Never Ending Mural envelopes Ipswich

Ipswich has plenty of arts provision but no specific arts quarter. This can be both a blessing and a hindrance when it comes to promoting the cultural life of the town. It means that there is plenty going on all over the borough but there is no one centralised arts zone for the outside world to focus on.

Ipswich-based artist John D Edwards, in conjunction with Ipswich Borough Council and the community-at-large, hopes to provide a way of linking the town’s cultural activities with a Never Ending Mural which will visually link the various artistic districts of the town.

He said that the mural will be a community-owned project. “This is not some outside body or individual coming into the town and saying ‘I’m doing this. This is art and you’ll be happy about it.’ This is a genuine community-focused project which brings together big business and community groups, senior citizens with playgroups and school children, young offenders and art students. It’s a project which has the ability to embrace everyone who wants to be a part of it.

“The idea being that if the community has ownership of it then it will be well looked after.”

John D Edwards said that he had already hosted one art workshop at the Ipswich Arts School Galleries and was hugely encouraged by the enthusiasm showed by youngsters and parents alike. “It was great to see groups talking to one another and swapping information and stories. It was a case where art was bringing people together, people who previously had known one another found that they had common interests and a shared love of the town.”

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John was also taken aback when a five year old girl told him that she loved money. “I thought: ‘Here we go. The power of money rearing it’s ugly head.’ I was polite and said: ‘Oh yes, what do you like to spend it on?’ She looked at me blankly and said rather crossly: ‘No Monet, the man who painted the Water Lilies.’ Isn’t that glorious? It just goes to show that you shouldn’t pre-judge youngsters. Interestingly her mother didn’t know that she knew about Monet, so it was something else that this project has helped shed light on.”

The Never Ending Mural will be started next month on the Ipswich Waterfront before then moving onto the Ipswich underpasses which span Civic Drive before going onto Crown Street car park and the area around Ipswich Museum, Ipswich Art School Gallery and the New Wolsey Studio.

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Greg Cooper from Ipswich Borough Council that the Never Ending Mural would help them redefine the High Street and St Georges Street as a new cultural destination.

There are plans under way to add Incubator Studios for artists-in-residence at the gallery, as well as developing an extension, known as The Heg, at the rear of the New Wolsey Studio. This area which sits alongside the museum has a stage and a projection room and would allow increased use of this facility for a wider variety of groups.

He said: “These exciting proposals would mean that we could align the Ipswich Art School Gallery, the Museum and the New Wolsey Studio into a single centre of regional and national significance with added learning spaces as well as studio space for start-up enterprises which could mean we were attracting an added 40,000 visitors a year to our cultural facilities.

“The Never Ending Mural is one way of linking this exciting project to the rest of the town and all the things which are happening there.”

For John, formerly a London-based artist, working in the EastEnd, the mural was a way to give something back to a town which had given him his life back.

“I moved to Ipswich two years ago to be near my sisters. I am a cancer survivor but two years ago I was going into a hospice. I thought: ‘well that’s the end of me,’ and my family, who live here in Ipswich, my sisters all got together because I think they were a bit annoyed at having to go and visit me on the Isle of Dogs and they said: ‘can’t you come nearer?’

“So I looked around and found this gorgeous place, behind the Buddhist Centre, which was exactly like my studio in London. My sisters urged me to move they told me: ‘There’s roads and traffic, it’s not like the country’. The Royal Marsden thought it was a good idea, so I came and the minute I arrived, I started getting better.

“The hospital told me to walk for ten minutes every morning and every evening and on those walks around Ipswich I started looking about and thinking: ‘wouldn’t it be nice to paint those boards or those railings?

“For me The Never Ending Mural is this huge celebration of the life that Ipswich has given me. I am consistently meeting people who are warm and wonderful and far more is happening here than was happening in my last few years in London.”

He said that he met up with Greg Cooper at an Ipswich Art School Gallery event last December and floated the idea of the Never Ending Mural which immediately struck a chord with Greg who was thinking how to tie in the new cultural destination project with the rest of the town. John said: “I am finding that every step of the way that people are excited and supportive.

“I explained that so much is happening in Ipswich at the moment that wouldn’t it be nice to paint all this? Wouldn’t it be nice to paint a contemporary portrait of the town and it’s people. But, I didn’t want to do it. I was happy to be the curator but I wanted it to be a self-portrait. I wanted it to be a reflection of what the local people liked and valued about their town and their surroundings. I wanted it to be a reflection of their interests and the various groups which come together and create a community.”

He said that business was part of the social fabric and so would be looking at businesses with strong links with the town to help fund the project and we have found that many companies have expressed an interest simply because it is very firmly rooted in the community – and so have many politicians. “We hope to capture more people’s imagination as we roll this out, until we get to the stage where people can’t afford not to be involved.”

Councillor Andrew Cann, Portfolio Holder for Culture said: ‘The Council is fully behind the Never Ending Mural and is excited by the potential for the community, particularly children and young people, to get involved and I am convinced that this will bring a new energy to the Town Centre and Waterfront”

This view is backed up by local business woman Lynn Turner, who runs Cakes and Catwalk from the foyer of the Jerwood DanceHouse. She has already made a donation to the project. “I am more than happy to contribute to this brilliant initiative which will help bring people into Ipswich and provide a natural and vibrant link between the Town Centre and Waterfront. I am pleased that some of the eyesores in our town will be lost forever and would like to encourage other businesses to support the project, which can only improve local trade.”

The Waterfront phase of the Never Ending Mural will be installed at the end of June, pending funding support, ready for the opening weekend of Ip-art. The community are encouraged to contribute to the artwork through local workshops which are being staged by John D Edwards.

The waterfront theme will be maritime and dance. Other potential themes for other areas of the town include transport, football, shopping and Ipswich Art School. John D Edwards will be leading Easter Holiday workshops at the Ipswich Art School Gallery on April 12/15 and there will also be an Art Comes Alive event which will be held at the UCS on the Waterfront on June 26.

Youngsters on Community Payback will be preparing the surfaces during the week beginning June 6 to enable UCS students to paint the mural, from community designs, during the week beginning June 13.

John said: “I spoke to a young lad with the backwards baseball hat and a hoodie and said to him: ‘If you saw a painting of a young girl and it said Katy age 5 next to it. Could you ruin it?’ He admitted he couldn’t. It’s all about this sense of ownership. It’s not about me or the council. It’s about this mural belonging to the people of the town – belonging to the whole community.

“One of the key things I say to people in our art workshops is: ‘Think of the cave painters. They went out during the day, got on with life and then returned home to their caves in the evening and painted the world around them. They painted what was important to them and we are doing exactly the same thing.”

Anyone wanting to get involved in the Never Ending Mural Project, either as a group, business or individual, can find details on the Ipswich Art School website and then click on the Never Ending Mural link.

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