Unique socially distanced events to commemorate 90th anniversary of R101’s last flight

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Airship Dreams

A streamed musical performance, is one of the events adapted by Bedford Creative Arts (BCA) as part of their Airship Dreams project.

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, BCA has innovatively adapted their major airship heritage project to keep the community involved – but at a safe distance.

In response to the pandemic, Airship Dreams, BCA’s placemaking art project blending history, contemporary art, society and technology, is running two innovative experiences during early October to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the final flight of the R101.

The move is also designed to raise awareness of the ongoing project, which involves a major outdoor event and exhibition, which will now take place in 2021.

Airship Dreams commemorates the launch of the R101 on 4 October 1930 from Bedford’s iconic Cardington Sheds on its intended flight to India.

The launch was a landmark moment, heralding a new era of luxury international travel and proving the post-First World War might of the British Empire.

However, the euphoria was short-lived as the R101 crashed in France just a day later, a tragedy that proved to be the beginning of the end for airship development.

On 1 October, the first invitation-only Airship Dreams experience takes place at the Higgins Bedford.

It opens the lid on a live creative lab where artists will be developing and testing ideas for the six-month long Airship Dreams exhibition to be held at the venue in 2021, which celebrates the R101 through contemporary art.

Led by globally renowned alternative digital artist Mike Stubbs, it will provide a unique insight into how the creative team will fuse archive footage and the latest digital techniques to develop an immersive heritage experience.

The workshop will be filmed in front of a select audience of journalists, who will interview Stubbs and his fellow artists.

The second Airship Dreams private event sees a choir, conducted by Airship Dreams Sound Artist Roger Illingworth, sing a variation of the song One-O-One by popular Bedford-based psych rock band, Wolf People.

The event will be filmed and streamed online.

“Airship Dreams is a juxtaposition of airship stories, memories and artefacts from the local community and a visionary contemporary art response by Mike Stubbs brought together in an exhibition due to launch in April 2021 at the Higgins Bedford,” explained BCA direcrtor, Elaine Midgley.

“The exciting experiences we’re creating on the 1 and 3 of October mark for us the beginning of a crescendo building towards this six-month long exhibition.

“We hope it will get people excited about the project – teasing them with a preview of coming attractions – and inspire them to get in touch to share their stories and artefacts to add to the already fantastic response we’ve had to date.”

Commenting on how the project has evolved as a result of the pandemic, Elaine said, “We had to carefully evaluate the risks associated with the original plans and reimagine the narrative of the project to include more online activities in order to maintain community engagement.

“This has pushed our creativity to a new level as we’ve had to investigate more innovate ways of engaging with people and developing the art (often virtually), and we’re confident we will now reach more people and a broader age group than the original event would have done, which at a time where people feel more isolated than ever, has become even more vital.

“Furthermore, as global lockdown conditions reduce the flow of international travel to a trickle and with conversations about global travel and its impact on our environment really taking off, Airship Dreams feels particularly prescient.”

Airship Dreams is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England, and sponsored by The Harpur Trust.

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