Monday, November 29, 2010

Public feedback

I have heard dribs and drabs about how the Wonders of Weston has been recieved in Weston, including having had a couple of newspaper clippings sent to me- but i'd love to hear an update on this blog about what the general feeling seems to be about the project? Whilst googling Wonders of Weston I came accross this blog post by Remap the Map which is also mentioned here, it's interesting to see/hear other people's views on this project and it's impact on the town.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Something Proper

If you stand for long enough and look at something, its more than likely somebody will become curious over what you are doing, and then join you in looking at it too. While we were involved in the Wonders of Weston meetings to research the project from a residents perspective, we ended up near the Silica, and spent some time looking up at it, even taking a few photos. We noticed a woman near us, who decided she was going to take a photo of it too. She was a tourist, and she told us she didn't know why she was taking the photo, but because we were photographing it she decided it must be a landmark worth noting!

I had an echo of that encounter today. I was walking near the Winter Gardens, and decided to take a photograph of Tim Etchells "Winter Piece" as I hadn't yet seen it in darkness. I only had my mobile on me to take the pictures, so I was spending quite a bit of time stood in one spot, trying to get even a half decent photo! I noticed a little old lady, who had stopped near me, and was looking at the artwork, and we got chatting. She told me that she thought it looked quite pretty, and she was intrigued as to the meaning. She said she liked the look of it, despite not really understanding it. When I began to tell her it was a public art project, her demeanor immediately changed. "Well, what a waste of money!" she declared. "They should spend the money on something PROPER".

I felt amused that she quite liked the piece, until she found out that it was actually ART...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

What Next?

The Wonders of Weston launched yesterday.

What next?

A couple of months ago I wrote a blog post about the future of the town, although at the time I wasn't really sure about the questions I was asking, let alone what the answers might be, but perhaps the Wonders of Weston could be part of what I was looking for.

The Sea Change project, which funded the Wonders of Weston, was intended to promote the regeneration of seaside towns by investment in cultural projects. The artists involved, Ruth Claxton, Tim Etchells, Lara Favaretto, Tania Kovats, raumlaborberlin and Wrights & Sites have set us a challenge. They've laid a foundation that we can build on, but how we go about it is up to us, and much will depend on public reactions to their work.

What do you think?

Where do we go from here?
Cross-posted at Random Bloggages

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

...Who's Paying For That Then?

I spent part of this afternoon watching work on Lara Favaretto's Without Earth Under Foot.

I wasn't alone, although a fair proportion of the other watchers were involved in the Wonders of Weston in some way. Most of the rest came, saw and went away again without passing comment.

I did have a brief conversation with one of the audience, however, and it went something like this:-

    Him: What's going on here?

    Me: It's a new artwork.

    Him: Oh, Christ! Who's paying for that then?

He did seem reassured when I told him that the money was coming from the government via CABE rather than from our council tax, but he didn't say much else.

I wasn't particularly surprised by this, as I think most of us are expecting the source of funding for this project to be one of the first things that people will ask about. Once we get past that, how will they react to the artworks themselves? It's not long before we find out.

Sightings of Wonders of Weston at Frieze art fair and in Cornwall...

As some of you know, after six years of living in Weston and working (unpaid) as a curator and on my own art practice it was with wonderful timing that I upped and left town a month before the Wonders of Weston project was due to be launched. Bringing contemporary art to Weston has been something I have tried to do on a much smaller scale at the Uni Gallery, and it has been frustrating to not be around whilst these new works are being installed.

Much has been mentioned, on this blog and amongst us as a group, about the lack of publicity and about how no-one in Weston knows about this project (when we walked around town looking for 'culture' none of the people we talked to had heard of it), but what I wanted to write about is how The Wonders of Weston is known about, and talked about, by people outside of Weston. The week before last I was in London for the Frieze Art Fair- a huge contemporary art fair that draws the 'art world' to London. Many galleries and project spaces time their programming to mean that while Frieze week is happening their new shows are opening- thus maximising potential for selling work and creating the largest audience possible. While I was in London I talked to several people about Wonders of Weston and it turned out that not only had they heard of it, they were planning on coming to the launch. Now admittedly most of the people I spoke to were from Bristol based arts organisations, some may have even been involved with Situations, but I thought it was really interesting how people within the art community in Bristol know more about WOW than a lot of the residents of WsM do.

Down here in Falmouth it's a similar thing- whilst none of my classmates on my MA Curatorial Practice course had heard of it, many of the tutors and arts professionals i've spoken to had. And at least one person in my MA group was considering joining me in making the 4 hour journey from Falmouth to be at the launch. I suppose my interest is not so much in HOW these people know about WOW and the residents don't, but more a question of  'does it matter'?

Is this project about 'bringing art to the people', about educating the poor, uncultured masses of Weston-super-Mare, or is it about bringing exciting contemporary art to a new location and offering practising artists a chance to engage with a pretty unique landscape? Rather than getting wound up about the public not knowing about it, isn't it enough that artists are getting the chance to make major pieces of work without having to scrabble for funding? I think that WOW is just as valid a project in this respect as it is in bringing art to the local community. Opportunities for artists are few and far between, and I think WOW should be celebrated for this, just as much as any regeneration that might come out of it, but then what do I know, i'm only an artist/curator...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Anticipating the Wonders

After being involved in the “Weston Wonders” meetings from the start and gaining an insight into the process of getting this public art project off the ground, I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the artworks in their locations. After seeing the photographs here on the blog, I have been meaning to get myself down and see the artworks as they take shape during the installation process, but somehow I just haven’t managed to see them.

I’ve got free time this week, but am making a conscious decision now NOT to go and get a preview. I have decided that I would like to see the work for the very first time on the launch day, so that I get the full impact of them, and then can compare my reactions to them to those of the general viewing public, and the other people I have been meeting with whilst learning about this project.

I am full of curiosity over what the works will be like, and how other people will view them. In light of the limited publicity over the project, I think they will prove to be quite a surprise to many people who live in the town who probably aren’t even aware they are to be unveiled. For me, the project fills me with excitement that some ‘real’ contemporary art is coming to my hometown. I hope that they will draw in visitors of another kind, and begin a shift in people’s minds that contemporary art is not just something you find in Bristol! There IS a fledgling art scene happening in Weston, you only have to look at some of the work that has been in The Bath Spa Gallery at Weston College over the past year. I am also making my own personal links with people involved in the arts in Weston through my involvement with this project.

My main hope is that this project will highlight that Weston could be home to a vibrant, flourishing arts scene, and will galvanize artists, writers and creatives to come together, make links, and make things happen. My fear? That the project will suffer the same attacks and criticism that other arts initiatives in the town have seen. The voices of those who feel that this project is a waste of money will probably be heard loud and clear, but I remain (naively?) hopeful of a positive response.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

In the beginning, there was a meeting

It's almost two years since I first had an email about the Sea Change project in Weston. At the time, I was the secretary of the Weston Arts Festival. Somebody (I still don't know who for sure) had passed on my contact details to the then-newly appointed Sea Change Coordinator, Lesley Nel.

In that email, sent mid-February 2009, the project was identified as including 'an interactive arts trail' as part of a 'cultural-led regeneration'. The goal, at that time, was to bring together the Weston art world's key stakeholders. There was talk of 'Weston's cultural assets'.

A few weeks later, on 2 March 2009, we had our first Steering Group Meeting for what was being called 'Weston-Water-Way: Walk-on-Water'. It was the first time I'd gone into the depths of the Town Hall, sitting in the Old Council Chamber, a room that smells of stagnation and cultural conservatism.

 Even that smell, a combination of old wood, leather, and fabric, mixed with generations of hot air and stale coffee, didn't quite prepare me for that meeting. Being Weston, there were a few familiar faces, even for me, an American expat who had only been in the country for a few years. Weston is a small place, though. You meet people fast if you're doing much of anything. At the time, I was working on bringing organised graffiti to the town centre.

In the background information circulated before that meeting, we were told that CABE  had asked 'us' to provide a list of information points that go rather far in explaining what the rest of the world thinks of Weston. Within 29 days, out group was to provide the following:

  1. Designs for the Walk on Water Cultural Trail
  2. Revised programme and costs
  3. Confirmations of both an access audit and all the necessary consents
  4. An updated risk assessment
  5. Clarification of 'how the long term maintenance will be funded'
 No small list, that.

Then, in the first page of this document we were all sent, is the sentence I underlined in red with a long note in the margin.

In addition to this, CABE and SW Arts have voiced concern at the capacity locally to deliver an ongoing cultural plan based on and adding value to the cultural trail.
That is quite a statement right there. Before we'd met, we were already being denigrated by those holding the pursestrings. Then we met.

I was forced to agree with CABE and SW Arts.

This first meeting should have been a positive step for Weston. It should have been the start of a project that could make Weston something better. It should have been a good discussion of what 'culture-led regeneration' could be for Weston, after an educational presentation by the 'enabler' CABE had sent to the meeting. (If you aren't familiar with this sort of 'enabler', it's basically a consultant who goes to cultural backwaters and wows them with PowerPoint presentations full of pictures of artworks and stories of residual tourist income.)

At the time, this was all to relate to a water-themed arts trail. We were being brought together to develop a shared memory of Weston. It was supposed to be a positive memory that could be turned into art and 'change people's perception of Weston-super-Mare'.

There was a feeling of hope in that meeting. Despite all the negative things about Weston that were brought up, there was a vague hope that something better would come out of all of this. Even if it was just a big chunk of money coming into the town. (And I think most of the key stakeholders were trying to figure out how their littel corner of Weston could directly receive a bit of that chunk.)

From that meeting, though, came a brief that was sent out to three 'artists' (curators and commissioners, actually) that were recommended by CABE. (I'll write more about that later, though.)

One last interesting thing from that meeting was the draft timetable for the project. An arts consultant was to be contracted by the last day of March. Tenders were to be sent to artists by May. There were to be up to six community engagement events.

The broad Sea Change project was also to have some landscapes that were to be installed, too. The Water Play area was to have planning approval by April 2009 and be fully complete by June 2009. The Sea Front Arches, by John Maine, was to be designed and built between February 2009 and Winter 2009/10. Madeira Cove was to have its facelift occur between Summer 2009 and Winter 2009/10. Pier Square was to be revamped between Summer 2009 and Spring 2010. The launch of the art trail, and an associated community celebration event, was to take place at the height of summer tourism in July 2010.

Of course, timetables always slip. That's to be expected. After all, we should have had a pier by now, too.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Wonders of Publicity

At a Weston Wonderers’ meeting last week, where interested members of the public join forces to discuss and evaluate the art project that is soon to hit Central Weston-super-Mare, we were fortunate enough to meet the two curators of the project; Claire Doherty from Situations and Theresa Bergne from Field Art Projects.  It was an opportunity to find out more about the whys and wherefores of the Public Art that is about to be unleashed upon our seaside town.

I’ve already raised my concerns over the lack of publicity for this project and I wanted to find out whether this was part of a mysterious Masterplan or simply down to short-sighted planning.

It turns out that it was mostly due to a squeeze on time – CABE had only given North Somerset Council 12 months in which to spend the grant that it had awarded them as part of its national Sea Change initiative: a grant of £756, 447 over 2 years.  It appears that this sum would have been £100, 000 more if a proposal to renovate the seafront Tourist Information Centre had gone ahead. But it didn’t.

CABE’s Sea  Change Capital Grant payment has not only covered the cost of the entire Wonders of Weston (WoW) project but, according to a North Somerset Council memo that includes a breakdown of monies, it has also been allocated to the seafront arch, the children’s water park and the landscaping of Madeira Cove. 

The grant, which is meant “to develop cultural and artistic interventions linking the seafront and cultural assets of Weston-super-Mare” in the aftermath of the fire at the Grand Pier, had a very short lifespan and had to be spent by 30th October 2010, one day before WoW launches. 

For this reason, we were told, it had been necessary to research, liaise, build and install the six works of art in a relatively short time-frame and so the participatory element (the bit where the artistic team involves the general public) was cut short and has now been achieved almost exclusively through the WoW website and the nominating of Weston's Seventh Wonder by members of the public. This, however, doesn’t explain why the WoW Facebook page or website were slow to update readers on the launch date and details. Or why people aren't nominating.

Releasing too much information about of works of art, the explanation goes, hinders organic changes in artistry.  Sometimes unseen factors come into play and, if everyone was expecting one thing, it would be near impossible to morph it into another without a collective eyebrow raising.  It is better not to lift expectations when funding and councils, among other factors, such as misleading media reports, can throw plans off kilter.

Wonders of Weston is going ahead, however, and the launch date is Friday 29th October, just in case you hadn’t heard …

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Work in Progress

The Wonders of Weston have started to arrive.

 HOLM by Tania Kovats is in place in the Madeira Cove gardens, but it's still under wraps, although the distinctive shape of Steep Holm seems to be visible through its plastic shroud.

 "The Things You Can't Remember", one half of Winter Piece by Tim Etchells, has arrived at the Winter Gardens.

And My Eyes Danced by Ruth Claxton is taking shape in the model yacht pond, although perhaps I should have said "taken shape" because I'm not at all sure whether it's complete or not.

And for the moment, that's all there is.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Launching Soon

Details of the launch of the Wonders of Weston on 29 October are now available, together with a downloadable map of the artworks. Fuller details will, apparently, be available on Friday.

And, at long last, we've got some more information about the artworks:-

And My Eyes Danced by Ruth Claxton

Winter Piece by Tim Etchells

Shelter Piece by Tim Etchells 

Without Earth Under Foot by Lara Favaretto

Holm by Tania Kovats & Grant Associates 

Silly Scope, Funny Foot Age and Spam! The John Cleese Fanzine by raumlaborberlin

Everything You Need to Build a Town is Here by Wrights & Sites

There's even going to be a book about the project to be published by Book Works next year.

Am I allowed to say that I'm getting quite excited by all this?

Am I alone? Tell us what you think.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Wonders of Weston?

It's difficult to know where and how to start, which may explain why it's taken so long for any of us to post anything here.

I suppose I ought to begin by saying that I'm only here because I responded to an invitation to find out more about the Wonders of Weston, and that what I write here is my opinion and nobody else's. If you want to know what the others involved in this group are doing here, you'll have to ask them.

And just what are the Wonders of Weston?

They're a series of six public artworks by well-known artists: Ruth Claxton, Tim Etchells, Lara Favaretto, Tania Kovats & Grant Associates, raumlaborberlin and Wrights & Sites. They're all well respected and highly thought of, but I can't help thinking that it's a pity that there wasn't a place for at least one local artist on that list.

Although we don't have too many details of some of the artworks at the moment, we do know a lot about what Wrights and Sites have got planned, and I think ought to say straight away that I think that theirs is a fascinating project that reflects many aspects of Weston's history; I shall be following their work particularly closely and you can expect to hear a lot more about it from me, both here and elsewhere.

The funding and management of the project is rather complicated. It is funded by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment as part of Sea Change, a programme which, according to CABE, is intended " drive cultural and creative regeneration and economic growth in seaside resorts by funding inspiring, creative and innovative projects..." At a local level, North Somerset Council is responsible for Sea Change, but the Wonders of Weston itself is being managed by Situations and Field Art Projects, two bodies with considerable experience of this sort of work.

The project also has a website and a Facebook page where you can find out more about it. You can also submit your nomination for the Seventh Wonder of Weston, although I'm not actually quite sure what will be happening to the winner of that category.
The Wonders of Weston will be launched on Friday 29 October, although, like many other aspects of the project, we don't actually know too much about that yet.

One aspect of the project that has been worrying me is the lack of advance publicity. In a very unscientific survey, I've asked a number of local people about it, but only a few had heard of it, and none of them knew any of the details.

Weston-super-Mare is a town that doesn't have a great deal of public art, and what little there is has sometimes been controversial, so it will be interesting to follow your reactions to the project over the next few weeks.

In the meantime, please tell us what you do know, and what you think of the Wonders of Weston. After all, this is a public art project, paid for with public money and it's here in our town.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mapping Weston's Culture

During our first meeting we started to map the existing cultural spaces, public art and studios in Weston-super-Mare: