Monday, 30 November 2009

The sense of community in rural places

There is a wealth of activity happening in and around the South West of England, especially Somerset, that has a huge interest in community life and participation.

Over the last month I've been to two events that traditionally have been held for years and that are known internationally for the extravagance and spectacle and both are community led and not for profit. Both of these events not only engage local communities in the organising and creation of the event but they attract thousands of people to the South West every year.

One of the events I visited was Ottery St Mary's Tar Barrel rolling where teams from the local pubs carry burning barrels of tar on their shoulders amongst a tightly packed crowd of onlookers. To take part in the event you have to be from the village itself and not only is there an event for the men and women but the children as well.

The second event was Bridgwater carnival, the biggest illuminated carnival in the world and here in Somerset! Each float is locally sponsored to create large public art pieces that include choreographed routines, set design, costume design and collecting money for charity. In recent years Bridgwater carnival has worked with Nottinghill carnival to share creative ideas and the results were amazing.

Over the forthcoming months there are more local cultural arts events to look forward to. They include a tour of Mamma's plays at Christmas time and the best yet, Wassailing in the new year were thanks is given to cider trees and a celebration of the next harvest takes place.

These are only events that take place when the nights are dark and cold but never do the local community events stop in rural areas. From barn dances, cheese rolling, village hall fetes and music festivals, the South West is more than active when it comes to community arts.

Can these events include and enhance contemporary visual arts? Can contemporary visual arts in rural areas learn something from these events? Will there ever be as much pride and enthusiasm in the South West's contemporary visual arts are there are in these events?  

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