From Margate to the Edinburgh Festival

Clod EnsembleThe Edinburgh Festival is noisy, chaotic and colourful and has been since the end of the Second World War. But then, it’s not one festival; it’s over 40 separate festivals, happening at roughly the same time. Collectively they have a massive impact on the local visitor economy. Last year, the Edinburgh Fringe alone ran for 25 days and featured over 3100 shows from 51 countries in nearly 300 venues. On top of that nearly 1000 groups contributed to the street festival. The combined festivals generate over £260 million pounds for the Scottish economy and support nearly 10,000 jobs.

Importantly, the Edinburgh Festival gives people a chance to move from the familiar to new and uncharted territory. To step from shows, performers and companies they know to new experiences. 64% of visitors agreed that the Festivals had made them more likely to take greater risks in things they went to in the future, and 53% were more likely to attend other events because of the festival. Fortunately, audiences in East Kent don’t need the long train journey north to find shows with the quality, diversity and intensity of the Edinburgh Festival.

You could find Les Enfants Terribles, Peaceful Lion, New Old Friends, Kill The Beast, Tall Stories, Gavin Robertson, Sell a Door Theatre, Tara Arts, Worboys Productions, Clod Ensemble, Scamp Theatre, Show and Tell Company, Chameleon Dance Theatre, Nicholas Collett Productions, Theatre of Widdershins and Daniel Bye at the Edinburgh Festival. Or you could see them all at the Theatre Royal.

The building at the edge of Margate town centre might be seen as rather more historic than cutting edge, but in fact the programming (by Pam Hardiman) has made the second oldest theatre in the country a neat counterweight to Turner Contemporary on the seafront. While Turner Contemporary brings edgy artists like Tracey Emin, Jeremy Deller and Grayson Perry to a new brutalist building, the Theatre Royal fills a historic space that’s all red velvet and crinkly plasterwork with those artists’ equivalents in theatre.

Some Edinburgh highlights

Shit Girlfriend

7-23 August, Fingers Piano Bar

Think dating a musician is all glamour? Think again – gloom-pop solo artist She Makes War takes you through 10 reasons it’s a terrible idea. ‘It’s like someone playing with their phone in bed and ignoring you but, like, all the time.’ Sharing tales of real life on the road and ill-fated attempts at finding love along the way, plus explaining why music is the best boyfriend ever, this show is an enchanting blend of humorous spoken word and atmospheric melancholy music performance, via discussions on the workings of the creative brain, and internet versus IRL relationships.

The Red Chair

24-30 August, 10am The Demonstration Room, Summerhall,

A delicious feast for the imagination that tells the fabulous tale of a man who eats himself into his chair, The Red Chair lies somewhere between a Grimms’ Tale, an absurdist ghost story and a parent’s guide on how not to bring up children. As seen in a Theatre Royal presentation at Turner Contemporary. Written and performed by Sarah Cameron. A Clod Ensemble show (who also brought the Red Ladies to Margate), produced in association with Fuel

Going Viral

Through August; venue tbc

A new virus is sweeping the globe. A plague of weeping. You work in online marketing. This wasn’t what you bargained for. And why do you seem to be immune? By the writer and performer who brought Story Hunt to Margate.

Portrait

5-29 August (not 17, 24) 1:20pm Pleasance Dome, 10 Dome

A frank and funny look at the trials and tribulations of modern existence seen through the eyes of a young black woman. Candid and satirical, this playfully complelling one-woman show uses music, poetry and dance to ask the critical question: just how does a girl make it these days? An exciting debut solo show from rising talent Racheal Ofori. Directed for Edinburgh by Kate Hewitt.

I Am Not Myself These Days

5-30 August (not 17, 24) 4.15pm Pleasance Courtyard, Beneath

A surprising tale of love and loss, set amidst the excesses of 1990s New York, adapted from Josh Kilmer-Purcell’s bestselling autobiography. By turns brutal, funny and heartfelt this one man show evokes a time when Josh found himself working as a drag queen, battling alcoholism, and desperately trying to make a relationship work with Jack, a high-class crack addicted rent boy.Written and performed by Tom Stuart and directed by Nick Bagnall.

Arlington House Auction

Margate’s beautiful Main Sands is bookended by two Brutal buildings, bold seaside architecture that is the spirit of a town that’s on the edge, both physically and metaphorically, told in concrete. Turner Contemporary and Arlington House are a pair, a duet, Margate’s story made solid.

Because Margate’s a living, breathing place. It’s not pickled heritage painted in Farrow & Ball, not a Cath Kidston nod to a Ladybird book past, not a 21st century take on a kitsch saucy seaside postcard, but is a colourful, chaotic and always contemporary place. It’s always faced firmly forward and Arlington House is as much part of that story as the Georgian squares, Dreamland’s Art Deco cinema, David Chipperfield’s Turner blocks or the crazy Clocktower.

And right now, Arlington House is the bit that’s been left behind. From the tower’s east-facing flats, you can see Turner Contemporary and watch Dreamland coming back to life. And Arlington has to be next. The site has been in limbo, since Tesco pulled out, and worryingly there’s still planning permission for demolition of the shops, car park and the tower’s elegant 60s-styled foyer block.

So we need to fight. When it was first proposed Turner Contemporary was a crazy idea, and when residents stood up for Dreamland they were told it was never going to happen. Except – Turner’s there, and Dreamland is. By getting together, Margate’s residents and visitors have shown, big things can be made to happen. Arlington’s next. Tell everyone, Arlington’s next.

So right now, we need to get some cash into the Friends of Arlington House accounts, to pay off some of the legal costs from a long fight to save the building and to give them a fighting fund to look ahead. Like I said, it’s Margate’s residents and visitors that will make things happen; and they’ve donated some frankly (and yes, the word’s overused, but trust me – it fits) awesome lots to a fundraising auction.

So – would you like some art or Wayne Hemingway’s autograph, some coasters or some cushions? Advice on making your home, garden or just your body a bit better? Would you like food, or drink, in one of Margate’s ace eateries? A stay in a boutique b&b, an Old Town apartment or in a flat in Arlington House itself? Would you like records from a frankly rather hip label, or would you like to learn to DJ with them? The Arlington House Auction is odd and inspiring, eclectic and entertaining, and packed full of stuff which I re kon you’ll love and which will help Friends of Arlington Margate keep fighting for this national treasure. Fifty-odd fab lots – bid here in the Arlington House Auction.

 The auction closes tomorrow at 5pm.

March of the Mods: Pretty Green in Margate

Liam Gallagher’s clothing label Pretty Green has taken inspiration for this season’s collection from the British seaside and the thrill of 60’s bank holiday mayhem.

After I met one of the Pretty Green team at a supper I co-hosted with a marketing agency in London last year, we started talking about Margate’s place in Mod history. So they came and shot the collection here in Margate, one of the original Mod strongholds and scene of the classic Mods vs Rocker seafront clashes of the early 1960s. “This is signature Pretty Green territory,” they said.

Taking great Mod heritage and updating it with modern styling, their clothes look great against a backdrop of Margate’s hazy summer days.

Classic polo shirts and deansgate parkas stand up alongside lightweight casual jackets. Also, back by popular demand, is their much-loved Monkey Jacket, available in brand new colourways.

Also new for Spring-Summer 2015 are a camo leopard print, a tonal Paisley seaforth bomber jacket and a selection of bold graphic tees designed by hand by the Pretty Green design team’s resident artist.

Beating Extremists

If you really, really want to beat the extremists who plant bombs, blow themselves up, hack people to death, and shoot people, then don’t get angry with a whole religion. These people are extremists. They’re not the whole religion.

There’s only one way we beat extremists and it’s not by blaming innocent people, by tarring everyone with the wrong brush, by hating a whole religion; it’s by carrying on.

The thing extremists (all of them – Islamic and Far Right, Christian and radical left) hate most is our acceptance of different cultures, of different beliefs, of different ways of doing things. It’s the fact that we have two churches and a mosque on the street where I live. Being open to ideas, being a plural society, our acceptance and tolerance, is what they hate. If we carry on doing that, we win. Once we stop, they do.

A question for Jeremy Deller

Joe Brown took me to Turner Contemporary this week, to hear Jeremy Deller talk about his work. I didn’t ask a question, but if I had it would have been this

Jeremy – you’ve created a layered show full of stories which wrap around each other, but if Turner Contemporary caught fire right now, which one thing would you save?

Or to put it another way:

Jeremy – everything in this exhibition is made by somebody else. Who’s your favourite artist in Jeremy Deller’s English Magic?

Roundabout – a pop up theatre

Roundabout is coming to Margate. This awesome pop up theatre from Paines Plough is constructed in just one day and can appear in any space big enough – this time, it’s appearing inside Margate’s Winter Gardens. It’s a self-contained, flat-packed in-the-round theatre made in a day.

It’ll play host to a week-long festival of music, performance, theatre and cabaret and there’s some really special stuff going on.

I was lucky enough to get the chance to photograph Roundabout as it was made (all on Flickr). Watch that space!

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Struggling to find life in shiny public spaces

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” Jane Jacobs

Can artists build a real relationship with city planners, regeneration professionals and perhaps most importantly, the people who use our streets? That was the question raised by Beneath The Pavement, a two day workshop for artists who want to work in public spaces.

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Organised by Airspace Gallery and supported by Appetite, the day brought four lead artists together – Anna Francis, Emily Speed, Mark Gubb and me. We each presented our approach to working as an artist in public spaces, which were similar but slightly different. The overlaps were significant, and probably represent the way most artists at the same stage in our careers work; we’re all interested in spotting gaps, all looking to make temporary interventions, all have an eye for the derelict corner, all enjoy a light humour, all find ourselves weighted down by the history of a place, and all question whether more formal urbanism really works.

Stoke’s problems – and opportunities – were laid out for us and the twenty or so artists attending in a series of walks around the city centre, taking us through old streets, abandoned buildings, back alleys, community spaces and into public buildings. That walking and talking made it clear that Stoke has two big hang ups, it is obsessed with the idea that its six original towns can’t make a coherent city, and it believes that its industry is dead. Both of these ideas are wrong.

All cities are a jumble of older places, loosely connected, threaded together across the years but still holding onto their original identities. Stoke has held onto this ‘we’re not a city’ like an article of faith, but, coming from outside, it feels irrelevant. Chanting it, ‘we’re not a city, we’re not a city, we’re not…’ makes no difference. Stoke is a small-scale city, permeable and human-scaled. Nowhere does it overwhelm a person. The city twists, turns, tumbles up slight rises and through informal spaces (not formal squares, but wide and curving public spaces). This does, sometimes, make it difficult to navigate – it’s not a legible city centre, doesn’t move you to a big central space, doesn’t allow you to navigate by landmarks and statues.

The buildings are good, across the decades; there are beautiful proud Victorian commercial buildings, as you’d expect, but also some great mid-century modernism – the curved arches in an abandoned shopping centre, the fine typography on Tontine Buildings, the bold space-age fins of the BBC building.

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These two periods – grand Victoriana, mid-20th century (Art Deco through to 60s Brutalism) track Stoke’s industrial wealth. The potteries which spread teapots, cups and saucers across the Empire adapted well, post-1945, as both expressions of New Elizabethan optimism (look at Spode’s RCA range, for example) and as high-tech industry, manufacturing ceramics for electrics. The decline came later.

And that’s Stoke’s second myth – that the big, empty sites mean Stoke’s industry is dead. That’s simply not true; it’s moved on, there’s no ripping coal and clay from the earth here today, but Spode, Emma Bridgewater, Portmeirion – these are still big names and they’re still be produced. That’s more major manufacturers, all well-known-names, than most British cities can muster. Be proud of your history – Minton, Clarice Cliff, Wedgwood, Susie Copper – for sure, but also be very proud of what you’ve got now.

Stoke’s city centre is undergoing something of a transformation. It’s being given a massive public realm makeover. The work is well-intentioned, and is much better than what went before. If you compare the way the new layout gives the car less authority over roads, to areas in the city which are still waiting for improvement, it’s going to change the way people use the city centre and make it a much better place to spend time.

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But it still lacks focus, still lacks legibility and worst of all, includes too much Pointless Public Realm – space without purpose. The problem, really, is that while planners talk about ‘vibrancy’, and creating ‘mixed use’, and encouraging people to ‘linger’ – they also want to control space. So they try to plan out real vibrancy, allow only certain types of mixed use, and stop some people lingering. As a result, benches are split in two, to discourage rough sleeping, and seating is designed to be uncomfortable, so that teenagers and street drinkers don’t linger too long. There’s lots of space, but not in useful places, and not focused – empty space, waiting to be reclaimed and reused.

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The council’s presentation of this work to Beneath The Pavement was interesting to watch; an example of two world’s not so much colliding, but existing in parallel universes, and surprised by a sudden glimpse through a window of each other. The council know that the work is needed, have given it a decent budget, and are working to a high quality. But in thinking of city-as-engineering-challenge, they’re missing the point made by good thinkers like Jane Jacobs, Lewis Mumford and Francis Tibbalds. They’re creating a blank, neat city not one for people to fill. This is where the artists working at Beneath the Pavement became most frustrated, but it’s also where they’re needed most.

“There is a quality even meaner than outright ugliness or disorder, and this meaner quality is the dishonest mask of pretended order, achieved by ignoring or suppressing the real order that is struggling to exist and to be served.” Jane Jacobs

 

Stoke’s future must be in these spaces being useful being part of life, being filled again with bustle and life. For Beneath The Pavement, the artists I worked with made small interventions in other parts of the city; a series of stickers saying a polite ‘thank you’ for following instructional signs, a sign to ‘Seize Your Space’, a series of chalked cartoons and #chumberella, a shared and social space to keep the rain off (which, I reckon, should become an international movement).

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But all of them avoided working in the neat, new spaces. And that’s where we need to go to work right now; before they become tomorrow’s failed visions of a better city, things we look back at and say ‘what were they thinking?’. The city’s planners might think that, in a year or two, they’ll have finished, that the job of work is over; that building new places is a process with a start and an end. But the truth is, the layers on top of them, the gradual accretion of life and disorder, are what really make a city live. And that’s up to us. Let’s get started.

 

 

 


Let’s meet

AIRTime BelfastThe ‘social’ in ‘social artist’ is really important. What I do is get people together to make interesting things happen. What I don’t do is have meetings.

I had my moment of realisation a few years ago, sitting in another meeting with Worthing Borough Council to discuss the arts-led regeneration of the town. I can’t remember the exact order of the agenda, but I do remember looking around and thinking ‘this is how these people earn a living – by being in meetings. Every other person here is paid, except me, just to be in this room. And they think that having a meeting is the same as doing something.’

It’s not, of course. Meetings are, all too often, a substitute for useful activity, a way of covering the lack of any action with a veneer of ‘we’re doing something – look, there’s an agenda and there will be minutes’.

ProgrammeI’ve been reminded of this a couple of times recently. I went to an open meeting a couple of weeks ago. Nobody I spoke to before the event started was quite clear what the meeting was about. The organisation who’d called the meeting were hard to fathom; their structure wasn’t clear so it was hard to know how outsiders could get involved. And the meeting spoke mainly to insiders anyway, with in-jokes and jargon that made it hard to catch up.

And a colleague reported on a meeting she’d travelled the country for, from the north to the south coast. She arrived to find the people she was meeting didn’t really want to talk, and to make that point had scheduled just one hour after all that travel.

I’ve spent hours, days, probably months in meetings. I’ve run open, public events and chaired closed committees. I’ve been a keynote speaker at conferences and brought people together in coffee shops. I’ve held events in the Houses of Parliament and in backstreet art studios. I’ve spoken to global corporations about leadership and to local groups about anarchy. So – how can we reclaim the meeting as something useful? Here’s how I think we can make meetings matter:

P10603831. Don’t have a meeting unless you need to. That sounds obvious, but too many meetings are held because we need to be seen to be having a meeting, bringing ‘partners’ and ‘stakeholders’ together. Call a meeting only when it’s useful, not out of habit. Is there an alternative – a meetup in a coffee shop, doing an activity together?

2. In advance, be clear about who should be at the meeting and why. Don’t invite everybody – invite the people who can contribute and who will take action. Everyone else can be briefed afterwards. If you’re holding an open meeting, make it really clear – ‘You should come to this meeting if you’re interested in a, b, or c.’ Tell people what they should read in advance, what they need to understand and how they will contribute to the meeting.

3. If it’s a big, public meeting or an open workshop, be really clear at the start about who’s brought the meeting together. Say why you’ve asked people to come. Lay out a clear purpose – ‘at the end of the meetings we’ll have decided n and will agree to x.

4. Welcome people as they arrive. And if people arrive late, welcome them too. Don’t worry about how many people turn up; the people in the room are the right people. Make sure you have their contact details so you can follow up afterwards.

P10507195. Have a timetable. ‘We’ll spend 10 minutes on this, 20 on this…’ And stick to it. If something looks like it’s going to need more time, that’s a separate meeting for the people interested in that part of the discussion.

5. If your meeting is open and has a wide audience, avoid in jokes and references to things outside the meeting which other people might not know about. If a reference is useful, make it clear. Avoid jargon, acronyms and the like; even if you think everyone understands, they may be interpreted differently by different people. My NPO is a Not-For-Profit, yours is a National Portfolio Organisation, and theirs is the National Preservation Office.

Screen6. Make your meeting open via social media. Encourage people to Tweet or talk to people outside the room. It isn’t rude that people are Tweeting; it’s open and democratic. But more importantly, allows other voices to be heard and means more people can contribute, or learn from what you discuss. Watch the hashtag during the meeting and bring comments into the room where useful.

7. To make 6. easier, give everyone the wifi password and tell them what the hashtag is. Both of these should be written at the front of the room and visible throughout.

8. If there are questions and answers between speakers or presentations, make sure they are questions – not lengthy statements or position pieces. Define what a question is, if you have to!

9. Let people escape. Make sure there’s a door leading out of the room which people can use without embarrassment – that is, it should be at the back of the room not behind the speaker. There are legitimate reasons for leaving – to take a call or use the toilet. But it’s also good to be able to escape if you realise, it’s not a meeting you need to be in.

Furthermore, ar…

Furthermore, art practices historically evolved to function inside art institutions, were simply inoperable when transferred to the world outside. When artists did try such a transference they were met with complete misreading, or indifference, even failing to obtain recognition from people that it was indeed a work of art which they were confronting.

S Willats, Intervention and Audience, 1986

#votein2015

I need your help. UKIP didn’t win at the elections yesterday. They came fourth. But with turnout well below 40% apathy is winning, and they’ll creep in that way. Post-war, after people fought for freedom, turnout was 80%+. Now at a General Election it’s 65%.

We need that up in 2015. A strong electorate will make sure we don’t get fascism through apathy.

So here’s a hashtag – #votein2015. The fight starts here. We’ll fight on the polling grounds and on the beaches, in the workplaces and the schools, in the fields and the valleys. This is neutral – not political – the only enemy is not voting. We need to encourage everyone to get involved in 2015, and get out to vote.

I reckon for a good fight, we need an organiser for every four streets, and one in every workplace. You can do that – rally friends, neighbours, colleagues. You must remain neutral – your only job is to remind people to get involved, to get out and vote. 

You can do that anyway they like – doorknocking, coffee mornings, street parties, talks, organising gigs or a cake stall outside your front gate. Do what you do best but do it for a good cause.

Together, we can do it. Fight back, organise. 75% turnout in 2015? We can do that.

We’ve got a hashtag. We need a logo. Anyone?

40th Birthday

It’s becoming harder to ignore the fact that I’ll be 40 in June. I think it’s time to think about what I’m going to do when I’m grown up. 

In the meantime, what I want for my birthday is much easier: some Fred Perry Margate stuff, a good-quality metal dustpan and brush, assorted books, an old racing bike (Puch, ideally), some striped pyjamas, a flat cap from John Bello, good coffee, Clarks desert boots, and a few records.

While you work on that, I’ll work out what to do for the next 40 years.

Record Store Day

IMG_20140416_133822It’s Record Store Day, and there’s lots of talk about why vinyl’s enjoying a revival. A commentator on the BBC dragged out the old ‘the artwork’s really good argument’ which doesn’t really mean much.

The truth is, a record is a social object, an item around which social capital is generated. You can sit with friends and share the experience, listening together and choosing favourite tracks. You can read the sleeve notes, and make connections to other artists with the same session musicians, engineers and designers, feeling like you  have arcane knowledge and entry to a mystery. The real magicians even decifer the run-out groove messages – a Porky Prime Cut, and Spiggy the cat. You can lend records to show trust, pass them on to show generosity (and thank you, Nick from Lancing, for giving me Psychedelic Furs, Siouxsie et al), sell them and collect them.

So records are special, bonding people, bringing gangs together, introducing us to youth cult folk stories and ancient knowledge, teaching us our place in a long continuity of music, fashion and beliefs. You don’t get that with a download.

Those who argue…

Those who argue that there is an element of the work of art in any locality study, and particularly in one-man studies, have undoubtedly some truth on their side. But this element of the work of art enters into any sociological research.

Margaret Stacey, The Myth of Community Dtudies, 1969

Bedford Happy – creating a brand

That was some day. Saturday saw my town-wide Bedford Happy artwork unfold, pretty much as planned. The artwork took the form of a series of interventions across the town, based on what people had said made them happy, and designed to act as both reminders of that happiness – and generators of new happiness. It was all designed to be real-world viral, to start people talking and wondering, as well as being big on social media.

To make that work, I had to play with branding, with the idea of making something very recognisable that could be applied in different ways across a town to spread a message.

Be Happy Colour copySo the Bedford Happy brand design was very simple – three colours and the beautiful Canter typeface by Christopher J Lee. Under it were some simple principles – always positive, talking about happiness and not about what made people unhappy; celebrate local distinctiveness; keep it nimble, light and responsive. There were two styles as well – Be Happy (pictured here) and the fuller Bedford Happy.

The first phase, designed to use during workshops and while having a conversation with a town, used a 1950s-inspired palette, based on photographs of buildings around the town centre, for the text. I used a paintchart from the 1950s, Sissons Brothers & Co Ltd of Bankside, Hull as a further reference – Sea Fern, Cornflower and Jasmine are the colours from there.

This design was applied to badges and swingtags to use in workshops, and to a range of materials to share across social media.

Poster 29 March FBFor the second phase, yellow became more prominent. I wanted a sense, expressed through the change in design, that things were cranking up, getting hotter, getting brighter. Because yellow is a bright, cheerful colour which is often associated with happiness (think Mr Happy and acid house), but because it also represents shared and public things when used in public spaces – yellow boxed junctions, yellow buses, yellow taxis and yellow litter bins. So this also moved a change – from the closed workshops to an open event.

I actually changed the yellow after the first round of publicity materials for Bedford Happy were produced- not something a marketeer would do, but I’m an artist and I’m allowed to.

do not conform finalSo the range of limited edition prints and posters, available on the day of the artwork, are in a much brighter shade of yellow than the poster advertising the day. There were five limited edition posters, and a Bedford Happy manifesto.

There were also badges, stickers and an open edition of A4 posters, distributed across the town in the style of political posters. These are available to download from the Revolutionary Arts site.

Bedford Happy

I’m a couple of months into my commission for Bedford Creative Arts, which was to look at happiness in the town and create a town-wide artwork celebrating locally distinct happiness.

I’ve met dozens of groups of people, from a mental health drop in to an evening at the West Indian Cultural & Social Society, from a mindfullness meditation group to siting in busy spots like the cafe Coffee With Art. I’ve had conversations with people in shops and pubs, and a wide-ranging Twitter discussion under the #bedfordhappy hashtag.

So – what is the work of art at the end of it? On Saturday 29th March I’ll be bringing a sense of happiness and playfullness to Bedford Town Centre. There will be a series of markers, stories and interventions in the town’s public spaces, in Coffee With Art, at my studio at Bedford Creative Arts and in the BedPop shop on the High Street.

We’ll be starting the Saturday at the bandstand in Bedford Park around 9am, and ending with an open invitation to bring your favourite record to the West Indian Cultural & Social Society where you can hear it played on their rather excellent sound system.  We’ll be hiding extra content online, with clues around the town. Join us, and be happy.

Tales from the empty shops frontline in Boston and Holbeach

The Boston shop had been open about a week, word was getting round and we were getting many people coming back again and again to attend our free arts activities…..which was great, it meant we had an opportunity to engage them in conversation and find out some real information.

We exhibited artists’ work produced during the previous 3 months consultation phase, letters created for shop windows leading up to our launch event and information on community groups to raise awareness of their work.   The information sharing and networking was woven in amongst the practical activities, the cups of tea, the knitting and nattering…..and listening.

Although I was mainly in the Holbeach shop, I also programmed myself in to the Boston shop a few times, just so I could get a feel for the differences…..with 14 miles between them, one a busy town and small port, the other a small fenland market town, there were many.

It was during one of these times that Dennis appeared silently at my side, ‘I’d like a word’ he said.

‘I make canes……with carved heads, would you like some in the shop?’

We chatted as we drank tea.   As well as carving the most exquisite duck heads (mainly) on long hazel canes, Dennis also created puppet heads.   He wanted to set up a touring puppet theatre.   He was from the local area, he had the most amazing skills and up to now nobody had known about them.  Dennis told me he had previously worked with another artist and asked if I’d like to see pictures of the work they completed.  Wow! (sorry but I don’t have permission from the artist to give you any further details, you’ll just have to trust me and it wasn’t puppets).

Dennis brought in his canes the next day, he’d also made a frame for displaying them.  His work attracted attention every day with shop visitors admiring his skill and the playfulness of the carved heads.  And as for his puppets; I forwarded his contact details to a Lincoln theatre company who often use masks and puppetry in their work…..the two are now talking.   Dennis is working on his next large scale collaborative installation.

A guest post for the Empty Shops Network blog by artist Carol Parker. As Transported Empty Shops Co-ordinator, she programmed and curated two empty shops, one in Boston and one in Holbeach, during July-August 2013

Made In Worthing was set up to create new work and fresh thinking, rather than be another festival on the south coast showing the Same Old Stuff. In 2011, we set up a Made In Worthing thinktank and brought some interesting people together to create ideas for Worthing.

Revolutionary Arts

P1050916In 2011, Revolutionary Arts turned the annual Made In Worthing festival into a pop up thinktank and invited artists and academics, community organisers and creative businesses to get together, walk the town and think about a different future. The ideas were an antidote to what Jane Jacobs called ‘the doctrine of salvation by brick’, and focused not on big building projects but on small interventions to knit the town together. Guerilla urbanism. Here are the 50 best ideas from that event.

  1. Create a two-lane 100m track on Worthing promenade
  2. Add the #worthingstuff hashtag to all ‘Welcome to Worthing’ signs to encourage more social media discussion, and use themed hashtags on roadsigns, like #worthingart and #worthingfood
  3. Invite Martin Parr to stay for a week
  4. Promote the real ale and independent pubs in town as social spaces
  5. Create a beach hut festival
  6. Set up a zocalo day, where neighbours sit outside and…

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Tax miscalculation

PleaseMy dad has been sent a tax calculation, because the Inland Revenue have miscalculated tax for the past three years. It’s happened because they failed to integrate their 20 computer systems properly a few years ago. All the figures he sent them were correct, and the mistake is all theirs. They want him to pay a year’s teacher’s pension now, because of their mistake.

Working hard, from the shop floor to managing a shop, while doing voluntary work in the local community. Retraining to become a teacher, and working hard at that for years. Deciding to stop teaching and work voluntarily overseas, and then returning to the UK to work in bookshops and for a social enterprise in Brighton. And, in amongst that, bringing up two children single-handed.

Can you imagine any business sending you a retrospective invoice; ‘you know that work we did for you, three years ago? Turns out we undercharged you so here’s the bill.’

 

 

Writing poems in the library’s basement

In another world, I’m a successful poet. In this one, I write poems sometimes, perform them infrequently, and once a year run a poetry workshop for children at the local library.

With a small group of quiet children and another poet called Wendy Greene, we gather words and write a collaborative poem.

This year, as part of a series at the library exploring the world, our theme was ‘Africa’. We had 45 minutes. I wove tales of empire and immigration as the children created a wordlist – they were most inspired by animals, landscape and pattern.

An African poem by Tali, Kate & India

River, jungle,
rhythm hot,
Long grass, trees,
vine and creepers,
in the land that time forgot

River, jungle,
rhythm hot,
Hiding, creeping,
wild and dangerous,
must survive no matter what

River, jungle,
rhythm hot,

Colour, pattern,
weave together
in an African melting pot

Building on #riotcleanup

As Worthing’s magnolia trees are in full flower, and a small patch of snowdrops has emerged in the front garden of Thompson Towers, I can’t help but reflect on something Tim, from The Beekeepers, said a couple of years ago; we love the blossom so much because it’s temporary, because it has a short life.

He was likening blossom to pop up shops, but it a good thought about any temporary intervention, occasional use of space or momentary action.

I’ve always favoured temporary, nomadic and transient projects; not through any fear of commitment, but because I like the way they inspire other people to follow them up with their own acts. Pop ups unlock the potential of people and places.

Last August, a month when the late summer heat hazed the South Downs and I spent the summer holidays swimming with my children in the sea, I started something which lasted a day but has rippled through the subsequent months.

#riotcleanup was a simple, open, honest response to the riots that had spread across London and then were imitated across England. I asked my friends on Twitter to help their local shopkeeper, if they had been affected by the riots. Get a broom, I Tweeted, some black sacks – nothing complicated, nothing political just an hour of helping somebody else. Sophie Collard, a travel writer with an abnormal interest in train travel, added a hashtag, #riotcleanup. And musician Sam Duckworth started a Twitter account to help to amplify the message.

An incredible number of people heard it, of course, and the images have become iconic; this week #riotcleanup is on the front cover of the Riots Communities & Victims Panel report into August’s unrest and last week it was light entertainment in an Omid Djalili dance for Sport Relief.

Looking after the place where I live is something I’ve always done; on the council estate where I grew up, proud ladies swept their garden paths, tidied away rubbish from communal areas and berated us children for our untidiness. Later I organised neighbours to clear up neglected green spaces on the Maybridge Estate. And during heavy snow in 2009, I mobilised residents to clear packed snow and ice from a footbridge. I’m not interested in becoming a ‘volunteer’ for somebody’s organisation, but am more than willing to stand up when my community needs help.

So, seven months after the riots, one of the ripples has hit the shore with an amazing opportunity. NESTA, with the Office of Civil Society, are investing in projects with the potential to increase in the giving and exchange of time, assets, skills, resources and money.

They’re supporting an idea Sophie and I had in discussions at the RSA in the weeks after #riotcleanup. So in the coming months, we’re developing #futurecleanup – a website which will use Twitter and Facebook to help people organise small, local, community actions all year round.

The same things that happened on the Maybridge Estate, many years ago, but with the power of the networks behind it. I went back to the estate, last week, to be photographed for the Worthing 50 project; the redbrick 1948 houses still look magnificent in the sunshine. But even more glorious is the blossom on the trees edging the streets.

2011 in lists

This should probably be an infographic, the must-have for 2011 end-of-year round-ups. But it’s not, it is (just like it was last year) a list of lists.

Events:

  1. #riotcleanup sees positive anarchy
  2. Last flight of Space Shuttle Atlantis
  3. Global population reaches seven billion
  4. First synthetic organ transplant
  5. USA and others see credit rating downgraded

Shops and cafes:

  1. Mooey’s Mocha Shop, Worthing
  2. Arena Menswear, Worthing
  3. The Book Ferret, Arundel
  4. Bar Bruno, Soho
  5. Queen’s Park Bookshop, North London

Books:

  1. Is Britain Great? 3 – The Caravan Gallery
  2. Wish You Were Here – Travis Elborough
  3. Great Railway Maps Of the World – Mark Ovenden
  4. It’s All About The Bike – Robert Penn
  5. Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed – Frederic Chaubin

Places :

  1. Worthing beach
  2. Turner Contemporary, Margate
  3. Templeworks, Leeds
  4. Amsterdam North
  5. Fresh Egg HQ, Worthing
Signs
Amsterdam

Empty shop projects:

  1. We Are Bedford
  2. Buurt Flirt, Rotterdam
  3. The Brick Box, Tooting
  4. SoCo Creative Hub, Southampton
  5. Workshop 24, South Kilburn

Music:

  1. Virtue – Emmy The Great
  2. Thick As Thieves – Larkin Poe
  3. Little Battles –  She Makes War
  4. 50 Words For Snow –  Kate Bush
  5. Duets –  Tony Bennett

Television

  1. Educating Essex
  2. Spooks
  3. Rev
  4. Episodes
  5. Twenty Twelve

Missing In Action

  1. Wheatsheaf, Worthing
  2. Tin Angel, Coventry
  3. Pete Postlethwaite
  4. Howies, Carnaby Street
  5. John Barry

Double Dutch

I like the fact that some words and phrases don’t have a Dutch equivalent, so they just use the English. It means that you can, sometimes, be surprised. Here are a few I noticed

  • Focus group
  • Pop-up shop
  • Internet
  • Co-working space
  • Twitter
  • Architect
  • Pressure cooker

I’m not sure what ‘winkle’ means but it seemed to come up a lot. Thanks to all the people I met in Holland, by the way – not just for speaking such excellent English, but also for being so gracious about my lack of Dutch.

Low country (Part I)

Flirting with Rotterdam
Flirting with Rotterdam

The visit

My father visited Amsterdam in the early 1970s. He took a grey rucksack and a dark red sleeping bag (which I remember still being in the house when I was a child, kept like sacred relics). He slept in the Vondelpark, and his boots were stolen.

My visit was altogether more comfortable – flying from Gatwick early on a Thursday to be in time for a symposium titled ‘Space For Connection’ at Buurt Flirt in Rotterdam in the afternoon, followed by local food and pale beer and an evening in good company. Watching the city’s late-night cyclists, girls sitting side-saddle on the backs of their boyfriends’ bikes, will be my enduring memory of Rotterdam.

Friday was spent exploring Amsterdam with Maurice Specht, visiting the north of the city and Tolhuistuin, heading south to the Bijlmermeer estates, exploring the ‘Plan West’ estates planned by Berlage and finally talking with community leaders at an event hosted by Groen Gras. A late night flight back to Gatwick finished the short visit.

Making space for connection
Making space for connection

Rotterdam

Rotterdam is one of the most perfectly person-sized cities I’ve ever visited, despite housing over a million residents. It’s a beautiful mix of small, intricate buildings and pocket-sized public spaces and it makes the perfect playground for pedestrians, public transport and pushbikes. It’s a city that is neat and tidy and cared for, even in its scruffiest corners.

Binnenweg is the city’s longest shopping street, laid out in the 15th century but largely surviving in its pre-war shape. At the heart of the city it’s fairly vibrant, with cafes where beautiful girls with beautiful tattoos serve coffee and cool boutiques like Hub Shop sell the products of cottage-industry designer-makers. But as the long ribbon unwinds towards the suburbs, there are more empty shops.

Buurt Flirt are occupying one of these, using it as a community arts centre and sharing it with a screenprint workshop. It’s a funky little space, with big tables and plenty of chairs meaning there’s always a space for people. There’s a constant supply of more of that strong, fresh black coffee and biscuits served from a counter made of bashed-together old timber. Every space in the small shop is used, with one photographer even exhibiting on the ceiling. I felt at home; it was strangely like walking into one of the Workshop projects I’ve run in the UK.

Screenprints and clothespegs
Screenprints and clothespegs

The thing that really make Buurt Flirt work though is not the furniture or the art; it’s the people. If Janneke, Aletta, Nachet and Marieke are representative of the people of Rotterdam, it’s a warm and smiling city where people are looked after. The event they hosted – ‘Space For Connection’ – was all about conversation and creative people finding ways to support each other, whether through empty shops, the backyard of the Chez Moi tea shop or using social media.

And as long as people like Buurt Flirt continue to care and connect, Rotterdam will stay creative and full of life.

Ich liebe Rotterdam.

Open Source leadership

There’s power in being open.

All of the projects I’m involved in, from the Empty Shops Network and Made In Worthing to the ad hoc anarchy of #riotcleanup, are inspired by the ideals of software’s Open Source movement. It’s James Fryer at Invocrown that taught me about that, helping me to set up artistsandmakers.com in 2003, and showing in the most practical way tools owned by the community are more useful than anything in closed ownership.

So for each project I run, the ‘source code’ is given freely. The ideas are free; the tools are free; the opportunity is free. Take them, take responsibility, take the lead, and take power.

With the Empty Shops Network, this means there’s a free toolkit, available online as a pdf but soon to be transferred to a wiki. The toolkit lets anyone plan a temporary, pop-up project – whether for an empty shop or another empty space. Being able to understand the basics leaves people free to concentrate on the body of the project. It means they have a framework for bold ideas, brave experiments and making a big difference.

#riotcleanup was based on the same principles, and as it was a very simple idea at the heart was picked up at a speed no movement in the UK has ever been before. A hundred thousand people got behind the idea online, using Twitter and to a lesser extent Facebook, in one, single, amazing day. Everybody was given the power to take the lead in their community – #riotcleanup enabled more distinct local groups across London and then in other cities, and it enabled more specialist groups to build on the #riotcleanup foundations. It allowed people to raise funds by selling T-shirts, screenprints and setting up Riot Raffle. The activity is still going on, now at a local level. With things like gardening projects on the Pembury Estate in Hackney, it is quite literally back at the grass roots.

#riotcleanup was Open Source social activism, organised without an organisation.

Everyone who picked up a broom, everybody who Tweeted useful information, every person who stepped up and did whatever they did – they all own #riotcleanup as much as the hashtag’s writer Sophie Collard or I do.

As a movement, #riotcleanup is open to a hundred interpretations. It might equally be a sign of people disenfranchised from local democracy reclaming the streets, or the Big Society in action, or a recession-fuelled revival of the Blitz spirit. It might be the end of something that needed to be done on one day, or the start of a new, bigger community based around the streets where we live and work and play. The only thing that is certain is that nothing is; there was no clear agenda, no manifesto, no political ideology driving everyone that was involved. Each and every person who walked up to the blackboard did so for their own reasons. That plurality, too, is powerful.

It means that everybody who wants to claim a little bit of #riotcleanup, from the Prime Minister to the anarchist, from the Mayor of London to the man on the street with a broom, is equally entitled to.

Open belongs to everyone, ideas once born are free, and the power and the responsibility of leadership rests with all of us.