Some of the more observant among you may have noticed a new presence on the river Ouse in York last month. Next to the Bonding Warehouse by Skeldergate bridge, there appeared a mysterious and hitherto unseen vessel, comings and goings and a bustle of activity day and night. Closer inspection would reveal only three words; The Arts Barge.
I climbed aboard to find out just what it all meant and hear more about The Arts Barge Project.
First formed in 2008, the whole thing started as a group of people talking about the late ‘Arts Centre’ in York, which sadly closed its doors in 1999. All agreed that without a physical focal point and a dedicated space to showcase arts, the York scene could never thrive. This lead them to the brilliantly leftfield yet thoroughly practical and wholly realisable solution of using a barge to provide that space. And so the project was born. Fast-forwarding three years to the present day, much has been achieved already; from outgrowing the venue in its first incarnation, to their veritable taking over of last year’s Galtres festival, a pop-up pub tour, two nights at the grand opera house in York and now this, hiring a boat for the Festival of the Rivers. So far, the popularity and growing interest have demonstrated a real appetite in the city for what they are offering.
I spent a thoroughly enjoyable evening below deck, relaxing to a bit of jazz, sampling the excellent food on offer (spicy vegetable pilau) and washing it down with a couple of pints of York Brewery’s finest (Yorkshire Terrier and Guzzler). There was a real buzz about the place, a lively and appreciative audience, friendly volunteers and quite an informal, house-party atmosphere. If this is anything to go by as far as the ultimate aim of the project, then I think the people of York are in for a treat!
With each event, their vision has been brought nearer to realisation; as momentum gathers, word is spread, awareness is raised and more people want to get on board (sorry, couldn’t resist). The opportunity to show just what can be done with the space afforded by a mid-sized barge has brought the project to many peoples’ attention. As far as publicity goes, hiring a big boat, mooring it in town and filling it to bursting with a collective of artists, musicians and generally motivated and enthusiastic individuals is about as direct as you can get. It has served as a real demonstration of the vision they are striving to achieve as well as a statement of their intent; they clearly mean business.
Even as the month-long ‘dry-run’ drew to a close, it really didn’t feel at all like the end, the Arts Barge crew will be back on dry land this summer when they will once again descend on Galtres Festival. This time around, they’ll be bringing with them a dizzying assortment of performers with interactive and eclectic shows and the project will run on with the five original volunteers at the helm. If things continue to progress as they have been, the prospect of a dedicated floating arts space in York is a very real one.
To find out more about what’s in store, where to find them and what the arts Barge project could do for you, visit their website
All photos courtesy of Ashley Kilgallon