BUZZ CULTURE: PONTYPRIDD ARTS CENTRE DEVELOPMENT | FEATURE
Artist duo Heinrich & Palmer’s design for Pontypridd’s new centre for culture and art is inspired by the Welsh national anthem, local landscape, and the passions and ambitions of the community, reports Chris Francis.
Last week I had the pleasure of sitting down (virtually) with Anna Heinrich and Leon Palmer, the artists behind the design of the glassworks façade to be installed on the parapet of the new multi-million-pound arts centre redevelopment of the YMCA building in Pontypridd town centre.
Anna: Addo, the public art consultants, created the brief and we then applied with a portfolio, a sample of our work, and an outline of how we would approach the brief – which was quite specific; it was actually for creating designs for the vinyl applications. The architect had already identified a process we could work with, so our task was about developing the concept, working with the community and doing our own independent research to come up with the imagery that we felt would work with that design.
Obviously, it’s got a real history, but the architect was after a design that would really complement the building – that would be quite minimal and sit well, but also have a timeless element, so wasn’t too much about one particular strong word or graphic that would date really quickly.
The full story of how the glass designs were created in partnership with the community, just after the start of the first lockdown in the spring of 2020, was recently unveiled at a special online Facebook event, where people were able to learn about how the landscape and local contributions to Welsh culture have influenced the design.
Anna: At the National Library Of Wales, we’ve got amazing resources online – maps which date back to the 16th century, and in all the maps you can quite easily identify Pontypridd at the fork of the rivers. It was a drovers’ route – a really well-worn route. Then that developed during the industrial period, with mining.
Leon: You’ve got two halves to the design: one half is the Rhondda running down to the sea, and the other half is the Cynon – the Taff – running down to the sea. They join in the middle, and the bit where they join is the curve – the bit we’re supposed to leave alone! They said, if possible can you just not do anything with that, which actually worked out quite nicely and fits with the confluence of the rivers in the design.
Anna: We also looked in the museum itself, and came across a copy of the original Land Of My Fathers manuscript, which I think has a date written in it of 1856, and the father and son [Evan James and James James] were residents of Pontypridd.
The words of the anthem, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau in its original Welsh, runs in the form of a red path around the hills and mountains as described by the map-style artwork – almost dancing around the work in song and making the hills alive again.
Leon: There was something immediately poetic about it, but it was one of those things where if you just dropped it on that it didn’t make any sense – so we mapped it onto the map itself as a footpath, using the language of a footpath on that you get on OS maps. Maybe make a few adjustments for rivers and cartels – imagine it was a real footpath; we didn’t really want to send people into the middle of a river, or falling off a cliff! Although it would still be across people’s property.
Becoming a major landmark in the town once more, the designs for the glass façade of the building were created in partnership with Addo Creative, RCT Arts, Pontypridd YMCA and Artis Community Cymuned, and funded as part of Arts Council Wales’ investment in the building. The designs were developed in lockdown and inspired by conversations and creative activities undertaken by members of the community, including local arts and crafts group Crafty Cuppa, RCT Creative Writers group and parent and baby group Our Place.
Anna: One particular member of Crafty Cuppa, Bernard, was an absolute font of knowledge; he said that he really felt that Land Of My Fathers having been written by Pontypridd residents was quite an important fact. That gave us a pointer to investigate further. Those voices quite early on in the project really helped make the idea.
Though unable to visit Pontypridd, Anna and Leon (who had previously lived in nearby Cardiff, completing their Fine Arts degrees in the late 1980s) were able to overcome lockdown restrictions by asking local community groups to complete various creative tasks. Most of us have become increasingly familiar with online meetings, but – being aware that some members of the remote or older communities are less tech-savvy or have no internet access – the duo created a colour chart, sent out group members to take pictures of similar colours they found in their local area, and requested postcards be sent to them from Pontypridd.
Anna: People could then go and find things on their daily walk that match those colours, and then send us pictures – so we could build up an impressionistic picture of what the landscape was like and what the town was like – but do it in a sort of quiet, playful way, because that whole thing of being able to go on a daily walk every day was quite a big deal, wasn’t it?
Leon: Thing is, people are really chatty as well. And we know from having lived in Wales and I came from a chatty part of the world. So it was easy to get conversations going.
The team at Artis Community Cymuned, the organisation who will manage the completed building when it opens in late 2021, are keen to hear from people in the local area who would like to contribute to the future of the building and the events and programmes undertaken there. Artis CEO Jen Angharad says: “We’re very keen to hear the thoughts and ideas of the community as we look ahead. We have just launched a new learning and development programme called Creative Ambassadors and will be holding a special introductory event to the scheme and how people can get involved online on Thurs 15 Apr at 6.30pm. We very much hope people will want to come along and find out how they can help shape the future of the building and learn lots of new skills at the same time.” You can register for that online event at this link.
words CHRIS FRANCIS
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