Monday, 14 July 2014


Beneath the Pavement: The Participant’s View

In late June I had the privilege of attending an artist development course with Airspace Gallery and Appetite. Life has been so busy since that I’ve only just got round to writing this blog post, but I’m glad to have the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences from two days spent with some truly inspiring people.

Enough has been written elsewhere about lead artists Anna Francis, Emily Speed, S Mark Gubb, Dan Thompson, Jennie Syson, and their work in the arts, so while I could babble for five hundred words about how impressive they all are, here I’m going to focus on the city and my reactions to it.

So it turns out Stoke-on-Trent is in a state of metamorphosis. A city-centre renovation is rolling out across Hanley like a stormcloud, turning everything grey and obvious. I had noticed it happening, of course, in the corner of my eye, although I found the results so thoroughly underwhelming that I had failed to stop and take stock of the changes until now.

With the exception of the poignant sculpture by Dashyline outside the new bus station (I met Sarah Nadin and she’s lovely), the impression is of new owners moving into an old house and painting all the rooms in shades of beige. On the one hand, I find all this a bit scary and alienating. On the other, a blank canvas is a scary prospect, and make no mistake, a blank canvas is what they’re building for us out there.

Yes it’s grey and the street furniture is specifically designed to be uncomfortable. Yes the visual and textural homogeny makes it a nightmare to navigate for the visually impaired (kudos to Katrinka Wilson for pointing that out). But ultimately, despite their best attempts to create a public space so frictionless and bland that no one could be offended by it or even notice they were in it, what the council has really built is not a cultural desert, but a sandbox. And we got to play in it.

On day one we were encouraged to look for spaces where artistic interventions could be implemented. By day two we were implementing them. I had the pleasure of working with Dan Thompson, who set me a micro-brief of making/doing something that would last just ten minutes. Inspired by the above graffiti, I decided to ‘bomb’ locations with statements and comic-strip images in chalk, taking no more than ten minutes on each piece. The results were eclectic and satisfyingly temporary. In fact many of them are probably gone already, washed away by the frequent rain.

I’ve come away from Beneath the Pavement with a fresh perspective on the city-centre as a space to create art, and I’m thrilled to have met so many talented artists working in Stoke-on-Trent. More than anything else I’m filled with optimism for the future of the city and I hope the cultural landscape continues to be shaped by these artists’ vision.

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