Imagine a 12m x 3m artwork – that’s as big as a bus! – created by ordinary people during the first lockdown. Art at the Heart launched this project in April 2020, as a way of connecting people, helping to cope with isolation and reducing anxiety.
The entire program was free to the community, generously funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. No expensive art materials were required, and all ages and abilities were welcome to join. All work will feature in a huge upcoming installation at the Core gallery, Solihull. Art at the Heart also collaborated with Tektura, a leading wall-covering supplier. They provided samples from international designers to be used as inspiration and material for art pieces, spanning three project themes: Hanami, Making Waves and Message in a Bottle.
The first Big as a Bus theme focussed on the Japanese celebration of spring, just as the season was beginning to emerge in March 2020. ‘Hana’ translates as ‘flower’ while ‘Mi’ means look, forming the Japanese custom of reflection. A central symbol is the cherry blossom, Sakura, which represents the beauty and fragility of life. This is something we have all become aware of during the pandemic.
Hanami-themed activities included flower painting, flower pressing and making 3D paper flowers, but participants interpreted the theme however they wished, including through crochet! This resulted in some exciting and varied work, from picturesque painted landscapes by community artist Usha, to hand-crafted flowers by twelve-year-old Aiva. Volunteer Julie said that she found the project ‘totally absorbing and allowing, for a time, exclusion from the frustrations and limitations of lockdown’.
Artwork by Aiva, Julie H, Shivani and Usha
The second Big as a Bus theme grew from the concept of waves: a community wave as a non-verbal greeting, or the calming movement of the ocean. Art at the Heart used artwork such as Hokusai’s majestic piece ‘Great Wave’ as inspiration. We also encouraged participants to work positive messages into their designs.
This theme generated a range of different mediums, including crochet, textile work, and some striking collage pieces. The artist community reached far and wide, with Community Wave Leader Pauline encouraging her family from Bucharest and America to join in. Inspirational messages were scattered across the artwork, such as ‘Be Strong’ and ‘Be Gentle’, providing a wave of support for others.
Artwork by Frances
Artwork by Nirmala, Julie B, Daphne, Daisy and Tomas
Message in a Bottle
The final theme – Message in a Bottle – was decided by the community. This emerged from a piece by nine-year-old Veer for the Making Waves project, showing a manta ray launching itself into the depths of the ocean. A submerged bottle nearby included the message ‘Stay Happy’. From this, the group explored what they would say if they threw out a message in a bottle to the world.
Artwork by Veer, Daphne, Nigel, April, Daisy and Tanay
The artists thought deeply about what message they would include in their bottles. Aiva included an uplifting quote: ‘not all storms come to disrupt your life, some come to clear your path’. Textile artist Daphne crafted origami fish suspended inside her bottle as if they were swimming, adding twinkling lights to create an illuminated effect. The bottles were not just notable art pieces, but also artefacts of the time spent in lockdown, creating a ‘little bit of history’, as Art at the Heart Director Kamaljit suggested.
The Impact of Big as a Bus
10 sessions and 527 participants later – the project was complete! Those who participated in the Big as a Bus Community Project felt more connected to one another, and inspired to think creatively over the lockdown. People of all ages came together to work on ideas, which formed the uniqueness of the project for Art at the Heart Director Mukesh. ‘That’s exactly what this is about’, he said, ‘collaborating and generating new ideas and new partnerships’. April also appreciated the group environment, stating that ‘I like how we’ve kept contact and started communicating with new people’.
A ‘Big as a Bus’ Zoom Call
According to the NHS Five Steps To Wellbeing, it is important to connect with others and learn new skills, which this project supported. Roxanne remarked that Art at the Heart had ‘patience and enthusiasm for our ideas, encouraging us to think creatively and imaginatively’. She also said that the project ‘brought a lot of joy and has been the highlight of the week’.
We’re thrilled that our members enjoyed this fully funded, inclusive project, and can’t wait to see the final ‘Big as a Bus’ exhibition, coming soon. Some of the amazing work is available to view online here. If you want to be part of our supportive, creative community, why not join one of our weekly art classes? Details of our upcoming events can be found below.