Shades Of The Waves: new art project celebrates Bedford’s river community and its diversity

Bedford River Project commissioned artists
Bedford River Project commissioned artists L -R: Anne-Marie Abbate, Anita Powell, Leon Barclay, Anthea Davis-Barclay, Antaya Lendore, Paul-Michael Berwise Banks. Image: Paul-Michael Berwise Banks

The Bedford River Project is a much-anticipated creative celebration of Bedford’s diverse community and their shared links to conservation. 

Led by local spoken word poet Anthea Davis-Barclay, the project will focus on creativity and will give voice to the many different cultural ways that the love of the River Great Ouse can be expressed.

When one thinks of issues regarding conservation it is seldom that we associate this with people of colour whose voices in arts and heritage are often muted and unheard but this black-led multi-disciplinary initiative will bring together a mixed band of artists from a variety of backgrounds around the shared goal of making the River accessible to everybody.

Anthea managed to secure funding from the Arts Council to make the idea a reality and this has allowed her to commission a group of talented artists from diverse backgrounds.

Bedford-based visual artists Anita Powell, Antaya Lendore and Anne Marie Abbate, musician Leon Barclay, Somerset-based illustrator Lydia Mary and London-based photographer Paul-Michael Berwise Banks.

Anthea, the creative director said: “The river fascinates me, and it led me to produce this project.

“We believe art can unify different cultures and the diversity of influences in this project strengthens the quality of our work.

“We’ll create outputs that are engaging on an individual level but even more powerful together. I see it as a privilege for our predominantly Black British team, to be ‘seen’ leading the way in discussions about conservation and environmental responsibility.

“This project is different and demonstrates to people of all backgrounds and communities that the natural heritage is the responsibility and heritage of us all.”

Partners of the project include Bedford and Milton Keynes Waterways, Bedford Creative Arts, BPHA, and Mind BLMK and it is supported using public funding by Arts Council England.

The project will also be supported by local schools who along with the community will have the opportunity to take part in workshops.

The team involved in the project will be taking part in events at Bedford River Festival 2024 and there will be a legacy of their activities in the form of an anthology, a schools pack and a podcast.

The podcast will include interviews with community members and key stakeholders, the themes of which will be interwoven with specifically commissioned spoken word and music. This project runs from Summer 2023 to Summer 2024.

You can follow the progress of the project on Instagram and on their website.