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Sandwell Arts Festival buzz around town

Pottery bees, royals on stilts, a garden of ceramic flowers, digital graffiti and dancing around telephone boxes - it was an orgy of fun at a town's arts festival.


West Bromwich was the sole venue for this year's Sandwell Arts Festival after programming was handed from the borough council to Creative Black Country, part of an Arts Council team aimed at encouraging more people to experience the arts.

Instead of bringing in entertainment from elsewhere, this year's event focused on seeking out homegrown talent - and that's what they found.

Among the big draws was an indoor garden of 1,200 ceramic flowers and mini beasts created by community groups throughout the region including adults and children with learning or physical disabilities. Around 500 joined in workshops, launched in January and held across the Black Country.

Workshop leader Ruth Conover said: "It's been lovely to watch the youngsters looking for their flower and then suddenly recognising it."

Cradley Heath Creatives ran camera obscura workshops from their Ossbox, an original horse box transformed into a pinhole camera.

A group of five to 12 year-olds from the Lyng Estate Media Club roamed the crowds giving commentaries, John Motson style, after developing their skills over several months.

In the High Street, Corey Baker tickled the crowds with his antics in and around - and on top of - a phone box. A specially commissioned exhibit of giant pottery bees that, with the aid of new technology, buzzed when they were stroked was another big draw.

Youngsters were queuing up to try their hand at graffiti on a screen set up by Wolverhampton-based kicster(CORR), a digital pop-up youth club.

Anne Profeta, of Stanley Road, West Bromwich, who brought her 10-year-old granddaughter Shania to the fun fest, said: "This is just what the town needs. We've got a swimming baths and a cinema but what is missing is some theatre and other arty activities."

The arts festival was held over two days in various parts of the town, including Sandwell Arts Cafe, the Town Hall, High Street, library and New Square where a puppet show, funfair and beach area were set up.

On Saturday evening, cinema screenings and activities were organised all over the town hall building. They included footage of West Bromwich High Street in 1902, videos from the Our Spake project and films from Buster Keaton to Bollywood.

Arts festival creative producer Liam Smyth said: "We wanted the festival to be primarily about the talent in the Black Country rather than exporting people in from different parts of the country.

"The reaction has been wonderful. We even had a group of Japanese tourists come especially to see the ceramic garden."

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