Wednesday, 9 July 2014

BENEATH THE PAVEMENT - The Participant's View - SAM MACE

Please, please let’s let things grow!

Two days to dream, to explore the possibilities for artists to play a part in the changes that are taking place in the city centre (or is that Hanley…? and is it a city or is it six towns…?)

Delightfully hosted by the dedicated hardworking team at Airspace together with Appetite both strongly committed to promoting the arts in Stoke-on-Trent I felt nurtured and valued, not least by the fantastic lunch, cake and refreshments. This was much needed sustenance as it was an intense couple of day, packed with information to take in about the city and the developments. After this getting on with some interventions of our own. More nourishment came in the way of inspiring presentations by the four lead artists Anna Francis, Emily Speed, Mark Gubb and Dan Thompson, then later Jennie Syson. I felt at home and encouraged by these approaches to art in the public realm which was also reflected in the ‘The New Rules of Public Art’. No room for complacency, however, as hearing from the council’s landscape architect also got me pondering the role of the artist. Are we to subvert, draw attention to? Are we a tokenistic way to ease the passage of changes, placing sugar coating on top-down plans? Whose interests may we serve? How do we retain integrity? Who is paying us?

…reimagining the city

The silent walk led by Emily was a great way to settle into the creative process and allow a response to our brief to emerge. I felt more attuned to the spaces and the shifts between the busier, ‘cleaner’ areas such as the new bus station and then the dilapidated shopping precinct. Now a pigeon’s paradise, it’s been taken over by the birds and people looking for somewhere out of view for a smoke or a drink. Aptly it reminded me of the beach, the flotsam and jetsam washed up. Signs of what has been before. Resistance subsided as I embraced ‘blue’ and the plastic takeaway fork became my talisman. I realised the benefits of a brief for helping to focus.

I’m drawn to the detail, minutiae, things discarded and considered ugly. I was having fun, collecting blue treasures from the streets and reintroducing them as small arrangements. Time was running out yet there was a hive of creative activity as we all set to work with interventions. I felt amongst kindred spirits and like minds. Hearing from accomplished artists working in the public realm and meeting the other participants I felt reassured and optimistic that there is a place for subtle comments and thoughtful interventions in Stoke. In a small space of time we had created a playful idyll, visioning utopias and possibilities of what could be achieved given the chance.

As we broached the question of ‘where do we go from here’ reality hits and for me some confusion sets in. However, Beneath the Pavement showed me the potential for what is achievable by bringing a group of artists together in Stoke. I would have loved more time to work with the other artists and believe there is a good argument to create a way to share and explore ideas together for common schemes and dreams. I look forward to developing my own ideas that came out of the two days and would like to link this in with others as there were a lot of commonalities and the energy and enthusiasm here is really something to harness.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

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