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City exhibition showcases how youngsters want to be seen

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A unique exhibition featuring virtual reality artwork created by young people to express their feelings about their mental health is being held in Swansea this month.

The event is the latest phase of a Swansea University project which explores how young people post, share and view images online to express their narratives and state of mind.  

Researchers and artists work with young people from the community as well as those typically considered harder to reach -refugees and asylum seekers, trans young people, those in care and those with mental health problems or who self-harm. 

The exhibition is being held at the Volcano Theatre in High Street as part of a project called Be Seen which brought young people together with professionals from arts, mental health, data science and medicine. 

Professor Ann John, of the University’s Medical School, who leads the project and the Adolescent Mental Health Data Platform  will be hosting the event with artist and co-lead Karen Ingham. 

Professor John said: “The way young people communicate has rapidly evolved. They are keen to share their stories and now do this predominantly through imagery – photography and video – with image-based platforms replacing things like forums.

“Simultaneous rapid linkage of information from a wide range of sources has resulted in hope for a new era of research into young people’s mental health. 

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“Our vision is for young people’s voices to ‘be seen’ and influence the use of their data and the public conversation on their use of images to express mental health. 

“This exhibition is culmination of that vision, and we look forward to being able to share their work with a wider audience.” 

During the project workshops were held with people aged from 16 to 24 in Plymouth and Swansea which focused on mental health and wellbeing, the use of ‘big data’ and storytelling through visual imagery such as photos, film and virtual reality. 

The idea was to help young people better understand issues relating to the use of mental health and self-harm imagery and look at the risks and benefits of using imagery for self-expression in the modern world. 

Professor John said feedback from the exhibition and accompanying video will be used to steer future research and potentially guide policy related to sharing of self-harm imagery online. 

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She added: “We also hope to create an online toolkit, co-produced with young people, to support individuals’ use of images to tell their stories based on project findings as well as sharing our work with stakeholders.”

The Be Seen project has been funded by the Medical Research Council, the Arts & Humanities Research Council and the Economic & Social Research Council. 

The free exhibition will run from Tuesday, November 16 to Friday, November 19.

Lead image: One of the pieces of art created for the project. (Image: Swansea University)

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Sandfields Library receives new lease of life with mural artwork

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A new mural has been unveiled at the recently re-opened Sandfields Library, with the aim of welcoming the local community back to the building following the COVID-19 shutdown.

The artwork was painted by a local teacher and funded by J.G. Hale Construction as part of the community benefits associated with Tai Tarian’s nearby County Flats scheme – a state-of-the-art project to build 55 new homes, and refurbish 72 existing flats, in Sandfields, Aberavon.

The mural’s artist, Adam John, teaches art at the nearby comprehensive school, Ysgol Bae Baglan. John completed the mural volunteering in his spare time, after school and on weekends, over a total of 30 hours.

The idea for the mural was suggested to the County Flats scheme developer – social housing provider, Tai Tarian – by library staff. It covers one external wall of the library and showcases some of the activities and services available within the building.

The spectacular artwork depicts a meadow scene and a portrayal of the Aberavon seafront, with a rainbow over it to represent the heroic commitment of the NHS throughout the pandemic. The wildflowers and butterflies painted in the mural represent a wider initiative between Tai Tarian, local councillor, Sean Pursey, and Buglife Cymru, around transforming open spaces with wildflowers.

The picture also includes three sheep, which represent the innovative use of Welsh Sheep’s wool being utilised to insulate the properties in the Sandfields development.

The County Flats scheme will eventually provide 127 carbon-neutral homes, delivered across three phases, over three years – with phase one nearing completion. It will achieve carbon neutrality via a range of in-house green and sustainable initiatives.

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Most notable of these is the use of natural, eco-friendly forms of insulation made from three unusual and innovative materials: welsh sheep’s wool, locally sourced from Neath-based Crynant Farm; mycelium, the vegetative filament root structure of mushrooms; and a wood-fibre insulation developed in-house at SO Modular.

The pioneering insulation methods are providing a pilot study for the viability of their use in the wider construction industry.

David Harrhy, managing director of J.G. Hale Construction, said: “We are delighted to have been able to fund this mural as part of the County Flats development’s community benefits in collaboration with Tai Tarian. The painting really brightens the area up and should be a welcoming sight to those returning to the library following the coronavirus shutdown.”

Adam John, Art Teacher at Ysgol Bae Baglan who painted the mural, said: “The opportunity to create a mural in the heart of the estate was difficult to turn down. Having taught in the community for nearly 20 years, I knew I had to say yes.

“I always feel proud that I can inspire our children to be more creative, and I knew it would be well received. Our pupils love seeing artwork and truly appreciate skills which go into an outcome. I’ve painted many sets over the years, which are always enjoyed by our pupils and visitors, but they are replaced every year, so it was great to leave my efforts on a wall for many years to come. The mural allowed me to give something back to the community; a little reminder to current and ex-pupils that they too can make a difference in their own community.”

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Rebecca Thomas, Tai Tarian’s Social and Economic Regeneration Manager said: “At Tai Tarian, we pride ourselves on being part of the community and with our major re-development of the County Flats site getting underway, we were keen to do something that would leave a lasting legacy for the people of Sandfields.

“Our partners, J.G. Hale Construction, shared this vision and were keen to get involved, working with the library and Adam John to create the mural as part of our community benefits programme.

“Libraries play an important part in communities, giving people access to all sorts of valuable resources and if the mural helps attract more visitors to the facility, then we will be pleased to have played a part in this.”

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Glynn Vivian becomes first UK Art Gallery of Sanctuary

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Sanctuary Awards – backed by the UK City of Sanctuary movement – celebrate the commitment of organisations to ensure a warm welcome and inclusivity for all. 

Last year, Swansea celebrated 10 years as a City of Sanctuary, and the gallery’s award helps to illustrate the area’s ongoing support of refugees and people seeking asylum.

Over the past six years, the Glynn Vivian has worked with Swansea City of Sanctuary to offer weekly art sessions for – and led by – refugees and people seeking asylum in the local community.

Council cabinet member Robert Francis-Davies said: “Swansea is a welcoming city and our cultural sector plays a huge role in that.

“This award for the Glynn Vivian illustrates that we take our role as a City of Sanctuary very seriously.

“I congratulate all those in helping secure the award, including staff, supporters, artists and those seeking refuge.”

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A Glynn Vivian community exhibition (Image: Swansea Council)

A City of Sanctuary event at Swansea city centre’s Volcano Theatre saw the gallery formally accept its new status.

Supported by a Taking Part grant from the Art Council of Wales, and the Friends of the Glynn Vivian, the gallery provides workshops, events, art resources and materials to people. These have been available at the gallery and – during lockdown – at home.

The pandemic has seen the creation of a welcome banner; this has been displayed at the gallery and will be on show at the National Waterfront Museum next year.

Other projects by the gallery’s welcome group have included community exhibitions at the Glynn Vivian, a mosaic display at Morriston Hospital and participant portraits on hoardings around the city centre’s emerging Copr Bay district.

City of Sanctuary committee member and asylum seeker Funmilayo Onaliyan said: “The Glynn Vivian is doing a fantastic job.

“Staff and visitors there learn from sanctuary seekers and involve them in creative activities.

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“Right through the lockdown, they involved sanctuary seekers in lots of online activities.

“Their exhibitions raise awareness in the wider community about sanctuary seekers. This is at the heart of what Swansea City of Sanctuary does.”

A Croeso-Welcome mosaic at the Glynn Vivian. (Image: Swansea Council)

Thanuja Hettiarachchi, a refugee and the coordinator of Swansea City of Sanctuary’s 10th anniversary programme, said: “The Glynn Vivian does everything it can to include sanctuary seekers in all their activities.

“For example, they provided bus passes allowing people new to the city to join in activities with other local people.

“During the pandemic, the Glynn Vivian has kept everyone active as part of the whole community, not just putting things on especially for asylum seekers and refugees.”

Glynn Vivian curator Karen MacKinnon said: “We’re delighted to become the UK’s first Gallery of Sanctuary.

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“Our colleagues Dan and Richard set up the welcome group over six years ago to create a safe space and to ensure that creativity is available for everyone in Swansea.

“At the gallery, we all believe that art can change lives, supporting health and wellbeing creating a more inclusive society and helping those who are struggling.”

City of Sanctuary UK chief officer Siân Summers-Rees said: “The Glynn Vivian reflects our concept of sanctuary in arts so well.

“It lowers barriers and engages people with lived experience of seeking sanctuary.

“This takes place in creative activities alongside the host community – it raises awareness and builds resilience, friendships and relationships of solidarity.”

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(Lead Image: Swansea Council)

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Banksy mural leaves Port Talbot to be displayed in England

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Street artist Banksy’s mural ‘Season’s Greetings’ that appeared on a garage in Port Talbot in 2018 is to leave the town for an exhibition in Peterborough instead.

Neath Port Talbot Council says that the temporary agreement between themselves and art dealer John Brandler to house his Banksy artwork Season’s Greetings in an unoccupied shop unit in Port Talbot’s town centre is coming to an end. 

Owner, John Brandler however says that the decision to remove the work from Port Talbot has been “forced upon him” by the council as “there was such a demand for commercial space” in the area.

He said: “I didn’t instigate the removal of the Banksy, the council did and I wish them the best success for the town in the commercial space.”

The Banksy appeared on the walls of a Taibach garage in December 2018 sparking widespread interest and the Welsh Government paid for around-the-clock security while its future was decided.

The piece was purchased by Essex based Mr Brandler with the Welsh Government agreeing to pay for the valuable artwork to be moved at its expense to a new unoccupied retail unit in Ty’r Orsaf, Port Talbot, where it could be viewed by members of the public. That arrangement terminates on January 14th next year and it is understood that Season’s Greetings is to feature in a street art exhibition in Peterborough due to start next month.

Neath Port Talbot Council say they want to thank Pobl for its agreement to house the Banksy since 2018, giving many people the chance to view the piece. Since its appearance and its subsequent display in the town centre, it has  sparked great interest in street art generally within the County Borough and has led to the development of further street art works in Port Talbot in particular, which the council supports.

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In a statement, the council added: “The council wishes the owner of Season’s Greetings well and is grateful so many people had the chance to view it here in the time it was loaned to us. The future of Season’s Greetings is now of course a matter for Mr Brandler.”

In an additional statement, the Leader of Neath Port Talbot Council Cllr Ted Latham said: “I feel that because of the range of misinformation that is currently circulating regarding the impending departure of the Banksy mural Season’s Greetings, it is now appropriate to set the record straight. 

“When the council made enquiries as to plans for the piece, given the temporary arrangement to house it at Pobl’s Ty’r Orsaf building is due to end in January next year, the council was informed it would now be moved to Peterborough where an exhibition of street art is due to be held, starting from next month.

“Discussions were held on future arrangements and the potential for the work to remain in Port Talbot, but the council was informed it would have to meet the costs of its removal and installation into the new venue, to continue to cover the insurance and to pay a fee in the region of £100,000 per year for the loan of the work. 

“It has been estimated the cost of removal and relocation to another venue (even without insurance to cover the operation to move it) of Season’s Greetings would be around £50,000.”

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(Lead Image: FruitMonkey / Wikimedia)

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