An award-winning Caernarfon artist has been appointed to influence the design teams working on the regeneration of Slate Quay and the Welsh Highland Railway.
Bedwyr Williams, an internationally renowned artist who lives in Caernarfon, will work primarily on the design of pathways from the new railway station to the Gefail yr Ynys site, and from Gefail yr Ynys to Caernarfon Castle.
“The idea is to get an artist influencing the routes around Caernarfon in an original, non-naff way,” he explains. “Perhaps we’ll embed artworks in pathways; put a few bits of art along the road, maybe.”
Bedwyr’s appointment is a logical one, given his passion for the arts in Wales and, more specifically, in Caernarfon.
“I’m working closely with CARN [a collective of local artists and makers] and I’m looking forward to creating a legacy for them,” he says. “As an international artist who also lives and works in Caernarfon, my feeling is that visual arts get short shrift in the town behind things like music and poetry.”
He continues: “Being an artist in Caernarfon should be viable. It’s a beautiful part of the country, but we only respond to poetry and song – and I’m against the idea that Wales should be a non-visual place.”
“Caernarfon is a sarky, witty place… it’s small but it should be a striving scene, and art should be a part of it,” he says. “I want to try to energise the art scene locally. Artists are used to make things ‘look nice’ – in town centres they’ll put up a statue which has no legacy, it’s just a landmark. I want to see what’s possible to help them have a rolling programme of exhibitions in the next 6-12 months.”
Bedwyr feels that there aren’t enough good exhibition spaces in Caernarfon at the moment, and bemoans the fact that visual artists are reduced to exhibiting in libraries.
He also feels that expectations of visual artists are very different to those we have of poets and musicians. Asked about artists leading art and craft workshops for children during school holidays, Bedwyr says “it happens a lot. It makes artists ‘useful’ – keeping other people’s kids amused – but you wouldn’t ask a band to do that!”
Bedwyr says that visual arts “have to be for the whole community – but how many people go to hear poets? All arts should be available for everyone, as well as being for everyone. In Caernarfon, visual arts are missing. Visual artists are having to elbow a space at the cultural table, but I’m against the idea that Wales should be a non-visual place.”
The impact on local young artists is especially felt: “Our young people are going off to uni to study art, but when they come back there’s only libraries to exhibit in,” Bedwyr says. “I want to help artists to show their work in a way that’s more inventive. Perhaps find empty spaces for video projections, put on small arts events without the constraints of an arts centre… do it for artists and bring it into the community.”
Bedwyr feels that “there tends to be a conservative idea of what art should be. But visual arts in the UK is a heaving cultural sector, and I want to involve Caernarfon in that.”
Art is a unifying force, though. “At the Eisteddfod, the arts and crafts pavilion is always very popular. English and Welsh speakers come together in a way that music doesn’t achieve.”
If you’d like to know more about the redevelopment of Slate Quay, visit http://www.caernarfonharbour.org.uk/town_e.htm