New Edinburgh Art Festival Commission Launches in Wester Hailes

Offerings, film still by Rachel McBrinn, courtesy of Community Wellbeing Collective, 2022

New project initiated by leading Dutch visual artist Jeanne van Heeswijk and the Community Wellbeing Collective to feature at 2022 Edinburgh Art Festival.

  • Watch This Space is one of three major commissions as the festival celebrates its 18th edition, running at Westside Plaza Shopping Centre from 30 July to 28 August 2022
  • The project forms part of the festival’s Commissions Programme: The Wave of Translation, marking the 200th anniversary of the Union Canal
  • Van Heeswijk will also deliver Festival’s Keynote Lecture on the project during opening weekend, presented in partnership with the National Galleries of Scotland and British Council Scotland

A major new commission is set to launch in Wester Hailes in the west of Edinburgh as part of the 2022 Edinburgh Art Festival, as it celebrates its 18th edition. A group of people living and working in the community and its surrounding areas– who have formed the Community Wellbeing Collective (C.W.C.) – will present Watch this Space – a space for all to develop together and to experience what community wellbeing is and could be. The commission is produced by Edinburgh Art Festival, in partnership with WHALE Arts.

A programme of events will take place in a former off-licence at Westside Plaza Shopping Centre from 30 July – 28 August, hosting activities and events led by C.W.C members, with gatherings and workshops led by invited guests. Across five weekends, the space hosts a number of talks, performances and workshops under thematic areas devised by members.

The group was initiated by Dutch artist Jeanne van Heeswijk. In 2020, Edinburgh Art Festival invited Van Heeswijk to research the possibilities of a commission to be co-produced with people in Wester Hailes. As part of the artist’s research, she presented her 14th Public Faculty, a four-day event and consultation held at Westside Plaza Shopping Centre. This ongoing body of work – which has been held across the globe – encourages people to re-think, re-define and re-enter public space through collective cultural action.

From this research conversation the artist identified key themes and concerns centered on the need to counter significant challenges of poverty, poor health and mental health, and to find means to create a better and healthier place to live, and how this might be achieved both for individuals and as a community.

From many conversations and connections, a group from Wester Hailes and connected areas began to crystallize around questions of wellbeing. A group of individuals from Wester Hailes and surrounding communities formed the C.W.C. to explore and expand on these ideas: Ayọ̀ Akínwándé, Lorna Baxter, Raymond Collins, Rungano Chigovanyika, Federica Cologna, Elizabeth Ann Day, Jj Fadaka, Alan Gordon, Jeanne van Heeswijk, Eoghan Howard, Devi A Kousalya, Eunice Main, Ruvimbo Heather Marufu, Fabien Merville, Tiki Muir, Ema-Sayuru Nyx, Seona O’Flaherty, Susi O’Rourke, Sindy Santos, Jogob Sarr, Bobby Sayers, Josie Tothill, Rumilla Uddin, and Holly Yeoman.

Over 9 months, the group – cooking together, eating together, spending time together, stretching and walking, playing and crafting, listening, writing, building, painting, reading, growing together. Through their regular meetings, the group has been relating to each other by sharing memories and questions, skills, needs, fears, and desires. Collectively, through dedication, creating space for practicing collective wellbeing, which is reflected in ‘Watch this Space’ and its activities and events programme, hosted by some C.W.C. members and invited likeminded guests.

The events programme opens with a ceremony of affirmations for the space, followed by a film screening of members’ wellbeing practices and a DJ set. Across the weekend, events include: The Mad Jammers Open Mic, an open mic group by and for people with experience of mental health issues; music performed by Gallo Rojo; a poetry show curated by Spit It Out Project, a collective of creatives bringing to light topics that are not afforded attention due to structural inequalities in society.

The programme includes talks by Dorothy Gould of Liberation – a grass roots group led by people with experience of mental distress and trauma – and Jim Slaven, co-founder of Edinburgh-based charity, Helping Hands, which challenges social and economic inequality in the city.

It will feature workshops from Support@Work and Edinburgh Living Rent, in addition to a panel hosted by local care workers and Care and Support Workers ORGANISE!, a network of care workers and trade unionists fighting for better pay and conditions in the healthcare sector. Along the way, visitors can also take a herbal foraging ramble with Edinburgh and Glasgow based Grass Roots Remedies to explore ideas of natural remedies.

In her original proposal arising from her research project, 14th Public Faculty in Wester Hailes, Jeanne van Heeswiijk notes; ‘How can we imagine a future in common together?’ We will work collaboratively with community members, listening to many voices to create a space to common uncertainties that can hold an imagined future, one that can be inhabited – a time capsule.’

The activity will take place at Westside Plaza in Wester Hailes, and online at watchthisspace.online (live from 28 July), including short films capturing the essence of the project. More information and associated events can be found on the project’s website or on Instagram @communitywellbeingcollective.

This commission is produced by Edinburgh Art Festival in partnership with WHALE Arts. It is supported by the PLACE Programme, a partnership between Edinburgh Festivals, Scottish Government, City of Edinburgh Council and Creative Scotland, with additional support from the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Access to the space has been supported by Outerspaces – an organisation that supports artists and arts organisations using empty shops/offices across Scotland.

Jeanne van Heeswijk will also present this year’s Keynote Lecture – in partnership with the National Galleries of Scotland and British Council Scotland – as a highlight of the festival’s opening weekend. It will locate Van Heeswijk’s commission for Wester Hailes in the context of her wider practice, and offer an insight into the C.W.C. and Watch this Space. The Keynote Lecture takes place on Friday 29 July from 5 – 6pm. Tickets are £5, and available from edinburghartfestival.com or nationalgalleries.org

Events Programme at Westside Plaza: All events free to attend, with a free creche running throughout the programme

The first weekend features Opening Ceremony: Collective Rituals for Change (Saturday 30 July). The day begins with a ceremony of affirmations for the future of the C.W.C. space, followed by a film screening expressing each group members’ wellbeing practice, and a DJ set from Sounds of The C.W.C.. Emotional Health and Transformation (Sunday 31 July), will feature a talk by Dorothy Gould. Gould is the founder of Liberation, a grass-roots group led by people with experience of mental health distress and trauma. The talk will be followed by a motivational talk by C.W.C. member Heather Marufu, and close with The Mad Jammers Open Mic, an open mic afternoon by and for people with experience of mental health issues.

The second weekend – Who is Wellbeing For? – kicks off with Where is Our Collective Power? (Saturday 6 August). Hosted by activist groups including Edinburgh Living Rent and Support@Work, the day will feature training workshops and drop-ins to tackle issues of inequality, from life and housing to work and inequality. Edinburgh Housing Schemes – Foundations of Inequality and The Power of Solidarity (Sunday 7 August) will feature a talk by Jim Slaven. Slaven is co-founder of Helping Hands, an Edinburgh-based charity tackling social and economic inequality. This will be followed by a public conversation hosted by the C.W.C. and Jim Slaven.

The third weekend – Healing Collective Trauma Through Creativity begins with a canal boat journey. Music, Joy and Resistance (Saturday 13 August) will see C.W.C. members set sail on a voyage from the Lochrin Basin to Wester Hailes, which will be followed by a concert on Westside Plaza. The Plaza performance will feature music from Gallo Rojo, The day will round off with hip hop in Sounds of the Schemes.

Poetry as an Outlet for the Unheard (Sunday 14 August) begins with a poetry writing workshop with Bea Asha Singh. The spoken word artist’s work often tackles social and gender inequalities, characterised by an openness to talk about personal experiences and using creativity as a way of healing. This will be followed by Spit It Out Poetry Show, curated by Spit It Out – a collective of creatives bringing to light topics that are not afforded attention due to structural inequalities in society: mental health, racism, LGBTQIA+ rights, sexual consent and trauma.

In the fourth weekend – Health and Care by The People, For the People, Folk Medicine (Friday 19 August) will see visitors join the C.W.C. and Grass Roots Remedies for a herbal foraging walk and discussion to explore holistic heath. Based in Edinburgh and Glasgow, Grass Roots Remedies are a workers’ cooperative with the philosophy that herbal medicine is medicine of the people and should be accessible to everyone.

Care Work, Rights and Revolutionary Care (Sunday 21 August), a closed event for the group, will focus on transforming and revolutionising social care. Alongside workshops, the C.W.C. will host a panel discussion with local care workers and Care and Support Workers ORGANISE!, a network of care workers and trade unionists fighting for better conditions, guided by co-production of workers, disabled people and those in receipt of support.

In the final weekend – Roots and Wings – the C.W.C. will reflect on the wider programme of activity. After a workshop with director and theatre maker Jess Haygarth with a healthy dose of comedy dance and drag, the C.W.C. will present C.W.C Origin and the Future of Community (Sunday 28 August) in a celebratory public performance on Westside Plaza. The events will close with an Endings and Beginnings celebration.

Edinburgh Art Festival’s Commissions Programme 2022

The Festival’s Commissions Programme, which supports leading artists to create ambitious new work, this year marks the 200th anniversary of the Union Canal with the theme ‘The Wave of Translation’ – a scientific phenomenon first discovered in Edinburgh.

In 1834, engineer John Scott Russell watched as a horse-drawn canal boat came to a stop at Hermiston on the Union Canal. This abrupt stop created a single wave which continued along the waterway holding its shape and speed. Russell’s recording and research of this phenomenon eventually influenced the development of modern fibre optic technology. He described the wave as his ‘first chance encounter with that singular and beautiful phenomenon which I have called the Wave of Translation’.

Other commissions in the programme include Montreal-based First Nations artist Nadia Myre, who will present Tell Me of Your Boats and Your Waters – Where Do They Come From, Where Do They Go? A multi-format exploration spanning Scotland and Canada, migratory routes starting on the Union Canal, indigenous storytelling, archival research methods, pattern, prose and song lyrics. And Pester and Rossi’s Finding Buoyancy, a commission produced through collaboration with groups and individuals in Wester Hailes. Exploring ways that we can connect to the natural environment to help us stay buoyant in uncertain times, the project began with a guided audio journey entitled Finding Buoyancy – Sound Meditations (2021) inviting group members from WHALE Arts to creatively share responses to the canal.

For more information, including details of the full Edinburgh Art Festival programme, please visit www.edinburghartfestival.com or follow the festival on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @edartfest #edartfest  

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