Saturday, 5 July 2014


Beneath the Pavement... Reimagining the City Centre

Beneath the Pavement was an opportunity to look closely at Stoke-on-Trent's city centre area and consider what we as artists might be able to bring to or add to it's development and regeneration.

The group I worked in was led by Mark Gubb and for all three of our sessions we headed out onto the streets of the city centre. We walked and we talked - about the city centre, about what we saw around us, about our work and our ideas. With each walk our conversations developed, Mark encouraging us to think of public art not only as large permanent interventions but also small and/or temporary ones. Here are some of my observations:


"My art is not just about looking, but about looking for something: searching for something that is missing at present."
Adam Chodzko, Out of Place

This is a quote from a text included in our information packs and it is one I thought about a lot during our two days. What I tried to observed on our walks around the city centre was what wasn't there, what was missing. And what I felt was missing most was people. And that's sad. The exciting thing about cities (for me anyway) is the people. The great coming together and rubbing shoulders of different people, the hubbub and the buzz. So what was it, I wondered, that was preventing people from using this city or from spending time in it? I thought about the city's public spaces: Where, in this city centre, were the green spaces? The spaces to come together with your friends or to dwell in on your own. Where was there something to interact with as a bit of light relief from your shopping or as an alternative motivation for coming into the city? Where were the spaces to play?


There are masses of potential to develop a more diverse range of spaces within this city centre; a brownfield site that could be reborn as a community or wildlife garden, empty shops that could be brought back to life as studios or workshops, squares and plazas that could be host to a variety of performances and live events. But it's just not happening at the moment. This is where artists can help, with reimagining unused or underused spaces into vibrant, inspiring spaces that provide people with an alternative or extra motivation to enter (and enjoy) the city centre. Spaces that create a buzz, get people talking and then draw other people in. Artists can help people see the spaces around them in a new light.


The city centre regeneration will be richer, have more integrity and be more likely to succeed if developers, artists and local people, the people that will actually be using the city centre, work together on the project. That's just common sense and we ignore it at our peril. As Dan Thompson, one of the Beneath the Pavement Lead Artists said in his presentation on art in the public realm:

            Rule Number 1 - Everything starts with a conversation.

So let's get our heads together and start talking.

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