Hereford and its artists
PUBLISHED: 15:49 20 December 2010 | UPDATED: 16:45 20 February 2013
Chris Poole finds out why artists in all genres from painters to film-makers, craftsmen to musicians, stonemasons to actors find inspiration in the city of Hereford
Should you be visiting Hereford on 13 March there will be a treat in store for you. On that day High Town in Hereford will once again be filled with artists of all kinds showing off their work.
Recognising the significance of the creative industries to the region, Herefordshire Council maintains a database containing details of no fewer than 550 artists living and working here, representing an important and dynamic sector. That there are so many creative people active in the area comes as no surprise to Richard Heatly, Principal of Hereford College of Art.
Herefordshire is blessed with open spaces, landscapes and a quality of life that so many find appealing, says Richard, making it a superb setting for inspiring and encouraging creative activities. The college is one of several institutions in Hereford that nurture and help this vibrant sector. It can trace its roots to 1851 when there was a School of Painting in the city. Today its courses range from design to textiles and from photography to the performing arts.
Such is the demand that whereas Further Education courses (for 16 to 19 year olds) used to dominate the colleges prospectus now it has expanded to offer a growing number of courses leading to Higher Education qualifications.
Richard describes the unique position occupied by Hereford College of Art: Most of the independent Art Schools have long since disappeared, absorbed by bigger institutions. Hereford is geographically central in a region with a low population density. This combination, of a dedicated college in an area with a dispersed population, ensures that we are well-placed to stimulate the areas natural creative talent.
The college is not alone in ensuring that the Arts thrive in Hereford. One of the regions largest arts centres, The Courtyard, is well known for its rich and diverse programme. We are the largest arts centre in the area and the only one in Herefordshire that, from 2010, will be open all year round, explains Victoria Branson, Marketing Manager. Looking at the programme for the current season its easy to see what she means. Drama, exhibitions, pantomime, music and film are all represented. Many of this seasons productions are from local groups, says Victoria, giving as examples the 4 Play Theatre Company and The Hat Band offering music with humour. The cinema screens at The Courtyard also play a major role in hosting much of the Borderlines Film Festival a regional showcase of important films running from late February to the middle of March.
Creative activities can come in some less obvious guises. Bubble Productions, working from studios not far from the city centre, has been making films for clients in Hereford and much further afield for around 20 years. Graham Essenhigh, Director, is clear on their ethos There is a wealth of talent here; Bubble has a group of highly-experienced broadcast-trained technicians. We are all passionate about what we do and nothing leaves here with which we are not 100 per cent satisfied. That commitment is reflected in the client base which numbers important local organisations as well as, for example, the City of London and the British Heart Foundation. But Graham sounds a warning note: The areas creative potential needs opportunity in order to flourish. Business and commercial development of the city is vital to maintaining the creative niche that we have here.
Film is also important to the Rural Media Company. Established as a charity in 1992 its Director, Nic Millington, says: We enable people of all ages to use digital technology creatively, working with minority groups, the disabled, youngsters and the elderly.
And there is no shortage of enterprise. Within The Courtyard itself a group of jewellers has established a studio and workshop called Alloy. Jewellery designer and maker Annie Cracknell belongs to the group. Annie uses mathematical proportions, the Mobius strip for example, to produce optically intriguing pieces some of which can be seen on her website (www.anniecracknell.com). In an industrial unit on the citys Rockfield Trading Estate a dozen enterprising artists have established themselves with workshops and studios known as Artsite 3. Chairman of the group, Richard Bourke, says: Im passionate about the arts but I have an entrepreneurial streak. Here we let artists develop their business potential as well as their creativity.
The citys cathedral and its associated school both have a role in the creative spirit of Hereford. In Cathedral Close visitors can watch the highly skilled stonemasons at work to preserve and restore this magnificent building.
Within the cathedral, at times, yet another branch of the Arts is being demonstrated. Hereford Cathedral School was founded many centuries ago to provide an education for choristers. The schools Music Department is as strong today as ever before. David Evans, Director of Music, has reason to be proud of his departments achievements. We now have five choirs with around half of the senior school singing in them. And we have a strong tradition of our choristers and musicians going on to prestigious Oxbridge scholarships. Our chamber choir went on, last year, to reach the finals of the BBCs national Choir of the Year competition.
There can be little doubt that the arts in Hereford are thriving. The Councils Creative Industries Co-ordinator, Andy Dawson, confirms: There is a very active arts sector in the city and more widely in the county. We work to stimulate and encourage the sector hence the h-Art week throughout the county later in the year, the popular Contemporary Craft Fair at The Courtyard each year and, now, the quarterly Arts Markets in the city centre. Nothing, perhaps, epitomises creative Hereford as well as the huge wooden sculpture known affectionately as Man of Hereford in Gaol Street.
Richard Heatly makes no bones about the benefits to the city. Hereford is already established with a reputation as a place where the arts are alive and well. With care and nourishment we can continue to attract visitors to experience and enjoy all that our creative people have to offer.