Art and Regeneration – why do it? (@ Architecture Centre Network)
Interesting article on the use of art in urban regeneration efforts — more complicated and interesting than I would have thought.
Installation by Faisal Abdu’allah using poem from Almost an Island project. Image courtesy Art on Greenwich Peninsula
When art and regeneration join forces the effect can be a renewed celebration of the places where we live, work and play. On the other hand, it can result in imagination being hounded into nothingness. Both these perspectives were revealed at a candid talk at The Building Exploratory in London on 10 February 2010.
Sarah Butler, Sam Wilkinson and Anna Strongman shared their wisdom on the roles of the artist, the curator and the development manager. All three have worked on major regeneration projects that have included artists in community engagement, design development, and in exploring how people use a place.
Political and complicated
All three speakers emphasised that combining art and regeneration can lead to some unexpected relationships, opportunities and problems. It is a complicated and political process, which is driven by different needs – to describe or understand a place, to develop people’s physical and imaginative experiences of a place, to make a place attractive in a competitive market for business tenants, for PR value, or by an appreciation of the intrinsic value of art, to name a few.
Time for change
One thing that is certain is that the regeneration of a place takes time. Anna Strongman, Development Manager for Argent, said it took six years to get planning permission for the 67-acre development at Kings Cross in London, which will result in eight million square feet of space for offices and homes and a host of facilities from new roads to the relocated University of the Arts.
So when is the best time for artists to get involved? Sarah Butler, director of UrbanWords and a writer, said the longer an artist can work in a place the better as “relationships and changes that can happen are gradual and unpredictable … artists can be effective at later stages of a project, but for their conversations and skills to have the most impact on the development of a place, they need to start working if possible before any master planning is done.”
Sam Wilkinson, arts consultant and co-director of Insite Arts, described how artists were involved from the beginning of a large-scale retail development in Bristol with a £12.5 million art budget. The first two years were spent developing a public art strategy, which the local authority needed and the developer was keen to support as a step to building a “very positive relationship with the local authority”.
However, smaller or temporary art works can generate change too, particularly when they happen in the context of other regeneration projects. Sarah described how ideas and words from the Almost an Island project on the Greenwich Peninsula in London were picked up by other artists, which generated “small scale ripples beyond its resources”. And Sam said: “A lot of the fabulous work we did in Bristol has kind of gone away – it’s about that moment in time. It’s about dialogue.”
Dialogue and community
So, how do you define the different needs of residents, businesses, developers and artists in relation to a particular place? One approach is to do a character profile of a place. Sarah once asked a firm doing a profile if they had talked to anyone and was shocked when the answer was no. “I was kind of horrified that these documents were written without any reference to the people who lived there. There’s a key role for the arts here as artists can spend the time and have the skills to explore and unpick and observe a place in a way that would be useful to that process of regeneration.”
She said that the regenerator, community and artist are often seen as separate entities. “I worry about sticking the artist in the middle … they can push open doors but the (to read more click here)…