When I visited an exhibition by David Jones titled ‘Angels on Washing Lines’, I was surprised to find that the exhibition was empty. A recent survey conducted by The Arts Council of Wales found that in the South-West there was a 19% decrease in attendance to arts & crafts exhibitions. Artists have the ability to help solve a number of social issues but arts attendance continues to correlate closely with social grade making some demographics unreachable. Community art projects break down barriers to entry in the arts, creating a more inclusive environment for creativity to thrive.
Community art escapes traditional spaces and ventures into the public realm, giving people a place and time to tell their own stories. In the case of Jones’ exhibition, the community art project worked as an inter-generational tool connecting communities and allowing more people to enjoy Jones’ work without stepping foot into a gallery.
Jones’ work is playful, colourful and inspired by his creative childhood memory. One piece in particular that caught my eye was the ‘Angels on Washing Lines.’ The piece was made of MDF and acrylic that had been hung on string to represent socks, shirts, pyjamas and more. The piece was inspired from a childhood memory of Jones’ in which he conflated the idea of Heaven with the clothes that were on his grandmothers washing line.
Alongside Jones’ exhibition sits a community project inspired by the ‘Angels on Washing Lines’ centre piece. The project explores and celebrates older women’s stories and memories of wash days past and are exhibited in the shop windows of King Street in Carmarthen. The pieces that make up the project are created by the elderly community, as they respond to their memories of laundry days. In Victorian times Monday’s were dedicated washing days, and was a particularly strenuous day due to the lack of running water and electricity.
The art trail is full of colourful, creative pieces in the shape of socks, shirts, shoes and blankets which are accompanied by humorous, interesting stories from the ‘wash house’. One anecdote that accompanied a blue and red blanket piece told of a time when their mother was so exhausted that she accidentally threw the laundry water over a congregational minister who was visiting. Another story spoke of the order of the week: Monday was for washing, Tuesday was for ironing and Friday was for airing the clothes. A running theme throughout the stories was the hard work the women would undertake weekly and the pride they took in the up-keeping of their homes. Although an entire exhibition dedicated to a washing day may seem boring to some the project has important cultural significance. It allows the transfer of stories across generations in a creative way that catches the eye of walkers by and draws them in. The art project also works to give the elderly, who are often the most detached from their communities, a platform to tell their stories and share their heritage.
Community art projects are of great value to society. ‘Memories from the wash-house’ shares cultural heritage, connects different generations, and gives elderly members of the community a platform to share their stories from a time that has passed. The success of this project in bringing the arts out of traditional spaces and into the public domain has meant that more people have been able to enjoy Jones’ work. Such participation in the creative and cultural industries are central to the development of a community’s creative learning.
The David Jones ‘Angels on Washing Lines’ exhibition can be viewed in the Oriel Myrddin Gallery in Carmarthen from the 18th of March to the 13th of May.
The ‘Memories from the wash-house’ community project can be viewed in the store windows of King Street from the 25th of April to the 13th of May.