This significant place-making project will be one of Bedford’s most ambitious cultural collaborations yet, making a national statement about Bedford’s engineering heritage through a creative enquiry into its identity as the historical centre of the UK’s airship industry and exploring imagined futures of flight and fantasy.
Airship Dreams, which is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Arts Council England and sponsored by the Harpur Trust, is the result of three years of investigation and research into Bedford’s history with the airship and Cardington Sheds, working closely with award-winning artist Mike Stubbs, who grew up in the town. BCA, along with The Higgins Bedford and the Airship Heritage Trust will launch a programme of exhibitions and events that celebrate the town’s airship history, commemorate the 90th anniversary of the last flight of the infamous R101 and explore the community’s imagination for lost and possible Airship futures.
We will commission artist Mike Stubbs to lead the project involving local people of all ages in Bedford to make new art work, explore, collect and curate archive and newly sourced airship heritage material & memories.
Throughout the Summer the community will be invited to share their stories and inspiration to inform a six month long exhibition in The Higgins Bedford later in the year featuring community curated memories and artefacts alongside a contemporary art installation exploring “flight and fantasy, exploration, greed and folly”. The project will also feature an outdoor site-specific media art performance event to commemorate the final flight of the R101 and engage local schools in a STEAM programme.
The R101 is best known for its tragic crash in France, less than a day from taking off for its planned trip to India, and killing nearly all of its 54 passengers. The aim of this project, however, will be to celebrate innovation and large-scale dreams, of the kind that have shaped the modern world we now live in, and that Bedford was central to in the 1920s.
At this unprecedented time of dealing with the Coronavirus when we see international flights grounded and borders between countries closed, we look back at a time when international flight was just as aspiration yet to be achieved by those who dared to dream big and those whose ambition was to traverse land and sea by new innovative means and methods.
BCA will be asking the public to share their own experiences of Bedford’s airship heritage, whether that be anecdotes from older relatives or objects that have been saved in the family. Given the uncertainty around events taking place this year, there will be a number of ways to join in digitally, either sharing your own videos or watching links that we will be sharing – from interviews with key experts, to artist workshops and rare footage.
With Airship Dreams, we hope to provide Bedford residents with a new understanding and pride in its airship heritage, as well as letting the world know that we contributed to such groundbreaking work in aviation and engineering that still continues today. The story of the R101 is one of ambition and daring, and we’d like to use that to inspire the public and fire local imagination to consider where we’ve been and where we dream of going.
“Only when men sense the waning of a civilization, do they suddenly become interested in its history and, probing, become aware of the force and uniqueness of the ideas it has fostered. Hegel said that the owl of Wisdom appears only at twilight.” Dr Julie Bacon
Images courtesy of The Higgins Bedford