Blast! Festival of Photography, Talks & Walks

“Lovely to see my home celebrated.”

“Excellent! Love the interactive/inclusive nature of the project.”

“A brilliant way to bring the diversity of Sandwell together through art, photography and life!”

“I like to keep our heritage alive. I feel this is important. We need more events like this. It has opened my eyes to what we can still see in our local area.”

“Love that you are leading people through the towns – it’s a great celebration of local people and artists.”

– Visitor feedback

Blast! Festival of Photography, Talks & Walks (24 May – 29 June 2019) invited 40 international and local artists, photographers and curators to showcase work, develop projects and collaborate with communities to present stories about every day life.  With exhibitions, film screenings, events, family friendly activities, performances, talks and walks, Blast! was presented on the streets, the Metro line, in shops, libraries and pubs, on historic buildings and in the community spaces of Sandwell. The festival took place over 6 weeks in each of Sandwell’s 6 towns: West Bromwich, Tipton, Rowley Regis, Oldbury, Smethwick and Wednesbury; it was free and open to everyone.  We presented 34 exhibitions; held 48 events /workshops; and had an audience of 47,370.

The festival showcased a range of new commissions by diverse contemporary photographers and artists working at the intersection of social practice and documentary photography, made in collaboration with local communities.

At the heart of the festival was the Sandwell Pride of Place Project exhibition by The Caravan Gallery (also known as Jan Williams and Chris Teasdale) who worked with local people to create a portrait of each of Sandwell’s six towns. The exhibition took place in a converted former Poundland shop right in the centre of West Bromwich. Over six weeks visitors made a mark on The People’s Map of Sandwell and contributed to the exhibition by adding their own Sandwell related contributions.  All mediums were accepted, including stories, poetry, fascinating facts, memorabilia along with drawings, photographs and sculpture. The response to this exhibition was overwhelming; it was open 4 days a week for 6 weeks and became the central hub to the whole festival, underlining the need for creative spaces within our communities. Watch this space as we’ll be sharing more photos from this exhibition soon.

Blast! Festival Artists & Curators
Andrea Fernandes, Anneka French, Annegien van Doorn, Billy Dosanjh, Brendan Barry, Brian Homer, Craig Ashley, Chantal Rens, Czesław Siegieda, Dawinder Bansal, Emma Case, Emma Purshouse, Erik Kessels, Graham Peet, David Attie, Inka and Niclas Lindergård, Iona Fergusson, Jan McCullough, Janine Wiedel, Jaskirt Boora, Jennifer Pattison, Jocelyn Allen, John Myers, Jon TonksLaura Pannack, Liz Hingley, Mahtab HussainMartin Parr, Niall McDiarmid, Robert Clayton, The Caravan GalleryUzma Mohsin.

Forge Artist Open Call Programme
Multistory offered 12 West Midlands based artists the opportunity to make new bodies of work for the festival. Chosen through an open call, the Forge artists were invited to create work that reflected the community of Sandwell. They took part in a mentorship programme during 2018, attending masterclasses led by our major commission artists along with practical sessions on fundraising and marketing. They Forge artists were: Anand Chabra, Andrew Jackson, Bethany Kane, Faye Claridge, Kate Jackson, Mark Murphy, Nilupa Yasmin, Rob Hewitt, Sound Kitchen, Stephen Burke, Trevor Pitt and Vicky Roden. Examples of the resulting projects are summarised below.

Stephen Burke set out to create a portrait of West Bromwich by focusing on the fans of the football club. He was clear that this wasn’t about football but about the community that comes from being a fan of the sport – dedicated to that team and to that place. He produced an exhibition of 52 prints of West Bromwich Albion fans, accompanied by an audio work (16 minutes) that combined interviews with fans and live recordings from the ground. The work was exhibited at The Vine, a West Bromwich pub popular with Albion fans.

Nilupa Yasmin produced a 15-metre long, hand-woven piece of work taken from the photographs she took of various stalls and products in West Bromwich indoor market, plus a large-scale, digitally woven textured wallpaper that was displayed on 10 wooden panels. These were exhibited outside of the indoor market in a busy, public thoroughfare.

“The Forge programme allowed my work to reach a bigger and different audience from what I was exposed to. It allowed me to connect with other artists and practitioners in the field who are in various stages of their arts career. I was able to learn from them as well as bounce off my own ideas and opinions in a positive environment. Making work with, and for, the market place has been a very rewarding process. I had many conversations with the Multistory team regarding how and where I would display my final outcome. Making work that is, firstly, for the people and to tell their stories allowed the sense of belonging, I wanted my work to have.” Nilupa Yasmin

Community Partners and Venues
‘Celebrate Sandwell’ via Sandwell Networkers Group; CHAS; Cradley Heath Creative; Dudley College; Guru Nanak Gurdwara (Smethwick); Haden Hill House; Langley Park Lodge and Park; Lightwoods House and Park;  Living Memory Project; Sandwell College; Sandwell Libraries; Sandwell Youth Service; Smethwick Heritage Centre; Tibbington Residents’ Association (TRA); Tipton Community Association; The Vine; Wednesbury Museum & Art Gallery; Wednesbury Market; West Bromwich Indoor Market; West Bromwich Town Hall; and Why Not Coffee.

Volunteers from all ages and backgrounds were truly the lifeline of our festival. The person charged with bringing all of this together was Richard Warren who has had lots of experience of volunteering himself. Thank you again to all those who contributed. We have subsequently set up regular ‘Creative Meet-ups’ for Blast! volunteers and artists.

Festival Partners
With thanks to our partners: Sandwell Council; Sandwell College; Creative Black Country; Cradley Heath Creative; Flatpack Film Festival; Centrala; GRAIN; British Gypsum; Canal & River Trust /Birmingham Canal Navigation Society; University of Wolverhampton; Urban Audio Productions / CPL; Hill Shorter; West Midlands Metro; Exterion Media; Taydec; Interbold Ltd.

Blast! Festival was funded by Arts Council England and the National Lottery, through their Strategic Funds Ambition for Excellence programme.

Visit the website; view the festival brochure; and see the evaluation report here.

National Press
The Caravan Gallery – BBC Midlands Today

Dawinder Bansal – BBC News Online

Erik Kessels – BBC News Online

Laura Pannack – The Financial Times

Laura Pannack – The Guardian

Jon Tonks – The Guardian