Eva Szwarc: Plymouth Art Weekender 2018

Eva Szwarc

There’s a certain time in the year when flashes of fuchsia begin to pop up across Plymouth. Posters, signage and programmes all loudly blare the same colour, announcing a shared message: Plymouth Art Weekender has arrived. In its fourth year, the city-wide programme has broken its own record of listings with over one-hundred-and-forty activities of self-organised exhibitions, performances, workshops, screenings and more. Across just three days, local creatives come together and prove the incredible DIY autonomy of the city’s cultural community, even in unexpected ways.

Take, for instance, the appearance of people dressed in yellow cleaning bibs on a pedestrianised road within the city centre. Armed with yellow cleaning cloths, they polish barks of trees, leaves and blades of grass whilst passersby look on in curiosity. Here is Cleaning in Progress, the project of Elena Brake. Through her performance work, the local artist invokes the often overlooked magic of the everyday. Uprooting the act of cleaning to an entirely new and unusual context, Brake ascribes to routine a meditative quality. ‘You notice things about the object you’re cleaning’ says Elena, ‘and the movements you’re making in that process, like going with the grain of the tree.’ The scale of the project has received vital support through Plymouth Platform, a mentoring scheme through Visual Arts Plymouth aiming to support the development of three early career artists this year: Elena Brake, Flo Brooks and Rhys Morgan. Brake was paired with Rachel Dobbs – a mentor she describes as ‘an amazing influence’ – and applied for Arts Council funding. The support for the project afforded its scale: the hire of participants, equipment, branding and the use of public location.

The outdoor and unusual sites in which so many of these projects take place is one of Plymouth Art Weekender’s greatest successes. Not only are a whole host of activities delivered, but a variety of sites can be explored. Whether personal or professional spaces, houses or hotels, hairdressers or high streets, the artistic community can be found in every corner of the city. Six Caroline Place, for example, is draped with gigantic bunting reading THE STARS ARE ALIGNED. An inconspicuous house for the remainder of the year, the space is transformed into a gallery for an eclectic range of artwork by local practitioners. For the final day, a nearby street is cordoned off from traffic and reclaimed by the local community. Starting in 2009, Union Street Party is an annual occasion where the road becomes a family playground sharing food and music, dancing, playing, painting and more.

A recent addition to Union Street is The Clipper, the former pub reinvented as a community- owned market and creative space earlier this year. Over Plymouth Art Weekender the units are buzzing with activity, from pizza-making to Sue Lewry’s miniature screen-printing sessions. Alan Qualtrough’s Truth Wall covers one section of The Clipper’s alleyway wall; pasted letterpress posters carry political messages to ‘fight truth decay’ and invert post-Brexit ‘strong and stable’ to ‘wrong and detestable’. Involved with multiple projects over Plymouth Art Weekender, Qualtrough describes the event as ‘a key element in the building of a permanent and thriving artistic network in Plymouth. For me,’ he continues, ‘the ‘I can do it’ culture is very important because it is organic and owned by the people.’

Plymouth Art Weekender is testament to the power of this grassroots approach. The creative community of the city rallies together to create an incredible scope of a programme. Whether attending a Glasgow-Plymouth film screening partnership or cooing like a pigeon in front of the big screen, there is a wildly huge embrace to all forms of practices, approaches and projects. The wide spectrum of events communicates the democratic openness of Plymouth Art Weekender. It is an even platform to all creative voices, individuals and networks, who collectively make the city bubble and boil with creativity more and more each day.