As I joined the company Fierce Earth in collaboration with independent producer Gemma Thomas was well into the production of Place, Space and Identity 3 in Stoke-on-Trent. Six artists commissioned to create six pieces in the six areas of Stoke on Trent and a group of creative industries start-ups taking part in a Metapod Be Effective course.
On my first visit I course assisted on the Be Effective training as they did a day about marketing. The group is made up of a good mix: craft makers a games designer, a musician, a music producer, a couple of writers (one fiction one non). The atmosphere was a familiar one and really took me back four years to when I attended Be Effective in Wolverhampton. Everyone eager and slightly nervous and the group had obviously bonded and were clearly driving each other on. The training by Helga and Pete was challenging at times for them (again I remember having my preconceptions challenged) but at the end of the day they were all really fired up and ready to go and make things happen.
On my second visit I sat in on a meeting with the producers and the Artists and the toured the sites of the projects. A couple really stand out for me. Rich White is lead artist for the project and took on the challenge of responding to Winton Square which sits outside the train station. I liked Rich’s approach to the task. No pre-conceived plans being shoe-horned into a space but a genuine response to a space that locals apparently didn’t even know was a square. Rich had made drawings of a proposed Platform 4 which would bring visitors who climbed it face to face with Josiah Wedgwood as the figure seemed to create some opposing views for local people.
Probably the project that I liked most was being delivered in Cobridge by Rob Hewitt of Redhawk Logistica. Setting out to tackle the areas excessive “greyness” and bring some colour to the streets by encouraging residents to choose from a colour palette and have their front doors painted. As well as brightening the area a little Rob also encourages the participants to think about colour and engage in a discussion. As a bit of a cynic about community arts I was surprised by my reaction to this piece. I think its got a lot to do with Rob himself. His project is like him. There is no shouting or fanfare, both he and his work are softly spoken but intense, and most of all sincere. I can think of very few people particularly artist who could walk into a new and suspicious community with an idea like this and gain a feeling of trust and engagement so quickly.
What I really like is that the concept is not diluted to make it work in the community it does that thing that you hear so often banded about often without justification. It works on many levels.
My third visit was last week and things had moved on. The group attending the training had clearly been busy in their month gap between sessions and started by sharing new business cards, blog addresses and twitter handles. They then relayed their success stories before getting stuck into a day of fundraising. Some significant personal transformation are taking place and the group are already mourning the end of the course the ends next week.
The biggest physical change came in the form of Platform 4 nearing completion in Winton Square complete with Rich in high vis and pondering the wrapping stage. It is always exciting to see a piece go from paper to reality and for the record I shook Wedgwood’s hand as up close he is quite and endearing chubby faced chap. Infact he looks a bit like David Cameron a few years down the line.
To see more images of the projects and hear about them in the artists words visit the PSI3 site here