more than 100 events and activities across Wales.
There will be literary boat trips around Anglesey with musicians and poets performing sea shanties and poems about our maritime traditions, including smuggling!; stand-up comedy workshops and performances in both Ystradgynlais and Abergavenny; a celebration of pixel stick photography in Llandudno; contemporary music featuring a fiddle and beatbox at a housing association in Cardiff (how often get to see those two instruments perform together); and a circus skills workshop in Llanelli to name but a few!
Other performances include a collaboration between the Forget Me Not Chorus and the Welsh writer Patrick Jones in Newport; an exploration of what beauty means to older people by Cardiff BME Community through the support of the Gentle/ Radical Cardiff group; a bus tour through the centre of Cardiff by the Get the Chance group who will be asking people whether ageing is an art form; a session by Pontypridd based harpist Bethan Nia who will use local stories and myths as a source of inspiration for a new piece of music.
Gwanwyn, which is Welsh for spring, was chosen as we believe it symbolise older age as a time of opportunity, renewal, and growth. For many of us older age can bring about sudden and significant changes in our lives: our children may leave to find work further afield and we may retire from work and not only lose friends but also suffer a fall in income. At the same time our health may deteriorate as might our confidence and sense of self-worth as we become increasingly lonely and isolated.
By providing a platform for older people to develop or even rediscover their creative skills we believe that the Gwanwyn Festival can transform the process of ageing to one of opportunity and achievement as well as a huge dollop of fun and making new friendships.
Emma Robinson, Arts and Creativity Programme Manager with Age Cymru and organiser of the Festival says: “We all want Wales to be a good place to grow older and the arts and creativity are absolutely fundamental to that aspiration; fostering inclusion, alleviating loneliness, improving well-being and quite simply, creating and taking part in exciting work for the enjoyment of all.”
Caroline Lamb, Artistic Director of Striking Attitudes Dance Theatre, an organisation that works with older dancers reflects on her involvement with the Festival since its launch in 2007:
“When I was 10 I desperately wanted to be a ballet dancer. I attended Saturday morning classes with Miss Fisher, a small terrifying lady with short red hair and spent hours at home perusing ‘Every Child’s Book of Dance and Ballet’. “Now having grown up a little, I run a professional dance theatre company that works with older dancers by providing creative and performance opportunities.
“The Festival is all about carrying on, carrying on being creative and having a voice as we age. It’s a life–affirming event that lets the rest of the world know we don’t need to lie down and quietly fade away as we get older, and that age does not have to be a barrier to leading a creatively fulfilled life. The festival promotes the idea of a vigorous and active older age – one that is positive and still creatively challenging.
Gwanwyn goes from strength to strength. Please get involved, jump in there, don’t think twice! The Festival is stimulating, energizing and great fun. You won’t regret it!
Reflecting on this year’s programme, Gwanwyn organiser Emma Robinson says: “Each year I am totally amazed by the range and uniqueness of the performances and activities that are being organised across Wales. And this year is no exception. I simply can’t wait for the festival to begin and see the surge of creativity sweeping across the country.
If you are new to the Festival and its ethos I would urge you to get to know Gwanwyn. Perhaps this year you could start off as part of the audience and then perhaps by this time next year you could be an organiser, a critic or even a performer.
For full details of this year’s festival visit our website: http://gwanwyn.org.uk/ or call 029 2043 1555. We look forward to hearing from you.
Gwanwyn Legacy – The Gwanwyn Arts Club, Aberystwyth
“People ask me what I do and I tell them, ‘I’m an artist, and a poet’. I never would have said that before. Boy, does it feel good.”
As a result of the Gwanwyn Festival a group of artists in Aberystwyth were inspired to set up an all year round arts club. .
Alan, Carol, Kate and Julia are members of that club, which is coordinated by Martine. This is their story.
How did you first get involved with the club?
Carol: It came about for me at the perfect time. I’d unexpectedly been made redundant, and I’d lost my partner. I used to be an art and pottery teacher, but I hadn’t done anything creative for a long time. The club has helped me to reconnect with my creativity, and I’ve even started doing my own art work again. I was speaking to a neighbour who was an artist and he told me “now it’s time to find out who you really are”. Those words really stuck with me, and they’ve proved to be so true.
Julia: Like Carol, I’d been made unexpectedly redundant. I ran a residential rehab treatment programme here in Aberystwyth. Three years ago, the place closed down. For years I’d worked long hours in a very demanding job. After being made redundant I suffered from depression and became quite isolated. It was a huge shock to the system, and quite traumatic. I found out about the club and thought I’d give it a go. I’d never been involved with anything artistic before, and thought this was my chance to discover if I had any creative talent at all.
Alan: After my father passed away, my mother became ill with dementia. I became my Mum’s carer, which was really challenging. I developed chronic depression and anxiety. I’ve been painting since I was twelve. I was inspired by Jackson Pollock, chucking paint at canvases. I suppose I was a bit of a rebel. I could never finish any of my paintings. I had loads of half-finished paintings at home, all getting damp and falling apart. Before the club, I wouldn’t show my art to anyone. Now I finish my paintings, and other people get to see them. My artwork has gained a life of its own outside of my home, and so have I.
Kate: When I retired, I moved to Aberystwyth to be closer to my family. I started to feel quite isolated, the only people I knew were my daughter and grandchildren. I needed to find something to do for myself. I’ve always been creative. I used to make costumes for theatre and television and was an interior designer and decorator for years. I’ve been covertly writing, drawing and painting for years, but had never shown anyone anything I’d made. The Gwanwyn club has allowed for all of this to come out into the open and start to share my art with others. I have a whole folder of various stories and poems that I’d been writing since the 1960s which are only now seeing the light of day!
Why do you think engaging with arts is important?
Martine: I have the pleasure and privilege of being the coordinator of this project. To have the opportunity to work with different people and to invite artists to work with the group has been so exciting. The process of being creative is a great way for people to come together, to learn and to express themselves. Everyone has creativity inside them, the sessions just give people permission to let that side of themselves come out to play. We’ve all been on a journey together, and we’ve learned more about ourselves and each other. As the group has developed, you see people getting more adventurous, trying things they wouldn’t have previously. People are coming together over art, and that’s really exciting. If you could bottle the creativity and energy in the room at one of our sessions, it would be priceless.
What difference has being part of the club made to your lives?
Carol: When I first joined, I wasn’t in a very good place. The creative work we’ve been doing here has been amazing. It’s helped give me a foundation for moving on with my life. I’ve started pottery again for the first time in almost thirty years. The club’s been fantastic. We’ve never been treated like “old people”, but as a group of people with life experience who can still learn new skills. We’re all still learning, and there’s so much out there to learn. It’s given me a huge amount of self-esteem and self-worth. I’m no longer just Carol who used to work for the Council and was made redundant, I’m Carol who is creating her own art and is active with loads of other people. I’m hoping to put on a little exhibition of my work. I’ve been speaking to local venues about this, which is a massive transition for me.
Julia: I never thought that I could be creative. When I first got involved, everyone else seemed to know more than I did. Everyone seemed to be more creative, and also making new friends, which I really wasn’t ready for yet. I challenged myself to keep coming, and I’m so glad that I did. I now come to every session, and I’ve discovered that I can actually make something. I’ve started writing poetry, which I find comes quite easily to me. I’ve also started to make friends, the thought of which would have filled me with horror when I started. Even though I only live down the road, it had never occurred to me before that I could just go into an arts centre. I now feel like a “real artist” and feel like I have a right to be here. For the first time in my life, I’m being told that what I’m doing is OK. It can be hard to believe it. I’m starting to feel more confident, and finding it easier to get involved with other things now.
Alan: I was a bit nervous at first, like a child starting school for the first day. I started to get to know people, and then after a while you realise you don’t just know the people, you know them through their artwork, and they know you through yours. With art, you’re showing people about you. It doesn’t just speak about who we are now, but also who we have been – all our pasts can come out. It helps you express who you really are inside.
Kate: I’ve learnt so much and had the opportunity to try out so many different things. The creative writing classes have opened up a whole new world for me. I’ve been writing new things and revisiting and rewriting some of my poems and stories from years ago. I’ve submitted some of my poems to a local magazine for publication. I’m always doing something creative now, whether here or at home. I’ve met so many lovely people, who are now really close friends. Getting together is the highlight of my week. Being creative seems to slow down the ageing process.