Bedford Creative Arts commissioned Dan Thompson to create a town-wide artwork, to take place on Saturday 29th March 2014. In the run up, he was based in Studio 1 at Bedford Creative Arts, from where he spent three months exploring the town. Meeting local people in places like the West Indian Social & Cultural Society, Coffee with Art cafe, Polish School and the Italian Club, he had a wide conversation about what made people in Bedford happy. The project was grounded in an idea of local distinctiveness, and was really about reminding people that they already were happy in Bedford.
The final artwork was like a viral meme, spread across the town centre, and included signs, prints, badges and a series of interventions, all designed to make people think about happiness. People were asked to nominate a place that made them happy – and to present a certificate to that shop, cafe or person on the day. This act of acknowledgement actually generated happiness – and that’s based on proper science. People could collect limited edition prints, bookmarks, badges and even Bedford happy fudge throughout the day. A flashmob choir, printing workshop and other small interventions were designed to make people question what was, and what wasn’t, part of Bedford Happy – encouraging them to keep their eyes open and question what was going on around them.
Extra layers were added to the project through a Tumblr (documenting research and supporting materials), a Facebook page, a Pinterest board (collecting together visual references) and a Twitter hashtag. This all showed the project’s research, development and production as it happened.
Much of the Bedford Happy ephemera will remain in Bedford, as a reminder of the day but also as a marker that Bedford is, despite the statistics, a happy place.