Fresh from their win at the Creative Bath Awards, the Public Engagement Unit funded project River is the Venue were invited to participate in Amsterdam International Water Week.
River is the Venue
As part of our Engage Grants' Innovate Fund, we wanted to bring together University of Bath researchers and representatives from local community groups and organisations to apply for £10,000 to carry out public engagement activities. One of the successful projects was River is the Venue, a collaboration between local arts organisations, 44AD Artspace and Art at the Heart of the RUH, and researchers from the Departments of Architecture & Civil Engineering and Education.
The project aimed to engage residents of Bath with the historic links between the flooding on the River Avon over the last 200 years through community engagement and active participation using accessible public artworks. Working with 44AD Artspace and Art at the Heart of the Royal United Hospital, the five artworks and the programme of activities commissioned specifically with accessibility and inclusion of under-represented members of the community in mind, particularly those with disabilities.
Amsterdam International Water Week
The project began in 2018 and 2019 ended on a high for River is the Venue. As well as exhibitions, installing permanent artworks by the commissioned artists and winning a Creative Bath Award in June 2019, last November River is the Venue was invited by Waternet to represent Bath at Amsterdam International Water Week!
Amsterdam International Water Week is a week-long festival that brings together water professionals from across the world. This was a valuable opportunity to engage public groups that are normally beyond the reach of local projects and raise the profile of River is the Venue from a regional to international project.
Throughout the week over 20,000 delegates visit Amsterdam for the event. The River is the Venue team were asked to provide public engagement activities for the opening day and a curated evening event for the official conference opening meet and greet, held at QC Amsterdam Hotel. With so many international visitors, it was a fantastic opportunity to communicate the water histories of Bath in an interactive way, whilst introducing our city to such wide audience.
The River is the Venue team secured full funding to participate in Amsterdam International Water Week, alongside our performance artists Mark Parrett and Edward Bettella. Over the course of the opening day the team took to the water, traveling through the canals with public access stop-offs, where Mark set up his performance piece and painted portraits and Edward performed his Bath Soundscapes. Find out more about their artworks here.
Unexpected outcomes from public engagement
Although a relatively new collaboration (conceived in 2018) River is the Venue has had several unexpected outcomes that show how valuable the project has become both for local communities, researchers and the partner organisations (44AD and Art at the Heart).
River is the Venue is forming a key part of Simon Hayhoe’s (Department of Education) impact case study currently being compiled by the University of Bath’s Research & Innovation Services for REF 2021. Simon, not only worked on the River is the Venu project, providing insight on inclusive artworks, but also evaluated the project. The evaluation revealed that the artworks had acted as a gateway for residents to discover more about Bath’s history and visit sites of historic floods in the city after experiencing the artworks.
This demonstrates how River is the Venue has made a positive difference for local communities by improving access to local history for residents and sharing the story of Bath internationally through inclusive artworks.
For us here in the Public Engagement Unit it is brilliant to see the tremendous impact the River is the Venue project is having on the local community of Bath and how our funding is having a lasting legacy. It is testament to the collaboration formed between University of Bath researchers and colleagues at 44AD Artspace and Art at the Heart of the Royal United Hospital.
River is the Venue was run with an open agenda, following the interests of the participants in a welcoming and non-judgemental way. It was exciting to see the resultant artworks from the various collaborations. The project harnessed the power of art to connect, educate, support, encourage, entertain and enjoy through creating worthy and long-lasting experiences.
Art and Design Manager, Art at the Heart of the RUH
Rob Cooper is a Public Engagement Officer at the University of Bath