Arts on the waterways

Posted By Tim Eastop on 08 August 2017

An extraordinary purpose-built cinema-boat and arts venue is currently touring canal-side locations from Sheffield to Hull with a programme of international films. We hear from Tim Eastop, Executive Producer, Arts on the Waterways at the Canal & River Trust about using this unique cultural space.

Did you know - there are more than 2,000 miles of navigable canals and rivers throughout England and Wales. This is a unique stage. It’s Britain’s longest cultural space, and offers unparalleled opportunities to reach people and places all over the country.

Floating an idea for new arts audiences

At the Canal & River Trust, we’re partnering with UP Projects for the fourth year on the amazing Floating Cinema as part of our Arts on the Waterways programme.

A long boat 'floating cinema' on a canal
The Floating Cinema, 2016, Mile End. © Hydar Dewachi for UP Projects 

We’re finding new audiences for the arts, as well as fostering well-being for local communities. More than five million people live within five miles of a canal and many don’t realise it’s there! Arts projects like The Floating Cinema have helped our charity reach these people with over 450,000 attending in the last six years, encouraging exploration of culture, community, and simply the space around them.

Our waterways are wonderful places to create connections

The Floating Cinema outdoor screenings have created some magical evenings this summer in Sheffield, Rotherham, Swinton, Doncaster, Thorne, Goole and South Ferriby, attracting thousands of newcomers to the canals; in particular, diverse local communities, students, teenagers and families who have been inspired along the route.

A crowd watch a pop-up cinema screen at night
The Floating Cinema in Victoria Quays, Sheffield. © UP Projects.

These areas are perhaps best-known for their traditional manufacturing industries (mainly steel), but the canal routes and towpaths play a vital part in the story of local rejuvenation – offering opportunities not just to boaters but also spaces to enjoy outdoor arts events, historic buildings and wildlife, cycling and walking – which all contribute to a sense of well-being. Many Sheffield residents are still unaware it only takes 10 mins to walk into the city centre along the towpath from the suburbs, whereas this journey can take up to five times longer by car!

A partnership that lets artists flourish

In 2012, the Canal & River Trust signed its first Memorandum of Understanding with the Arts Council. Since then, we have supported over 60 artists with projects covering a vast range of art forms, from performance poetry to sound art, brass bands to artist’s film, and sculpture to digital art. Residencies and commissions are either Trust-initiated or delivered through collaborations with leading arts partners, providing visionary artists with time and space to slow down, reflect and address important questions about the environment and the way we live.

The Floating Cinema’s commissioned artist this year is Harry Meadley, who uses interviews with local residents to explore various undercurrents of contemporary life in Yorkshire. The work highlights the interconnections between location, culture, creativity and identity. It chimes with the Canal & River Trust and the Arts Council’s commitment to both localism and connectivity, underlining the importance of canal and river environments to the personality of villages and towns.

A group of local older people talk to a Floating Cinema arts facilitator
The Floating Cinema at Swinton Lock Activity Centre. © Jonathan Turner for UP Projects

What’s next?

We’re now planning to commission more artists to see canals as new pathways for linking creative city hubs, market towns and rural areas to the more edgy hinterland spaces that have fallen into decline.

The Floating CinemaIn Dialogue’ programme, curated this year by Mariam Zulfiqar, has sought to further our understanding of our local spaces by presenting a truly international programme of films and documentaries.

Our waterways – where flows connect canals to rivers, rivers to seas and seas to oceans – are wonderful places to create connections between our past and future, between local and international. I encourage you to find your nearest one and imagine the stories it might carry – they’re closer than you think.

UP Projects’ The Floating Cinema: On The Bench is supported through our Strategic Touring Programme, with funds from the National Lottery.

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