Balloon chosen to tell Thamesmead’s cultural story

A hot air balloon that doubles as a floating art gallery has beaten 68 other entries to win the Thamesmead Open.

M+R – Neil Musson and Jono Retallick (pictured below) have won £200,000 to create their “flying story of Thamesmead”, Fields of Everywhen, in partnership with local communities.

Fields of Everywhen is a two-year project that floats stories in the air on a purpose built balloon showing the embroidered and textile creations of local communities. It will explore history, experiences and conversations with local residents and creatives, including Zimbabwean-born fashion designer Tapiwa Dingwiza and a local empowerment project, the Women’s Lounge, as well as the area’s growing contemporary textile groups, notably in the Ghanaian, Nigerian and Traveller communities in Thamesmead.

It’s clear that Thamesmead with its growing creative community has a really unique and remarkable story to tell” said Thamesmead’s head of cultural strategy, Adriana Marques. “We wanted to commission a project that would establish Thamesmead as a place of cultural innovation, capture people’s imaginations and make them proud to call Thamesmead their home.

“Never has culture been so important in fostering a sense of community and making us love where we live. We believe Jono and Neil’s proposal does just that and I can’t wait to see local stories flying high, seen from residents’ windows and back gardens, or from Thamesmead’s vast landscapes where events will be held to celebrate each flight.”

The Thamesmead Open, sponsored and organised by the housing association Peabody, has been devised to establish the area, straddling the boroughs of Greenwich and Bexley, as a cultural destination and is part of the Mayor of London’s Cultural Infrastructure Plan. The competition asked artists to consider how to engage with communities in innovative and responsive ways. The stories in Fields of Everywhen will be encapsulated in a 23 metre high depiction of a new embroidered work, described as a contemporary version of the Bayeux Tapestry, fashioned into a balloon.

"By combining textiles from local people into an eye-catching balloon, this bold creation will bring beautiful colours and inspiring stories to the skies of south east London” said Justine Simons, London’s deputy mayor for culture. “It will capture the imagination, as well as the rich diversity, history and skills of the local community, in a truly unique work.”

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