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Pu bli c art, private pla c e s
Communities in context: The nature of a community is defined, at its simplest, as a “group of people living together in one place” or “the people of an area or country considered collectively; society.” (Oxford English Dictionary). This is, of course, overly simplistic in terms of our society, which is made up of collective groups which are bound together by common interests, ideals or professions. My intention is to consider the intrinsic and extrinsic nature of these overlapping communities: can they be integrated, should they be, and why - and what part does art play in this process? I
will be looking at the role that the Minories has played both in my life and in the creative life of Colchester, as its level of interaction regarding the arts in the town has changed over the years.
Under the terms of the Victor Batte-Lay Trust, the Minories, a Tudor house near the Castle, was purchased for the artistic benefit of the people of Colchester. In 1980 they appointed as director Jeremy Theophilus, who began to broaden the remit from housing the Trust's collection of artworks and putting on exhibitions to running classes in
printmaking, life drawing and film; thus changing its role from a passive gallery to one that encouraged cross-participation.
In 1994, Katherine Wood became director, and integrated the aims of the Victor BatteLay Trust with the objectives of the Colchester and District Visual Arts Trust, re-branding the charity as 'firstsite'. firstsite began to facilitate an outreach programme of
workshops and school arts events, while broadening the exhibition programme to include major international shows and artists, including Yoko Ono, Mark Dion, Louise Bourgeois and Bridget Riley. The Yoko Ono exhibition was a particular coup for Wood, who ran a
number of lectures, events, and arts workshops during the show.
Yoko Ono 'Half a Room'
Ono “set aside traditional aesthetic conventions in an attempt to challenge viewers' assumptions about art” (fruitmarket gallery 1998), a goal which firstsite readily embraced.
However, what did this really mean for the wider community of Colchester? The aims of firstsite has always been to bring arts into the wider community, and to encourage participation from the people of Colchester. But to what extent have they succeeded? According to the Essex County Council report ‘Creative Consequences’, "the arts... continues to make a huge contribution to quality of life in Essex" (2005). It goes on to say that " ...thousands of individuals are actively engaged in making a creative difference in communities."
firstsite:newsite in progress
It is hoped that firstsite's challenging contemporary arts programme will gain wider recognition with the opening of the new Visual Arts Facility. As the design of the new building went to tender, Wood said "We must look ahead to … capitalise on firstsite's strengths to create a visitor experience that works socially, economically and culturally. " (www.thearchitectureroom.com ). It looks set to become “one of the most significant
cultural resources in the region” (Creative Consequences 2005).
Private community, public museum: As an artist who often works within community groups, my role is to facilitate involvement in the arts. An example of this is a project aimed at working with the local garrison. Entitled “Objects on Parade”, this came about out of a long-running desire on the part of the museum service to work with the garrison. Colchester has a large number of museums, which reference the town’s military past. Colchester museums have recently joined with Ipswich museums, crossing county boundaries to coordinate their collections. This spirit of integration might be one of the reasons why a branch of the museum service has begun a programme of exhibitions in non-traditional spaces.
Arts workshops at the Musket Club, Colchester Garrison
There has been a garrison in Colchester since Roman times. It has been a closed and self-sufficient community, with its own schools, shops and leisure facilities, and is a large part of the history of this town, but integration has remained difficult due to its different rules, priorities and agenda. Another problem with forging links with them is simply that contacts within that community change, as staff are regularly transferred to other garrisons. The community is transient, families following the serving member around the country: families come and go, and have little to do with the town.
Consider the wider implications of an apparently simple project: why is the museum so keen to work with the garrison? Is it a closed community, and if so, why do we want to change that? There seem to be several reasons: to generate new audiences for the museums, to introduce museum displays into non- traditional spaces, to encourage marginalised communities to integrate into the larger community of the town, and to use artwork to cross boundaries between subject and object. Speaking to the co-ordination officer at the Museum Resource Centre, Ciara Canning, it emerges that public attention is usually focussed on the soldiers, while their families are left to get on with their lives, enclosed and often cut off from social interaction outside of the garrison itself. She wanted to find some common ground between these transient families, and the larger community of Colchester.
Renaissance East, whose strap line is 'museums for changing lives', states that “the ability of museums to enhance people's understanding of their own lives and the lives of others continues to be a core part of the programme's vision." (renaissance-east.org.uk). To this end, with the Museum services, I have to date facilitated a number of arts workshops within the garrison which will lead to a new exhibition on site – a combination of museum artefacts and participant's artworks, shown in the participant's own community.
Public art in the community: That project, however, was not about putting a piece of public art into the area of the garrison, but rather about encouraging a crossing-over of the community at the garrison into the cultural life of the wider community of Colchester. There are projects which are less about integration of marginalised or insular communities, and more about regeneration. One such project, initiated by firstsite, is the Nathan Coley sculpture at 46, Brooklands Gardens, Jaywick.
Nathan Coley “The Lamp of Sacrifice, 286 Places of Worship”, Edinburgh 2004
Jaywick is a small seaside town built as holiday homes in the 1930's, and it is now inhabited year round. It contains “the third most deprived neighbourhood in Funding was raised by firstsite to bring Turner-prize
nominated artist Nathan Coley into the area, to work with residents and create a temporary artwork in Brooklands estate in Jaywick. What were the reasons behind this? Coley’s practice is “based in an interest in public space, and explores how architecture comes to be invested, and reinvested, with meaning.” (Re-Title.com 2005) His work seemed to connect well with the nature of the particular architecture of Jaywick. Perhaps, also, it was hoped that the attention created by the art would lead to a regeneration of the area, as in Glasgow after the purchase of a large painting by Salvador Dali.
The painting, “Christ of St John on the cross”, was purchased by Glasgow council from the artist himself in 1951, for £8,200, amid much opposition. “The protests against its acquisition - on the grounds that the money would be better spent on the college and the city's own residents - even attracted the support of students at Glasgow's School Of Art.” (Guardian 27/1/09). However the interest and visitors generated by this unlikely purchase have been
accredited with bringing about the regeneration of the city - helping make the gallery and museum Scotland's most popular visitor attraction (incidentally putting the Kelvingrove gallery 14th in a world ranking of major galleries, ahead of the Uffizi in Florence, Tate Britain in London, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. )
Could a similar effect be gained by Nathan Coley? Certainly, it has generated a large number of visitors, but also condemnation from locals who believe the money could have been better spent. A great deal of money has already been spent on the regeneration of this area, yet the amount the sculpture cost – paltry by comparison – is seen as a waste, despite the fact that the project took place over a period of two years. Why do small communities seem to resent the placement of work like this in their midst, and is enough being done to counteract this? The Times, in its article about this project by Hugh Pearman (Sunday Times, 23/11/08) called the sculpture 'a celebration of a particular kind of unselfconscious, non-professional way of building’. The Colchester Evening Gazette (24/11/08), on the other hand, merely said 'Arts chiefs have been slammed for funding the building of a shack-like sculpture in a resort where there is no cash available for street lights.' It is implied that the money is
taxpayers money... no mention is made of the fact that the funding raised for this particular project would never have been used for street lighting. In fact it came largely from the Henry Moore Foundation and the Arts Council, with a small percentage from Essex County Council - yet the local press always implies that it is a cost to the community itself, who naturally, not having asked for such a thing, immediately resents it.
E. H. Gombrich maintains that “...one need not necessarily accept the artists theory to appreciate his work” (Story of Art 1995). However this lesson appears lost on Shelley, a resident of Jaywick, who says “we could have basic things in Jaywick that the council deprived us of - street lighting and roads.... Nathan, stick your monstrocity (sic), art is supposed to be an attraction something nice to enjoy and look at.” (Gazette online, 24/11/08).
Nathan Coley “46 Brooklands Gardens”
The implication here is that, were the work to conform to her notions of art, it would be better appreciated, although without street lighting one wonders if this would, in fact, be the case.
The public may not have enough information to understand what the art or architecture is about, and are in danger of being made to that they are being cheated. “In the absence of shared beliefs and even common interests, it should not be surprising that so much of the well-intentioned art acquired for public spaces has failed – failed as art and as art for a civic site.” (John Hallmark Neff 'Daring to Dream', from Mitchell 'Art and the Public Sphere' 1992). This is something the artists themselves may have to address: as Mark Dion has said, “We can make work that’s very playful. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to deceive people.” (art 21 interview). It seems the people of Jaywick, and particularly residents of Brooklands Gardens, feel that they were not adequately involved in this project. “It is easy to argue for participation by the community in decisions affecting public art, if only on the grounds of empowerment and ownership. It is surely reasonable to argue that the community should have a say in public art, which in a sense it owns, just as it 'owns' its public parks, its public schools and its public libraries.”(Norman, 2000) Photographer Ron Suffield has this to say about the role of the artist in any given community: “The bit at the end – the final piece – is the easy bit. The hardest part is getting there – breaking down the barriers, gaining the trust, and getting the input. The artist should be embedded in the community they are working in.” (in conversation 19/3/09)
The gap between art and life: Public arts projects are in any case often contentious, as the artist is required to tread a fine creative line between commissioning body and community. I recently made a trip to the small village of Hugglescote in Leicestershire, a place that had tendered for an artwork to act as a gateway to the town. Adjacent to the larger and newer town of Coalville, Hugglescote sought to maintain its separateness and individuality from the larger town.
Like the garrison in Colchester, albeit for different reasons, it wished to maintain its independence and autonomy. Unlike the garrison, it was looking for a piece of public art to help consolidate this aim. The village approached Mantle Arts in Coalville to help secure funding and put out a tender for an artist. Funding was found from the Sence Valley forum, which facilitates projects that have positive regenerative or environmental impact in the East Midlands. The brief was advertised on the Arts Council website, and stated that “Leicestershire County Council and Mantle Arts wish to appoint an artist/artists to create a ‘gateway feature’ for the village of Hugglescote in North West Leicestershire incorporating one or more art forms. A strong element of community involvement through artist led workshops is required. “ (appendix 2)
Eastern approach, Hugglescote, Leicestershire
As one of the short-listed artists, I visited the site to prepare a detailed submission, and arranged to meet two of the local councillors to get more of an insight into the background of the project. However, it soon became clear that, not only did their aims not coincide with the brief, but in fact what it appeared they wanted was less a work of art and more of a village sign, with flowerbeds and a maypole.
Peter Robinson, project manager from Mantle arts, who had taken me to the site, became visibly embarrassed as their desires and the project brief became increasingly at odds. Peter told me later that the artists' submissions would be put on display to the residents of Hugglescote, so the final choice would not depend solely on those on the council. He went on to say that “if it was decided that flowerbeds were a necessary feature, funding would be obtained from elsewhere, and will not come out of the funding for the artwork.”
This sort of mixed message isn't uncommon in public arts projects of this kind, that are not artist led, such as the Jaywick project, or even community led, but destined to be designed by committee. “Public art is art made public... its purpose has been seen to be linked with urban politics and policies, not just with civic service and pride. In part, this has been the result of an increased accountability for the way in which private and public funds are used, but also because public art is often given a role in projects concerned with urban regeneration, image building and the enhancement of real estate.” (Norman, 2000). It will be interesting to see what sort of work, eventually, the people of Hugglescote choose to put themselves on the map.
The Minories today: If firstsite is perceived to have higher or loftier creative aims than the community can currently stomach, perhaps there is a role for the Minories to play? As part of our group research, we interviewed several elements of the community, both users of the Minories, in the café, and shoppers in the two major precincts in the town centre. Although only a matter of a few hundred feet from the Lion Walk shopping centre, it seemed that not only had many people never been to the Minories, several had never even heard of it, or knew its role.
Of those that had, it was perceived as a gallery if nothing else, and some interest was expressed in it providing more creative services than a gallery or a museum is normally considered to do. Certainly the results of a survey amongst students at the Colchester Institute suggest that young people would be keen to see the Minories providing services such as workshops and speakers, and also the opportunity to contribute their own opinion and feedback.
Interestingly, while a number of people expressed the opinion that the new Visual Arts Facility was unlikely either to be finished or to be of interest to them, the Minories attracted no negative feedback. Several of the people we spoke to on the street mentioned attending outdoor music or drama events there, if not exhibitions, and its café and garden seem to be one of its most popular points.
The Minories, as well as being a place of study and gallery, has the potential to be something more active in community terms – meeting place and disseminator of information, purveyor of arts and crafts, rooms for hire etc. In short, there is space in the cultural quarter for the Minories to continue the role it had before firstsite moved out, namely as a gallery, information centre, workshop and venue. Also, as a gallery, it may have advantages over firstsite in another way: Joanne Thain, Cultural Policy and Performance Officer, Heritage and Arts, states that “Smaller galleries have more freedom on who they can show... For example, they can show more controversial art works and more cutting edge works that larger galleries might not be able to show”. (appendix 1)
And the museum services? In her book “Public art: theory, practice, and populism” Cher Krause Knight states that ...”galleries play essential roles in the contextualisation,
promotion, and distribution of art...” and “ their agendas frequently intersect with those of the museum” (Knight 2008). However, as it stands, there is not nor has there been such crossagenda of interests between firstsite and the museum services – this might this be another area in which the Minories could play a role.
Art workshop, Colchester Castle Museum
Conclusion: So can the various communities that inter-act within the wider sphere have their edges blurred, and is art the media to do so? It would certainly seem to be the case: Matthew Bowman, quoted from the Gazette online (29/11/08) states that “the creation and solidification of communities is something art has always done - it might even be one of art's defining features.”
And the role of the Minories? As evidenced by our research in town, if many people have not visited it, they have certainly heard of it, and as firstsite inexorably grows into firstsite:newsite, the Minories will have a small but vital role to play. Artist Jane Grisewood says “From my experience, giving visitors access to the working process of artists and getting artists in conversation with the public, is beneficial to everyone.” (EEDA study 2008). Equally, in his proposal to take tenancy of The Minories, Alan Smith states that “The Art School engages with local practitioners, organisations and industry … in the furtherance of the creative industries, and The Minories makes an ideal setting for these activities” (2007) The Minories, as an intimate, yet public, space where visitors could interact with art and artists, and where the art student can develop their private practice, might be just such a place. In the words of Gerhard Richter, “Art serves to establish community. It links us with others, and with the things around us, in a shared vision and effort.” (The daily practice of painting 1962)
Lisa Temple-Cox MA “Arts in a Social Context” : module MAAC01M: Communities in Context
word count: 3171
Bibliography References: • • • Bowman, Matthew (2009) Gazette online Sat 29 Nov 08 (accessed 17/3/09) East of England Development Agency firstsite:newsite, case study, 2008 Essex County Council 2005 Creative Consequences: understanding the value of the arts in Essex firstsite website http://www.firstsite.uk.net/ (accessed 28/2/09) Gombrich, E.H. (1995) The Story of Art, Phaidon Guardian.co.uk/ Culture http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2009/jan/27/salvador-dali-art-design-scotland (accessed 14/3/09) Knight, Cher Krause (2008) Public Art: theory, practice and populism, Blackwell Publishing Mitchell, WJT editor (1992) Art and the Public Sphere, Chicago University Press Norman, E.H. & J.M. (2000) Community Operational Research Issues and Public Art Practice: The Art Director System (Jstor, accessed 20/3/09) Pearman, Hugh 'Nathan Coley in Jaywick', Sunday Times 23/11/2008 (accessed 17/3/09) Renaissance East of England http://www.renaissance-east.org.uk (Accessed 17/3/09) Richter, Gerhard, biography http://www.gerhard-richter.com/biography/quotes/ (accessed 23/3/09) Smith, Alan (2007) Proposal to take tenancy of The Minories The Architecture Room, expressions of interest (newsite) http://www.thearchitectureroom.com/competitions/Colchester_competition.html (accessed 21/3/09) Times Online: Nathan Coley in Jaywick http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/visual_arts/ (accessed 14/3/09) Yoko Ono: Have you seen the horizon lately press release, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh (1998) (accessed online 21/3/09)
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Books: Berger, John (1972) Ways of Seeing, London: Penguin
Finkelpearl, T. (2001) Dialogues in Public Art, MIT press Harrison, C. and Wood, P. Art in Theory 1900-2000, USA: Blackwell publishing Iles, C. and Roberts, R. editors In Visible Light, Oxford: Museum of Modern Art Lacy, Suzanne (2005) Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art, Bay Press Putnam, James (2001) Art and Artifact: the museum as medium, London: Thames and Hudson Semin, D., Garb, T. and Kuspit, D (1997) Christian Boltanksi, New York, London: Phaidon Sheikh, Simon (Editor) (2005). In the place of the Public Sphere, Berlin: OE Critical Readers in Visual Cultures Warr, Tracey & Jones, Amelia, (2000) The Artist's Body, New York, London: Phaidon Articles and Magazines: 'Art centre dream set to come true' interview with Katherine Wood, reprinted from Colchester weekly news (2003) University of Essex Collection of Latin American Art (UECLAA) online magazine East of England Development Agency firstsite:newsite, case study, 2008 Renaissance: East of England, issue 4, spring 2008 'The Encounter with the Real': John Stezaker in conversation with Krzysztof Fijalkowski and Lynda Morris, London ,March 2006 Websites: • Renaissance East of England
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http://www.theminories.co.uk/ (accessed: 2/3/09) • East of England development agency
• Sites of Memory https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/citd/holtorf/2.6.html lieu de mémoire (accessed 18/2/09) • Smith, M. K. (2001) 'Community' in the encyclopaedia of informal education, http://www.infed.org/community/community.htm. (accessed18/02/09) • Essays for Arts in Rural/Small Communities http://www.communityarts.net/readingroom/archivefiles/rural_all2/index.php 18/2/09 • Lieu de Mémoire http://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&sl=fr&u=http://fr.wikipedia.org/lieu de mémoire 18/2/09 • Mark Wallinger http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Wallinger • ArCists collective http://www.arcists.co.uk/index.html (accessed 18/3/09) • Nathan Coley http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathan_Coley • Jeremy Deller http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeremy_Deller • Daniel Spoerri http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Spoerri (accessed 9/2/09) • V&A collections http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/index.html (accessed 24/2/09) • Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/community (accessed: 2/3/09). • Rebus: a journal of art history and theory http://www2.essex.ac.uk/arthistory/rebus/Default.htm (accessed 11/3/09) • Tate online http://www.tate.org.uk/tateetc/issue14/books.htm (accessed 17/3/09) • Gazette online http://www.gazette-news.co.uk/news/3931295.Clacton (accessed 17.3.09) • Re-Title gallery http://www.re-title.com/artists/Nathan-Coley.asp (accessed 17.3.09) • Yoko Ono in helsinki http://www.a-i-u.net/helsinki.html • Bridget_Riley http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridget_Riley • Bridget_Riley
http://www.artinthepicture.com/blog/?p=402 • Louise_Bourgeois http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louise_Bourgeois • Louise_Bourgeois http://www.timeout.com/newyork/articles/art/35961/louise-bourgeois • Mark Dion http://www.tate.org.uk/learning/schools/markdion2394.shtm • science and aesthetics: mark dion interview http://www.pbs.org/art21/artists/dion/index.html • mark dion: cabinet of curiosities http://www.weisman.umn.edu/exhibits/Dion/index.html • mark dion:systema metropolis http://www.24hourmuseum.org.uk/exh_gfx_en/ART48174.html • Nathan Coley in Jaywick http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=GB&hl=en-GB&v=RwruwHDqxOU • Jaywick Action Team http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPY8IAH7V38&NR=1 • culture 24: 4000+ uk cultural venues http://www.culture24.org.uk/mw1313 • visit colchester:firstsite http://www.visitcolchester.com/thedms.asp?dms=13&venue=0650034 • Jstor http://www.jstor.org/action/showBasicSearch (accessed 20/3/09) • Building Design:the architects website http://www.bdonline.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=3128096 • artists in essex http://www.visitessex.com/discover/cultural/ArtistsinEssex.aspx • Marina Warner http://www.marinawarner.com/index.html • visit colchester http://www.visitcolchester.com/thedms.asp?dms=13&venue=0650980 • Christian Boltanski: talking art http://www.tate.org.uk/onlineevents/webcasts/talking_art/christian_boltanski/default.jsp • Andres Serrano:staging life http://www.tate.org.uk/onlineevents/webcasts/andres_serrano/default.jsp • Susan Hiller:talking art http://www.tate.org.uk/onlineevents/webcasts/talking_art/susan_hiller/default.jsp
Gerhardt Richter: a painter in a photographic age
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Upk6lACjx_8&feature=dir • Glasgow Museums
http://www.glasgowmuseums.com/venue/page.cfm?venueid=4&itemID=68 • Tendring District Council