Visitors and newcomers to Guernsey are often surprised at the vibrant arts and cultural scene on the island. Whether it’s art exhibitions, concerts, theatre, festivals, literature or local heritage, the local calendar is pretty rammed with events.
Central to much of this activity is Guernsey Arts (GA) a not-for-profit organisation which was set up in 2008 with aim of “providing a strong, identifiable voice in the community, raising public awareness and promoting the value, relevance and importance of the arts.”
GA supports events and art initiatives of all kinds through funding, advice and guidance as well as organising its own events throughout the year. 2023 has been a particularly busy year for the team.
This year marked 60 years since The Beatles performed in Guernsey. GA’s Head of Arts Development Russ Fossey saw this as the perfect opportunity to get the whole community celebrating the arts and culture, showcasing local talent and heritage.
Local artists were invited to submit a piece or art interpreting a Beatles song, and just to make it slightly more challenging, the artists were allocated an album from which to make their selection. The exhibition – called Twist and Shout – ran from 21 July until 2 September featuring 26 local artists and a wide range of styles. The event was sponsored by Skipton International.
‘This is where the connections with the island get really strong,’ said Russ.
‘When The Beatles came to Guernsey they were really just starting to make their way. A month before they came over, they released an EP (Twist and Shout) and the cover featured a photograph by [the late] Fiona Adams who lived and worked in Guernsey for many years.’
Fiona enjoyed a hugely successful career photographing pop icons such as Jimmy Hendrix, David Bowie and Gerry and the Pacemakers to name just a few.
Another direct connection with the ‘fab four’ is local artist Peter Le Vasseur who sold some of his work to Ringo Starr and featured the group in one of his paintings, a print of which he kindly agreed to being displayed in the exhibition to inspire young up-and-coming local artists.
Alongside the exhibition, GA organised a picnic and concert on the actual anniversary of the event with a local band playing the set The Beatles performed here and Guernsey Street Festival included a Beatles tribute in its summer concert programme. Both performances were held in Candie Gardens which was the venue of the 1963 concert. To add to the overall ‘Beatlesfest’, large images of the band and the original event poster were on display on the exterior of the Candie Museum.
Russ was delighted that the event was able to bring together and celebrate so many different facets of the arts scene and that local people got so engaged.
‘Once we announced the event, people wanted to share their stories. We even tracked down the receptionist of the Duke of Richmond at the time when the band stayed there who was pleased to share her memories.’
As well as a busy arts calendar, Guernsey had a particularly busy sports schedule over two weeks in the summer when the island hosted the NatWest Island Games. GA seized the opportunity to lead a number of arts and cultural initiatives to run alongside ‘Guernsey 2023’.
The team ran three projects, reaching out to competing islands and engaging with local art organisations, artists, school children and wider communities.
The Pocket Island Poetry challenged poets to paint a picture of their own island through words. This resulted in the production of a 110-page booklet which was available online and was also distributed during the games to participants and spectators.
The Islands Digital Arts Open allowed any digital or digitally recreated artwork to be submitted for an exhibition which was held in the George Crossan Gallery in the Market Buildings during the games.
The Island Games Postcard Competition looked to include schoolchildren to build an insight into how they perceived their own homes and gain an additional perspective to each island. One postcard design was selected from each island and printed versions were made available during the games for visitors to send back home.
Combining all aspects of the arts and engaging with as broad a spectrum of the local community as possible is at the very heart of what GA sets out to achieve. For Russ, these two campaigns showcased GA’s work perfectly.
‘These initiatives were great examples of how the arts can connect people of all ages and backgrounds and epitomises what GA is all about.’