Joining the dots for a feast of community art projects
BY SIMON PARKER
Before you start counting them all, there are exactly 572 dots on this map of Cornwall.
From the south-western tip to the north-eastern border, Torpoint to Lizard Point and everything in between, each pink dot represents a project supported by Feast. Many people won't even be aware of the organisation's name, but few will not have been involved, either as participant or audience, in one of its activities over the past five years.
With the broad remit of making great art happen in rural areas by putting artists together with communities, Feast has, in a very short time, transformed the cultural landscape of Cornwall.
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Operating from a small, shared office at Krowji, the former home of Redruth Grammar School, Feast's team of two – Rose Barnecut and Jack Morrison – can produce reams of data relating to the hundreds of schemes that have helped sow the seeds of community involvement.
Clearly moved by the success of so many individual projects – from illuminating St Day's ruined church to Kehelland's textile map, Cambiata boys choir to Rogue Theatre – Jack and Rose are surrounded by scores of cards from grateful recipients.
"The cards we get are heartfelt," said Rose. "They are saying 'thank you for believing in us and our ideas'. It is as much about the encouragement, validation and advice that Feast can offer as it is about the money."
To fully understand the extent of Feast's influence, numbers alone tell only part of the story. Nevertheless, those numbers are impressive. In the first five years of the Cornwall Council and Arts Council funded programme, Feast has worked with 641 communities, 3,049 artists, 3,676 volunteers, 46,000 participants and audiences totalling some 377,000.
To mark the story so far, Rose and Jack invited award-winning Cornish cinematographer Brett Harvey to make a short film about its work. It an be viewed via Vimeo or through Feast's own website.
"The response to Brett's film has been very, very good," said Jack. "It would take hours to explain why Feast is important to Cornwall, but this little film whittles it down to six minutes. And each of the dots on the map in the film really does represent a project supported by Feast – they aren't random."
Run as part of Cornwall Arts Centre Trust, Feast's core aim is to support projects which benefit and mean something to all sectors of a particular community.
Consequently it is able to back schemes of every size. At one end of the scale, Falmouth Mindful Arts needed less than £300 to enable a group of artists with mental health issues to gather and work together. At the other, Feast contributed to the success of Weekend Retreat, a feature film made by Cornish writers, actors, and technicians, which has gone on to win numerous awards.
"We work with artists who want to work with communities, and communities who want to work with artists," said Rose. "It is vital to build and support the local cultural infrastructure because if you want to have active communities and make the arts real in a rural region you need a networked approach and some way of dispersing it. We now have the systems in place to enable that."
From helping old and new Cornish festivals to boosting the region's economy, the Feast team are determined to continue their mission of enabling communities to foster a sense of place and distinctiveness through a variety of art forms.
"Rather than it being simply a case of giving grants here and grants there, we have to work at ways of using this money smartly to make it go a long way," said Rose, adding that Feast welcomed applications from individuals and groups anywhere in Cornwall.
"Our bottom line is that we want to see communities benefit from a project. It can be the best creative idea in the world but for it to be a Feast project it has to translate into some activity that is actually interesting and beneficial for a community to engage with.
"The idea is very much about strengthening communities through the arts by giving people a reason to come together. What people need is an initial bit of support, investment and advice. That's where we come in. It is all about people – the people who can make things happen and keep making them happen."
For more information visit feastcornwall.org