Gillian Howell, Haverfordwest Town Councillor
“I joined the Town Council in 2016 and one of the first things I became involved with was reviving the Haverfordwest Festival. We invited Confluence to come and talk to us about what they would like to do for the festival. So, in the July, Confluence and their partners put on a range of events during the festival.
There were several successful activities, including the art sheds, which people really, really enjoyed and I hope they’ll do them again this year. There were five garden sheds placed at different sites around town that put on interactive art activities for passers-by. They also brought the Big Model of Haverfordwest out onto the street and that was a huge draw because, like the sheds, it wasn’t in a building. I think people can feel a bit suspicious or constrained about going into buildings to view art, if they’re not used to it. One of their partners also did a breakout open-air exhibition of paintings around the town. I think the major success of all three of those activities is that they brought the art to the people, rather than expecting the people to go to the art. I think that’s a key thing, for this area.
I was also involved with the River of Lights as a steward, along with my husband, and we really thought that was a fabulous event, for the same reason, that art was brought to the people and it was spectacular and atmospheric and something that people will genuinely remember.
I think the biggest change has been the idea that art can be a vehicle for change and that art can bring a community together. But, thinking about the difference between contribution and attribution, I think Confluence has been a key contributing factor, along with others. I think if you look at the wider context in which all this was happening, Confluence fed into that and it was also helped by that. By that, I mean that the town council has become more open, transparent and active in the last two years and Pembrokeshire County Council has had a change of lead. So, there are wider changes that Confluence has contributed to, where people are more willing to work together and there’s less finger-pointing. For instance just this week, Honey Harfat were in a meeting in a pub with the county council and town council, talking together about regeneration and realising that it’s not ‘you’ that has to change something, but ‘we’.
This change has been particularly significant for me because my background is in public engagement and I joined the town council to try and enable that very thing. I have seen how true public engagement can revolutionise the way that a town runs. And you need to change hearts and minds, as well as putting money into buildings. Confluence has been a significant contributor to this idea that we are part of our own change and that art can be but isn’t the only thing, although it can be a very powerful tool.
Thinking about what Confluence could have got better at, if I was genuinely looking at the impact of that change, I would want to look at the impact of the change on a wider audience. For instance, I believe that the River of Light and the sheds and the breakout model, bringing it out into the audience is the way to do it. If you take the River of Lights, you had high end art but you brought people who the last thing they would have done would be to get involved with anything that they would deem ‘arty’. I think in the future you can broaden the audience and make it more inclusive, while still retaining the integrity of the art.
And one thing I have been disappointed about and it’s not anybody’s fault, but there are lots of factions within Haverfordwest, which I hope to try and break down, and there’s one between the VC Gallery and Confluence.
I hope the town council will take on the River of Lights and do our very best to maintain the integrity of the art and make sure it isn’t diluted. But I think there is a place for all kinds of art and we have to start somewhere with bringing people gently in, making it more accessible and valuing people’s place on their own journey. So, if they are using art as a therapy, or their work isn’t that good, it’s actually a step on the way. We have to get better at these things, and better at appreciating them too, and we start in different places.
There’s another thing I think Confluence could get better at and that’s to become more aware and more generous about valuing of other people’s contributions. So, where they’re working with others, they could be more generous in their praise of what they have facilitated as opposed to delivered and that the website should reflect this. It may seem a small thing but it is the kind of thing that people mind about, in a small place like this.”