GROWRYDE: Ryde Arts Festival 2017

By Carol Jaye: Chair of Ryde Arts Festival

It all began when my old wooden greenhouse could not be trusted to stand up to any more gales.

Now, I am a thrifty gardener and there were 42 sound glass sheets holding up the wooden frame. Off I went to see Ryde’s Allotment Officer, Terry Clarkson and asked if he knew anyone who would like to have the glass. This was how I met George who has a plot on the Quarry Road allotment, in my home town Ryde, in the Isle of Wight. A few days later George arrived with a mate and while they were loading the glass they told me how they were building a shed for the children at Oakfield Primary School who were learning about WW2 and the Dig for Victory campaign.

This news set me thinking: I am a member of the annual Ryde Arts Festival and seek funds from our local council and the Arts Council. We like to have a theme: (be it the commemoration of WW1 in a disused church filled with a forest or a family of life-sized rag dolls based on an award-winning book), We need to have as many people as we can to join us as our Festival celebrates the talents of the town – we like to think we are making famous artists of the future and proving that the art world is not an exclusive club.
At our next Committee meeting after some discussions we decided to call our 2016 project GROWRYDE and pay for an artist to work from an allotment shed, to use the whole site as an inspiration and see what ideas would sprout as our result.

We applied successfully for two years funding and now we are half way through with lots of work still to do until harvest time. Jo Hummel Newell is our artist in residence, chosen because of her insight in previous work at a local farm with a famous Guernsey herd. She says “When interacting with the public on art you will often come across people who take the “I don’t understand” or “what a load of rubbish” escape route. What I love about this project is that everyone has a bit of ownership over growing and so they feel welcome and a “part of” before you’ve started, it’s very enlightening.” She has made a promise to leave her mobile phone and tablet behind when she visits the allotment and sometimes brings her three-year old son as her “assistant”, seeing the magic of earth, water, growth and decay through the young explorer’s eyes. With the start of warmer weather Jo is busy devising ways in which plotholders will make work with her.

We plan a celebration this summer with an Articultural Show at nearby Vernon Square (an 18th century square restored by keen gardeners) where there will be a show of fruit and veg made from paper, ceramic, stitch, knit and felt as a joyful reminder of the inspiration which comes growing one’s own. Most people know about allotments from a railway journey. we hope to export a ceramic installation, representing the site at Quarry Road, down the tracks to Ryde Esplanade’s Platform 2 so many thousands of visitors will share our delight in growing. Later in the autumn as the project winds down our photographers, Julian Winslow and Lucy Boynton will exhibit their harvest of pictures of these months sharing the most vital of all activities: growing food for our friends and families.
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