The colourful salmon sculpture formerly homed in Newport Centre’s swimming pool has played a central role in a year-long arts and community engagement project titled ‘Protect our Waters’ led by mosaic and visual artist Stephanie Roberts and Newport’s Riverfront Theatre & Arts Centre.
Back in July 2022, the Riverfront and Newport Live’s family street theatre festival Big Splash funded the commission to transform the aged squirty water toy into a mosaic sculpture that brings awareness to the pollution in our waters around Wales. This 2022-23 project echoes the ‘Say NO to Whaling’ community project from Big Splash 2014 that repurposed Newport Centre’s ‘old squirty the whale’ in support of a Greenpeace campaign.
This community engagement project aimed to connect with a diverse range of families, individuals and groups, including Newport Youth Council, across Newport and engage with them through arts activity to discuss and create art that contains messages and shares the topical concerns about the rise in water pollution.
The community were involved in the project through the whole process from initial design to the mosaic process of transforming the sculpture. Using stained glass and ceramic, the project created opportunities to learn new skills in a creative and enjoyable experience, while discussing this emotive topic.
Over 130 individuals took part in the salmon’s transformation, and as the workshops progressed the story of ‘Our Salmon’ evolved. From a squirty aquatic toy into a mosaicked depiction of a healthy adult male salmon with a deeply moving story; the salmon returns to the River Usk from the ocean to breed but finds himself stuck sat upon a tractor tyre wondering what his future entails.
Over the summer ‘Our Salmon’ has toured the country on a range of outreach projects including visiting Hay-On-Wye as part of their literacy festival in late May and early June. He also took a visit to the WOMAD Festival, where he was invited to support the actions of Greenpeace at the festival and became a real conversational piece by festival goers and organizers alike.
The Salmon returned to The Riverfront at the end of July for Big Splash 2023 where his complete transformation was on display and Newport Youth Council ran arts and crafts activities inspired by him. This enabled the Youth Council to share their messages with greater audiences, inspiring new discussion about future projects.
On the ‘Protect Our Waters’ project, artist Stephanie Roberts comments… ‘ at every opportunity I try to use the power of art activity to connect with communities about topical issues. Evriononmental pollution and the story of Eog is hard hitting and has serious conciquences if we dont act on the dangers of water pollution, As so claerly stated in this Cree Indian prophecy over 100 years ago, as an observation of the monetary greed in our society: “When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish eaten and the last stream poisoned will you realise that you cannot eat money.” Powerful words that say everything.’
Sally-Anne Evans, The Riverfront Community Arts Development Officer adds ‘I’m proud to have been able to further develop the work with Stephanie Roberts. On one level it is fantastic to have a legacy from the Newport Centre that holds so many memories for people. The Whale and now the Salmon both have such an important environmental story, both internationally, as well as locally.
Steph and all of the community members who came along to make it have created beautiful artworks that Newport can be really proud of. The continuation of this into the work within schools as well as groups will hopefully ensure the conversation around our environmental impact keeps going.’
Future plans for the salmon include the creation of a primary school Art and Literacy Project, so the now named ‘Eog’, Welsh for salmon, can share his message through an educational illustrated book. This project will enable Stephanie Roberts to work alongside some inspiring creatives to further strengthen the educational awareness of how pollution effects our use of the rivers and seas and affects our health and that of wildlife and ecosystems.
Angela Jones, wild swimmer of the Wye who has also participated in the making of the salmon, will be hosting a talk at The Riverfront later this year. She will be sharing her experiences of wild swimming in the Rivers of Wales and her passionate work for protecting our rivers by collecting evidence of the pollution levels in the River Wye and Usk.
Environmental children’s book author, Catherine Barr will also be visiting The Riverfront to talk to children about her books that highlight the issues connected to water around the world. Further details of both of these events will be shared soon.
‘Our Salmon’ is currently on display in The Riverfront’s foyer and visitors are encouraged to pay him a visit and marvel at his amazing transformation.