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Ian Banks is on the Editorial Board of Art & Architecture Journal and as such writes regularly on public art in the North of England.

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A&AJ66 JUNE 2008 - Northern Way Special Edition - Contains two articles: Welcome to the North & Refuges D'Art

Above: Proof cover page of the Northern Way's Welcome to the North public art programme introduction (page 5-8) in the A&AJ 66-67 Special Edition.

Welcome to the North: Public Art of the Northern Way Programme

This special edition of Art and Architecture Journal focuses its northern perspective towards the burgeoning diversity of innovative public art to be experienced throughout this creatively independent über-region. As such, and featured in some detail in the magazine, is the significant commissioning influence of a pan-regional public art programme called Welcome to the North. This has been commissioned by the Northern Way, which is a unique initiative, "bringing together the cities and regions of the North of England to work together to improve the sustainable economic development of the North". Its ambitious aim, is to close the £30bn output gap between the North and the average for England. The desire stems from the self-styled "paradigm shift" launched by ex Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott in 2004 at the Urban Summit. As well as showcasing Welcome to the North projects, also included in this issue are articles on: John Newling's The Preston Market Mystery Project, part of the In Certain Places programme; the highly original work of international research and development agency Grizedale Arts in Cumbria; English Heritage's continuing arts programme at Belsay Hall in Northumberland; and Dan Dubowitz's Lead Artist role on both The Peeps at Ancoats in Manchester, and in Newtopia on the Scotswood Housing Expo in Newcastle. Other featured updates include the current public art scene associated with northern cultural centres like Sheffield and Newcastle-Gateshead.

Seen collectively like this, the pure depth and breadth of public art here is hugely encouraging. But of course this confidence and vibrancy is not just a recent phenomenon. It is a simmering northern legacy evolved from a range of pioneering arts practice that stretches back well over 50 years. This school of influence is incredibly diverse and includes most notably: the abstract work of major northern artists Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, begun at Leeds School of Art in the 1920's; émigré Kurt Schwitters developing his Merzbarn concept in 1940's Cumbria; and work like Victor Pasmore's art-architecture collaboration on the pavilion at Peterlee New Town in 1970's County Durham. More recently, major strategic programmes like: the Yorkshire Sculpture Park conceived in 1977; the two northern Garden Festivals of 1984 and 1990; the Art Transpennine exhibition in 1998; Liverpool Biennial launched in 1999; Liverpool Capital of Culture in 2008; and the ongoing Culture10 cultural events and festivals programme throughout the North East; have all helped define and elevate this northern cultural perspective yet further. And it doesn't end there; notable future legacy is additionally primed with the inaugural year of the Tatton Park Biennial in Cheshire; and in the bold vision of a potential future West Yorkshire Sculpture Festival.

This influential list of course leaves out one significant artistic contributor - Antony Gormley's seminal work The Angel of the North. In its tenth anniversary year following installation, May 2008 sees The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead hosting The Angel Symposium to explore "The effect of public art on regional culture; economy and politics." Gateshead Council's anticipated response to this question appears quite clear, it being seen by them as a signpost to a much wider and prolonged cluster of cultural activities. On the Council's own website it states that without the density of cultural offer built around Angel, it would be much less effective. The forms of 'linkage' and 'virtual clustering' it describes are seen as being critical. During a 25-year programme, Gateshead have commissioned over 80 works of art, with around a third of these being pre-Angel, including many of these linked to the 1990 Gateshead Garden Festival - an important factor not lost on Gormley himself on the website. However, by its 10th birthday, the illusive alchemy of the 'Angel Effect' has sometimes become little more than a battle for the best regional icon of regeneration and marketing, than as advocacy for art-for-art-sake. The Ebbsfleet Landmark is arguably one such public art flagship, being a key component of the mass regeneration planned around the newly opened Eurostar Station in Kent. Eminent selection panel member, and Executive Director of Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Peter Murray, acts as advocate for the landmark project. He also maintained in a public art feature on Radio 4's You and Yours programme in February 2008, that the UK doesn't actually spend a huge amount on public art anyway. This may be true, but the rather capitalistic greed seen here is for a £2 million and 40 to 50 metre high artistic statement made in one big hit, whilst using an artist shortlist of 'big names' to deliver it. The quote from Winston Churchill of "We shape our landscape, thereafter it shapes us" is used by Ebbsfleet Project Ltd to sell their stirring philanthropic ambition, but perhaps subliminally written between these lines is the real economic rider to all this: "and being more expensive, thou shalt be bigger, better and more iconic than The Angel of the North".

Of course, since the industrial revolution, regional envy and economic competition has been commonplace. This has involved an added dimension wherever it has also tackled the complex myths and realities of the English north-south divide. In February 2008, that Great British indicator of vox-pop Travelodge, released the findings of a customer poll that showed a real bias from customers towards their respective northern and southern neighbours. In it, 61% of southerners wrote-off the North of England as being "cold, bleak and unsophisticated" and not worth a visit. Many also cited Jack Duckworth as their northern man personified - with his pseudo-northern dialect, as seemingly spoken by all in Weatherfield's Coronation Street. Writer and radio presenter Stuart Maconie is perhaps the cultural media's own preferred northern-born ambassador, being populist, forthright and funny like 'Our Jack'; but thankfully also cultured, articulate and urbane. As it happens, Maconie identifies similar north-south stereotyping to that reported by Travelodge in his 2008 book Pies and Prejudice: In Search of the North. However, whilst dedicating it "for the angels of the north", he also writes lovingly of his own northern affinity to Gormley's Angel as "a landmark that says 'You're home'. A star to navigate by, a friend, a strangely affecting totem of what the north means to us: lonely, loving, free". Given this, and somewhat ironically, a Geordie he consulted saw Maconie's own Wigan roots as being more Midlands than Northern. This honest observation wouldn't come as a shock to some resident northerners, and speaks volumes of the historic north, south and Trans Pennine sub-divisions within the North anyway. It also revealed a combined strength and weakness in the paradox between an externally perceived northern unity, contrasted with historic inter-regional rivalry. This northern competitiveness should never (and probably could never) be changed, as it lies at the very heart of an almost indefinable 'Northern Soul'. It has meant however, that for whatever reason, the North has historically continued to under achieve economically whenever compared to its southern neighbours.

Attempting in its own way to address this paradox, the £4.4 million Welcome to the North public art programme is a unique commissioning opportunity that sees a number of major works commissioned at key gateways across the North. It is the first time in the UK that such an ambitious pan-regional public art strategy has ever been carried out. The programme is a part of the overall £13 million Market the North to the World investment strand; drawn itself from a £100 million Northern Way Growth Fund. A small but important part of this, Welcome to the North is intended to help improve the cultural offer and to enhance perception, profile and quality of place in an internationally-branded 'England's North Country'. More than just implementing a series of iconic regeneration symbols however, Welcome to the North's has an ambitious long-term vision. This is to engage northern, British and international audiences alike, whilst also seeking to identify both the likelihood of resulting inward investment and contributions to the positive profile of the North through related tourism and marketing gains. To add further value to this, a number of high level Northern Way Public Art Advisory Panels have been engaged to provide ongoing expert advice and to champion the programme - thus ensuring that the wider opportunities and legacy arising out of this investment are maximised. The programme has also commissioned Arts Council England to create an innovative virtual gateway to the North of England through a highly ambitious touring and new media artist residency called The Wonderful North. It is also a significant contributor to Channel 4's Big Art Project, with 3 out of its 7 British projects being based in the North (Burnley, St Helens and Sheffield). Recently completed within this northern portfolio, is Greyworld's Invisible community engagement and light projection project for Burnley.

As in The Angel Symposium, the notion that culture can add value to regeneration crops up many times nowadays. It is a question that Lewis Biggs, Chief Executive of Liverpool Biennial, helped debate this time, in an earlier public art feature on Radio 4's You and Yours programme in April 2007. His concluding view was that the spiritual and social dimension of art should always be paramount, and that the "arts are about the arts" and "not about making money". Whilst this is of course true, whenever art enters the public realm to integrate itself architecturally as 'public art', it inevitably becomes bound by a number of other controlling forces. This complexity, contradiction and paradox is perhaps what gives public art such power whenever it is actually done well. The only problems perhaps comes when the curatorial balance gets out of kilter and is forced too far towards the economic and marketing ends of the spectrum.

The 2005 BBC series and accompanying show at TATE Britain called A Picture of Britain explored how the British landscape has inspired artists for three hundred years, and examined how their work has in turn influenced our view of it. The section entitled The Romantic North - Man, Nature and Society, looked to Northern England itself, where its opposing human themes were seen as 'discovery of nature', and the 'industrial city'. In doing so, it set J M W Turner's Morning amongst the Coniston Fells, Cumberland, against L S Lowry's Industrial Landscape of Salford. This stark contrast of 'rural versus urban' and 'romantic versus pragmatist' still exists in the North today. Welcome to the North attempts to pick up on this, as a result of largely unconditional funding offered to its select group of existing public art programmes. Whilst the projects seen collectively carry no pre-determined curatorial theme, and do not all involve northern artists, their overriding sense of northern entrepreneurial culture and originality does shine through. Of course, the need for artistic integrity and legacy through the 'linkage' and 'virtual clustering' that Gateshead Council advocate, will be much harder to achieve when operating pan regionally like this. However, the unprecedented scale and degree of ambition evident in many aspects of The Northern Way provides great hope that this could be possible if enabled. As such, Welcome to the North should not be seen as an end in itself, but as a fixed-term initiative that can act as both flagship to the bigger Northern Way programme, and then (hopefully) as a catalytic marker for what can be achieved when the North collaborates really creatively. In the same spirit of Ebbsfleet's grand marketing vision, and at the watershed 10 years on from The Angel of the North, another famous Churchill quotation might apply to the realisation of Welcome to the North; in alluding to the stirring agit-prop that such a mass campaign can bring to the North: "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."



Refuges D'Art: The Art of Andy Goldsworthy in Haute Provence

"I see individual stones as being witnesses to the places where they sit....They are a focus for that place; they are embedded with the memory of that place. They are layered with its history. So when I covered a rock with leaves, it was to touch the autumns that the rock has witnessed. And when I covered the rock with red or yellow, it's not like painting a surface onto the rock; it's to touch the energy within that rock."  Andy Goldsworthy*1 

In a remote corner of northern Provence, two hours from the nearest TGV rail line, and centred around the monastic spa town of Digne-Le-Bains 1 , the Alpine foothills form an unlikely backdrop for an expanding series of permanent outdoor artworks being created by a much-loved British artist. Turbulent rivers run through the area, between Aix-en-Provence to the west and Nice to the south, where previously the most revered residents were two holy hermits. Now they are regularly joined by the equally private artist Andy Goldsworthy, on his annual pilgrimage to add to a growing body of important work. His organic installations, are strung throughout the vast region that runs from Chine Mountain down to the Verdon Gorges - where 47 French municipalities had previously joined together to protect an area of some 1,900 km2, and to create the Reserve Naturelle Geologique de Haute Provence 2 - a National Park filled with the most extraordinarily beautiful geological and fossil outcrops. Within it, Digne-Le-Bains is home to its own municipal museum, the Musée Gassendi 3, the key initiator of this Goldsworthy project. Though the programme is still intended to take several years more to complete, the museum already boasts of what it calls the biggest permanent indoor collection of Goldsworthy's work to be found anywhere in the world *2. The museum also houses the actual diaries that Goldsworthy has meticulously compiled since he began working in the reserve. Goldsworthy was originally invited to Digne for an exhibition in 1995 when the Alpes de Haute Provence Département was wondering how to revive what was then, a deserted countryside. Thus, the idea of linking the appeal of a 100-mile walking trail with integrated artworks took root; and combined Goldsworthy's love of working in truly remote agricultural settings, with the idea of simultaneously creating insitu artworks and new practical uses for ruined rural buildings - through the artistic renovation of a chain of 13 self-styled Réfuges d'Art *3. To date, some of these installations have been so remote as to require 40 helicopter trips to bring up materials and to create the sculptures. The resultant u-shaped trail the works are spread along, takes 12 days to complete - starting at the Musée Gassendi itself, which now includes a Goldsworthy earth-wall mural called River of Earth made from locally gathered clay. Although Goldsworthy is Britain's top-selling subject of art books after David Hockney, and can demand huge sums for single commissions worldwide, it is notable that he asked only for a token fee, to carry out what he plainly sees as a long-term labour of love in Haute Provence.  

A comprehensive exhibition of Goldsworthy's work was recently seen in the UK at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park4 in Wakefield - it ended in January 2008. It was the YSP's largest and most ambitious project ever curated to date, and marked their 30 year anniversary. His work was installed in four indoor galleries, as well as in key positions in the surrounding parkland. Revealing the breadth and direction of his most recent work, the exhibition featured new permanent outdoor commissions as well as indoor stone, tree and clay installations, and his 'sheep paintings' and 'blood drawings'. The works were given further context by photographic archive material of key works from the artist's career - drawn from the Andy Goldsworthy Digital Catalogue DVD (Volume One: 1976-1986)5 created and hosted by the University of Glasgow, Crichton Campus in Dumfries.   Goldsworthy of course is renowned throughout the world for his work on ice, water, mud, stone, leaves and wood; and his own remarkable still photography has often been a way of documenting the production of these ephemeral works, fixing them at key points in time. In 2000 Film Director Thomas Riedelsheimer worked with Goldsworthy for a year to shoot his film called Rivers and Tides - Working with Time 6, which was shot in four countries, across four seasons. It was the first major film Goldsworthy had ever allowed to be made of his working practice, and during the process, Riedelsheimer uncovered what he saw as a profound sense of discovery and uncertainty in much of Goldsworthy's work - one where time again controlled the fine balance between a works lasting beauty and ultimate decay.  

Clearly, Goldsworthy has an ongoing fascination in applying his own vernacular language over time onto the rural landscape. It is one where his variant of traditional crafts, gathers and harnesses natural materials and construction techniques for artistic benefit - rather than just having the purely pragmatic purpose of its agricultural cousins. Like the surrounding rural buildings and dry stone walling, the inherent beauty of his imposed language is affected by regional variations - being dictated simultaneously by many influences, including local customs and history, landscape, geology, climate and season. The paradox in the comparison between the two, comes in that whilst working rural construction often appears to have no fixed date of conception, and achieves a seemingly effortless permanence; much of Goldsworthy's applied 'fieldwork' can be so fleetingly ephemeral - where one suspects, in many cases, it lasts barely long enough for him to photograph it for another of his beautiful books. The beauty and individuality of a rural vernacular comes from an organic and eclectic application, through human interaction, upon the landscape over time; to such a degree that the terrain often becomes far from truly natural  - it being the subject of centuries of evolving land management and farming practice. Similarly, much of Goldsworthy's work is also laboriously process and time-led. For him though, this body or work appears more of a sole pilgrimage, to help facilitate a tapping-into the energy and memories of the landscape; its nature and climatic seasons; as well as its people, underlying history and local customs. Over the years to come, a significant proportion of Goldsworthy's art in Haute Provence will merge into the permanent rural vernacular - having been produced alongside his team of master craftsmen and dry stone wallers. As a key part, it will include art superimposed into the actual fabric of old derelict agricultural buildings (providing walkers with temporary shelter or overnight accommodation amongst sculpture). Other 'sentinels', cairns or enclosures will mark the landscape and evoke the particular history and sense of 'place' being uncovered along the route.   Interestingly, the French installations appear resonant to similar works carried out in Cumbria some 50 years apart - namely Merzbarn by artist Kurt Schwitters7, completed in 1947; and Goldsworthy's own Sheepfolds8 project still being constructed today, following his original commission in 1996, during the 'UK Year of the Visual Artist'. As part of a body of work called Merzbau *4, the Merzbarn is acknowledged as one of the most important works of twentieth century European art - with an artwork built from eclectic objects gathered by Kurt Schwitters, and permanently installed into the internal wall of a rural barn. Sadly, this wall of Merzbarn is now in the Hatton Gallery9 in Newcastle, whilst the shell of the barn itself still remains in Elterwater, near Ambleside. Sheepfolds is a series of nearly 50 adapted farming enclosures (sheepfolds, pinfolds and washfolds) within, or on which, Goldsworthy has installed his own applied stone walling, planted saplings, constructed arches and, in some cases, built new 'pinfold' cairns within the enclosures. Similar to his work at Haute Provence, Goldsworthy has talked of the continuing work on Sheepfolds as not just leaving 'objects' behind as legacy, but also a 'story' or an 'idea' to enhance a sense of timelessness and a connection to the past - "a space charged with the memory of things that have happened there", he has called it.  

Digne-Le-Bains is a place previously known by tourists as the historic home of the 19th-century French explorer, writer and Buddhist Alexandra David-Neel - with the region reminding her of her beloved Tibet. David-Neel was the first European woman ever to explore the remote forbidden city of Lhasa, and as a result, Digne has since even been graced with a visit from the Dalai Lama himself. Buddhism is known as a path of transformation, meaning that it is not enough to understand it intellectually. To follow a Buddhist path to ultimate enlightenment, it is said one must first engage the emotions and the imagination to gain a devotion or faith, and ritual is seen as a way of directly engaging these. Such a metaphor might arguably be translated directly to help understand the continuing ritual of Goldsworthy's artistic obsessiveness with Haute Provence; as well as the physical hardship and effort expected of both himself, and devotees of his work to actually seek it out. Like Riedelsheimer's film Rivers and Tides, it illustrates the way that Goldworthy can subconsciously touch the heart of a place to leave behind his unique mark. As Riedelsheimer said "you see something you never saw before; that was always there but you were blind to".


* 2. The Digne Natural Geological Reserve and the Digne Museum are both open to the public. The museum's contact details are: Digne Municipal Museum, 64 Bd Gassendi, 04000 Digne, France. Tel: +33 (0)4 9231 4529

* 3. Refuges D'Art: Andy Goldsworthy Editions, Artha, Musee Departmental de Digne, Reserve Geologique de Haut-Provence.

* 4. The Sprengel Museum in Hanover has a reconstruction of the best known of Kurt Schwitters’ installations, called Merzbau - which was a redesign of four rooms in Schwitters's house in Hanover. Schwitters fled to England during WWII, and after internment, moved to the Lake District. There, in 1947, he began work on his last Merzbau, the Merzbarn

Web Links

1.         www.beyond.fr/villages/digne.html
2.         www.resgeol04.org
3.         www.musee-gassendi.org
4.         www.skyline.uk.com/riversandtides
5.         www.kurt-schwitters.org
6.         www.sheepfolds.org
7.         www.ncl.ac.uk/hatton/collection/index.html

Image Credits:

All Sheepfolds and oneplace photography taken by Ian Banks.

All Digne-Le-Bains photography taken by Heather Emery and Bill Lounds during a 2006 research trip, on behalf of the Wirksworth Festival of visual and performing arts in Derbyshire -  www.wirksworthfestival.co.uk 



Another long-term project involving Andy Goldsworthy is also just underway at Tatton Park 8 in Cheshire. Started in 2005, oneplace is a landscape-based contemporary arts programme spanning three years (2005-2008), during which time Goldsworthy and a number of emerging artists will explore and interpret aspects of the historic Tatton estate. Curated by Steve Chettle of ARTS UK 9, the work will be shown through a series of installations, lectures, workshops, artists-at-work days and exhibitions. Goldsworthy began Phase 1 of the programme with a week-long residency in November 2005, installing works onto the trees and  landscape using gathered materials - including ice painstakingly collected from Tatton’s historic ice-harvesting pond - to create a series of highly temporary artworks. Goldsworthy returned to Tatton for a sell-out lecture in January 2006, and an initial exhibition of his work was held in February 2006 - where emerging artists Rob Vale and Helen Brigham, were also introduced as the next two Artists-in-Residence on the ‘oneplace’ programme. During Phase 2, Tatton Park hopes to continue to welcome contemporary artists of all kinds, and invite them to make their own interpretations of the estate. A musical work will eventually be commissioned by a leading international composer. As part of his ongoing contribution to oneplace, Goldsworthy hopes to eventually develop a proposal for a major land-art work to enhance the classic ‘artificial’ natural landscape designed by landscape designer Humphrey Repton in his 1791 Tatton Redbook. The major work will potentially be visible from the flightpaths to and from Manchester International Airport, and like Haute Provence hopes to draw-in a new breed of cultural tourists whilst also acting as an international gateway to the North. 

8.         www.tattonpark.org.uk
9.         www.arts-uk.com

Above: Front cover of A&AJ65 showing work of Jaume Plensa and Foster and Partners, Courtesy of The Snow Show and Albion Projects, Photo credit Jeffrey Debany

A&AJ65 MAY 2007 - Lighting Issue: Artificial Sunshine Waiting for the (Blackpool) Lights to Turn Green

Above: ‘A cow attempts to deceive the butcher by pretending to be a fairground attraction’ – temporary installation of fibreglass cow and 540 animated fairground lights by Michael Trainor.  Shown in Woolworth’s window as part of Blackpool’s festival of Light 2005.  Image by M.Trainor.

Artificial Sunshine: Waiting for the (Blackpool) Lights to Turn Green

In autumn 1879, Blackpool spent £3500 on lighting technology, with eight Siemens Arc Lamps as stars of a show shining so brightly, they were hailed as 'Artificial Sunshine'. Combined with fireworks and a carnival atmosphere, a dazzling display attracted 100,000 visitors who filled up every hotel and lodging house for miles, and unexpectedly extended the tourist season. The rest, as they say is history, with today, more than 3.5 million annual visitors over the nine week duration of the six mile long electrical extravaganza. In fact, so innovative was the original application of Blackpool's Illuminations 1, that the town became the first in Europe to boast its own electric street lights, and even preceded Thomas Edison's patent of the humble electric light bulb by one year. This creative spark launched Blackpool's initial growth with those early pioneering days marked by a lightning bolt, which features on the resort's coat of arms, and its ongoing association with light and electricity. Nearly 127 years later, Blackpool remains high in our national consciousness and affection. Indeed, Blackpool Tower, has just been announced as making the second wave of English icons to be selected by public vote in ICONS - A Portrait of England 2 (part of a DCMS-sponsored Culture Online project 3 ). Increasingly, however, over the years the town has become something of a paradox with regard to its own perceived iconic image, and one where a romantic and gentle past is now replaced with a more hedonistic and risqué present and perceived future. It has become the destination for loutish binge drinking and lewd stag or hen parties, and it is also clear favourite to receive the only super-casino licence in the UK. It is easy to forget that as well as being a holiday centre, Blackpool is a town with a resident population of c.150,000 people, a significant number of whom experience multiple deprivations and often feel excluded from the activity happening around them. This is a problem now being addressed by Blackpool Council, and increasingly, it is culture rather than a tourism-based economy, that is seen as a way of engaging with them more effectively. 

In 1996, a major coastal protection scheme invested in the physical infrastructure of Blackpool. At the time, the flood defence works also acted as a catalyst for a challenging 2-kilometre long public art gallery along the south promenade. The Great Promenade Show 4, was created and managed by artist group The Art Department 5, and has since resulted in ten specially commissioned works, involving both established and emerging artists. The Great Promenade Show was a small but important cultural sea-change for the town in terms of its engagement with artists. Now, £1 Billion worth of visionary regeneration is reportedly being planned for Blackpool, following masterplanner Jerde 6 and EDAW's 7 engagement by Blackpool Borough Council in 2002 and the creation of a new Urban Regeneration Company 8 in 2005. Their collective brief is to help the town reverse its decade-long decline, and has resulted in a 'Blackpool Vision and Masterplan' and a 'Public Realm Strategy' to develop the three key themes of upgrading the urban environment; tackling seasonal economic weaknesses; and uplifting the overall tourist attraction. 

Above: ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’  Award winning temporary animated light show by Greg McLenahan and Blackpool Illuminations Department on Michael Trainor’s supersized mirrorball. Photo by Joel C. Fyldes

As a result, and as an undoubted part-legacy of The Great Promenade Show, Blackpool Council developed the concept of a cultural Festival of Light 9 appointing Festival Director Philip Oakley in 2005. It was seen as an off-shoot of the Illuminations, with the difference being that it was also briefed with re-engaging the residents of Blackpool. The new festival, funded by Blackpool Challenge Partnership’s Single Regeneration Budget, involved a diverse programme of participatory projects, and provided opportunities for wider community engagement. Around twenty-five lighting-based projects and events were produced in 2005, involving seventeen community groups and giving local people the opportunity to take part in Illuminations for the first time in its 126 year history. The festival attracted well-established artists and designers including Chris Levine, Dianne Harris, Wok Media, Pieke Bergmans, David Stokes and Jan Kattein. Artist Michael Trainor, once part of The Art Department, revisited The Great Promenade Show in a project involving lighting projections onto his existing mirror ball artwork They Shoot Horses Don’t They? This project involved a collaboration with lighting designer Greg Mclenahan 10, known for his work at the Syndicate Superclub, with technology developed by the Illuminations Department. It was also animated with poetry reading and community-engaged dance events, and this year won a prestigious award in exterior lighting at the Lighting Design Awards. 11 Other highlights included an illuminated cow, a Bajra (peacock boat) from Chandanagore in West Bengal; a chandelier sculpture of Pulsar Chromaspheres; a parade of 240-illuminated Honda Goldwings 12; push-bikes and a Luminous Suit; an internally-lit sculpture with Recycle Blackpool, using discarded plastics and glass; a short silent film on the story of the Illuminations; and Zero Emission Luminaires designed by Jan Kattein and General Designs - powered by Blackpool donkey dung. In many projects, artists worked from the Illuminations Depot, which was a useful exercise in showing Illuminations staff the benefits of creative collaboration. Blackpool Council also set up a temporary workshop at the Illuminations Depot for community use during the festival. Consultation afterwards revealed an overwhelming demand for further development with 95% of participants wanting further work. Participants found working creatively with light in the context of the actual illuminations to be inspirational. In the future, The Festival of Light aspires to build significantly upon this. 

In this task, it aspires to infuse the outmoded technology of the Illuminations with a new and dynamic spark of ingenuity and experimentation, whilst at the same time embracing a wider spectrum involving truly sustainable practice, and radical new environmental and community programmes in the process. In January 2006, Blackpool Council made an unsuccessful attempt to gain funding from the £50m Big Lottery Living Landmarks fund 13 - for a sustainable lighting project called Green Light. This project proposal had four equal development priorities: as an international centre of excellence and innovation for show and celebratory lighting — a pioneering visitor centre for quality design — to promote the use of sustainable energy, particularly in lighting, but also in public transport systems — to develop community pride, engagement and ownership in Blackpool itself.  The emphasis of Green Light was concerned with advocating for a cleaner and greener environmental policy being adopted within the council through a series of piloted projects. The overall master plan for Blackpool refers to a ‘Return of Nature’ in the town, and Green Light was looking at more unusual methods of energy generation. The Festival of Light has already experimented with alternative fuels such as donkey dung, something not in short supply on its beaches. The project, if ever adopted, also plans to investigate other means of electrical generation - including wave power and bio-diesel fuel that can be made from waste cooking oil. What poetry and irony for Blackpool Illuminations to generate its electricity needs with a fuel produced through the almost magical process of ‘tansesterification of vegetable oils by means of alcoholisis’ – that’s recycled chip fat to you and me.

Sunshine and the enjoyment of culture undoubtedly makes for a better quality of life, and at no time is this more evident than during the winter off-season when employment opportunities in Blackpool are scarcer and natural sunlight is at a premium. Through Green Light, creative lighting and the arts could counter such Seasonal Affective Disorders, with the project promoting well-being through a wider social engagement of the community. A recent exhibition at the Solaris Centre *2 14 on the Story of the Blackpool Illuminations was an important step forward in recognising their significance as part of British culture, and not solely as a historical retrospective. Thus, Green Light aspired to harness both the enduring affection and popularity for the Illuminations, and to infuse outmoded technology with a contemporary version of Blackpool’s pioneering spark of dynamic ingenuity of 1879 - whilst embracing the wider sensitivities of truly sustainable community regeneration and the critical role of the artist in the process.

Architect Ian Banks is the Principal of Atoll, a collaborative art + architecture practice. He is also the part-time Consultant Director of Public Realm at Public Arts, the Yorkshire-based centre for art and architecture.

www.atoll-uk.com  + www.public-arts.co.uk 

*1. Poet Deryn Rees-Jones, working with Basic Skills Adult Learners Group from Blackpool & Fylde College for Blackpool Council’s ‘Poetry for the Promenade’ programme.

*2  The Solaris Centre is a joint partnership between Lancaster University and Blackpool Borough Council. The original derelict 1938 Art Deco promenade solarium in Blackpool has been transformed into a new centre of excellence in environmental sustainability

1.   www.blackpool.com/sights/lights.html
2.   www.cultureonline.gov.uk
3.   www.icons.org.uk
4.   www.greatpromenadeshow.co.uk
5.   www.the-art-dept.co.uk
6.   www.jerde.com
7.   www.edaw.com
8.   www.reblackpool.com
9.   www.festivaloflight.co.uk
10. www.gregmclenahan.com
11. www.lightingawards.com/exteriorlighting2006.asp
12. www.goldwings.org.uk
13. www.biglotteryfund.org.uk
14. www.lec.lancs.ac.uk/ebp/solaris.htm

Above: ‘The Power and The Gory’ – a 5m tower of Blackpool’s own rubbish (straight from the council tip), reanimated and illuminated to ‘highlight’ recycling as part of Blackpool’s Festival of Light September 2005. Installation by Michael Trainor, images by Joel C.Fyldes on top of Blackpool town hall.

Above: Front cover image illustrating - The National Memory Grove ©  - Courtesy Jochen Gerz and Breaking Ground - from the Art & Architecture Journal 64: The Great Artistic Metropolis (the title of the National Public Art Conference, organised by the A&AJ and Landor Conferences on November 10th 2005 and concerned with themes relating to Art in the City). This current issue features an article by Ian Banks describing how  £8million might be spent on art over the next 10 years in A Cultural Revolution in Sunderland - Ian Banks is currently working for URC Sunderland Arc and lead artist Dan Dubowitz in producing the Delivery Plan for their conceived Cultural Masterplan for Sunderland.

A&AJ64 - Art on the Front Line: A Cultural Revolution in Sunderland  

City of Light  -  Not the lighting of a city in the traditional sense of architectural lighting strategies, but instead, a series of artist-led initiatives to create more ephemeral works within the city. 

Above: Hobo1 is a collaboration between artist David Cotterrell and Dan Dubowitz, and is a transient series of projections, from reclaimed US military air vehicles, onto Sunderland’s wastelands: 2006 - Images supplied by Sunderland arc - www.civicworks.net & www.cotterrell.com 

Art on the Front Line: A Cultural Revolution in Sunderland

The actuality of Sunderland's front line presents an interesting paradox, whilst it is a frontier in urgent economic need, it also holds ambitions to become an immediate cultural leader in the process. Its future renaissance will involve the remodelling of an entire industrial city, with a targeted investment of £1.5 billion to physical projects over the next 12 years. However, as part of this ambitious plan, is another undertaking to lever in a completely unprecedented £8 million from the private sector, to spend on both temporary and permanent arts commissioning, to benefit the public realm throughout the entire city. This is in stark contrast to traditional Section 106 or Percent for Art funding agreements used regularly elsewhere - where money for arts commissioning is associated with the actual development generating the levy, and is restricted to more traditional and permanent public art.

The seed of culture often flourishes in a dwindling economy and environment, and so it has in Sunderland. The once major glass, coal and ship-building centre slowly haemorrhaged over the 20th century, but the city has slowly come to terms with the reality of its reducing industrial hinterland and shifting economic focus. Creativity often thrives despite such things, and can even benefit from a sense of neglected isolation. Sunderland's close proximity to historic competitor Newcastle and Gateshead, has made it increasingly difficult for it to keep apace and the 'culture-as-economic-driver' gap between the two cities began to widen following the economic decline and subsequent cultural reinvention of the North East, through iconic flagships Angel of the North, Baltic and Sage, The partisan view of Sunderland from Newcastle is historically of a city of 'Plastic Geordies' or 'Mackem's', from the derogatory term 'Mackem and Tackem' implying they could only ever make the ships that others took economic advantage of. However, this could not be further from the truth, as it has always been an entrepreneurial city with a creative culture of originality and true identity, proven by the little-known fact that it is the largest city of the North East. One can look at the emergence of Glasgow's and Liverpool's new cultural image out from the shadow of respective big-brothers Edinburgh and Manchester, to recognise that such radical reinventions are always possible. The trick here for Sunderland will be for it to benefit from the increased strategic profile and energy of the North East in general, and Newcastle-Gateshead in particular, whilst also retaining a confidence to forge its own ambitious and utterly original cultural identity.

Sunderland arc is one of the main organisations responsible for the regeneration of the city centre throughout a number of sites along the River Wear. Similar Urban Regeneration Companies (URC's)2 exist throughout the country, and have all been promoted by the government and established by local partners, in order to achieve a focused, integrated regeneration and implementation strategy for key urban centres. To help achieve its own ambition, the arc is supported by a powerful local, regional and national partnership of Sunderland Council, One NorthEast and English Partnerships. The arc and partners are charged with the task of improving Sunderland's economy, infrastructure and quality of life and the creation of a thriving city centre. Within the broad portfolio of such ambitious aims and objectives, the role and implementation of culture (used as a driving force for economic, social and cultural regeneration), has been recognised by Sunderland arc as a prime tool. This vision of course fits the strategic cultural ambitions of One North East and The Tyne & Wear Economic Strategy, in contributing directly to their key cross-cutting themes of creating a 'Culturally Vibrant North East'. It also identifies with Culturefirst, the City Council's own highly ambitious cultural strategy.
A key player in Sunderland's long-term plan is of course Tom Macartney, Chief Executive of the arc. He is a blue-sky visionary with a no-nonsense approach - and was also commentator on the Urban Task Force's 1999 final report, Towards an Urban Renaissance, set up to explore providing homes for 4 million additional households through a 25-year 'urban renaissance'. Before joining the arc, he was also director of the acclaimed Crown Street Regeneration Project in the Gorbals, Glasgow, which in many ways has acted as a pilot for the use of cultural strategies within many subsequent regeneration projects. Integral to the success of the Gorbals regeneration was the incorporation at an early stage of an artworks masterplan. This idea was conceived and delivered by a public art collective called Heisenberg 3 (comprising artist-architect Dan Dubowitz and artist Matt Baker). Heisenberg had been formed originally in 1998 to undertake a programme of collaborative artworks exploring the cultural importance of urban wasteland. As such, they were a flagship project of Glasgow's UK City of Architecture festival in 1999 with 'Journeymen' a series of 30 installations that highlighted and initiated a public interest and debate for Glasgow's plethora of derelict buildings and spaces. Their Requiem for Springburn's Public Halls involved the illumination of the building with 2000 Vatican candles. In 2002, as part of the Crown Street Regeneration Project, they unveiled The Gatekeeper at the South West Corner of the Gorbals, where, in the space left between the two apartment blocks a 5 metre sepia photograph apparition of a woman was installed in a steel and glass lightbox (standing on stilts some 11 metres above the ground) with a bronze of another figure, suspended horizontally above. The installation resonates with the notion of the Gorbals as a gateway for Highlanders, Irish, Jewish and Asian immigrant communities to Glasgow over the centuries, and it captured the imagination (and ownership) of the current mixed community. Heisenberg disbanded around 2002, when each artist left to develop their individual practices.

The issue of wastelands continues at the heart of many of Dan Dubowitz's subsequent projects - whilst practicing as Civic Works.4 The most substantial of these resulted from a successful tender to Sunderland arc as artworks masterplanner (which brought about the reunion with Tom Macartney), to act as both  masterplanner and lead-artist and help it deliver an arts-led regeneration framework. Now launched as The Cultural Masterplan,5 Dan Dubowitz makes it clear that this is not a traditional cultural strategy - providing theatre, performing arts and general arts provision - but is a blue print specifically for providing artist involvement, art work and  cultural activity in relation to the regeneration projects in Sunderland. He believes The Cultural Masterplan is a blueprint for involving artists from the early stages "bringing about in the process cultural regeneration through physical regeneration". The Cultural Masterplan is putting the city on the international arts map - in the way that the Sunderland band The Futureheads has also raised its profile within the music world. It has become a close collaboration with partners such as Sunderland City Council, Sunderland University, the National Glass Centre, the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art and the Reg Vardy Gallery. As part of its longer-term vision, it is also identifying and collaborating with key local artist groups such as SLAB and will even look to influence artist studio provisions in the city. 

Working closely with Dan Dubowitz on the development of The Cultural Masterplan has been Ben Hall, Sunderland arc’s Operations Manager and Alison Redshaw, Sunderland City Council’s Strategic Arts Officer. Ben Hall firmly believes that whilst Sunderland arc is about regenerating derelict sites, it also wants a cultural regeneration. In addition to this, and from the perspective of the critical community engagement, Alison Redshaw wants it to get to the point where people in Sunderland are so comfortable with challenging public artworks that they start demanding them. This Cultural Masterplan is not about the integration of a traditional public art strategy though. The cultural transformation of regenerating cities, is rarely planned and is invariably left towards the end of the regeneration programme – when it is often far too late. Dubowitz has defined three principle mechanisms in order to embed cultural projects early within this overall regeneration process: First is Masterplanning Culture – The city’s fundamental commitment, to the cultural transformation through physical regeneration; Second is the itinerant commissions programme, an unprecedented level of commitment to undertaking artist lead temporary and ephemeral commissions at the early stages of a regeneration programme. Third is the Percent for Innovation – An evolution of the more traditional percent for art approach, where direct contributions from the private sector, are comprehensively levered in through site ownership and Development Agreements (as opposed to reliance on Section 106 agreements negotiated through the planning). This is a series of permanent commissions where artists not artworks are commissioned to respond and integrate work in the emerging regenerated sites across Sunderland.

The Cultural Masterplan appears to be initiating a cultural regeneration synchronised with the physical regeneration of Sunderland. Kick-starting this process will be the immediate commissioning of temporary art interventions throughout the city centre, with these temporal artworks taking place over a three-year programme - followed-on by a series of more permanent commissions. Both will involve not just artists, but other creatives, such as scientists, engineers, cosmologists and designers. Dan Dubowitz’s fundamental belief is that these temporal projects will start to become permanent as they begin to enter the psyche of a city and initiate a range of dialogues between people and their city. “The first stage of temporal works is aimed at activating sites which people may have forgotten about, lost. We want to engage with the community not only directly but at a subliminal level; getting people to engage with sites.” 

Above: Hobo1 is a collaboration between artist David Cotterrell and Dan Dubowitz, and is a transient series of projections, from reclaimed US military air vehicles, onto Sunderland’s wastelands: 2006 - Images supplied by Sunderland arc - www.civicworks.net & www.cotterrell.com 

This itinerant programme is titled Hobo, and alludes to the transient nature of the intended art works. To encourage a wide variety of creatives to put their ideas forward, Dan Dubowitz has also initiated a Call For Artists.6 This is clearly an opportunity for all artists, whether international, national or local, to register their interest online in being considered for a commission from The Cultural Masterplan. The associated website is designed to last 12 years, and all text and images uploaded by artists online will be curated and then archived. He says: “We will choose people based on what they do and give them a period of time in which to come up with their idea. It is about selecting an artist not an artwork.” The initial plan is for everybody that applies to be posted on the site and as commissions come up a short-list of 3 preferred candidates are interviewed based only on past work and one is selected to develop a proposal collaboratively. The intention is, with the first private sector Percent for Innovation contribution of £150,000 coming in mid-2006, that there will then be a huge pool of creative thinkers and innovative ideas to choose from.  Just prior to that, a first phase called Hobo1 will launch with a number of temporary commissions for the North East nomadic AV Fest7 in March 2006. Hobo1 involves a collaboration between artist David Cotterrell8 and Dan Dubowitz. It is the creation of a transient series of projections from space onto Sunderland’s wastelands. It as a project daunting in its technical ambition incorporating the customisation of reclaimed US military air vehicles and suspended tracking moving image projection spots.– seen at various times, locations and altitudes throughout the city. Equally challenging will be the way the project will begin appearing in the city with no sign of authorship or explanation. Posters are already appearing around the city, to direct people to a website blog on which sightings of the eerie shadow projections can be reported.

The old Anglo Saxon name ‘Sundered Land’ actually refers to the land separated by the River Wear from the monastic estates of Monkwearmouth to the north - the verb ‘to sunder’ means to wrench apart or sever. It was this unintentional severance from the mainstream, through the historic application of a highly specialised industrial base, that perhaps contributed to Sunderland’s downfall. Things happily are now changing, and indeed the swiftness of this change is breathtaking, as many of the joint initiatives of the city council and arc begin to gather momentum, including the imminent arrival of a new Public Art Officer for the City Council. It is of course imperative that Sunderland as a city, continues to think big, and to plug itself back into the wider system on all regional, national and international levels. Culture is of course a critical element in helping it achieve this, and as an integral part of this ambitious goal The Cultural Masterplan is literally off to a flying start and has the real potential to become not just the envy of neighbours Newcastle-Gateshead, but also the world. 

Architect Ian Banks is the Principal of Atoll, a collaborative art + architecture practice.  He is also the part-time Consultant Director of Public Realm at Public Arts, the Yorkshire-based public art and architecture agency - www.atoll-uk.com + www.public-arts.co.uk

*1 Art on the Front Line was the title provided by Tom Macartney, Chief Executive of Sunderland Area Regeneration Company (the arc)1, for his talk on the exemplar role for art and design in Sunderland’s extraordinary transformation – delivered as part of the recent Great Artistic Metropolis: Art in the City conference. 

1. www.sunderlandarc.co.uk
2. www.urcs-online.co.uk
3. www.glasgowsculpture.com
4. www.civicworks.net
5. www.culturalmasterplan.org
6. www.callforartists.org     
7.  www.avfest.co.uk   
8. www.cotterrell.com

A&AJ63 (January 2006) Tythebarn: A Public Art Levy for Preston?

In the middle of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is the little known principle of 'Everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits'. This is also the long-held concern of the European Community, as a direct consequence of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which requires us to take all cultural aspects into account. Given this, odd that it has taken until this year for a DCMS Consultation Paper Culture at the Heart of Regeneration to finally declare that culture is indeed a crucial part of the regenerative process - and one that can even help build and maintain sustainable communities. Of course, the magical Guggenheim and Angel of the North 'effect' has been well documented, in terms of mapping the positive impact culture-led injections have had on the image, economy and tourism of Bilbao and Gateshead respectively. But how exactly does one go about curating an alchemy of culture without compromise - and shouldn't we simply wish to covet its true social, political and cultural value as a patron, rather than try to justify its commissioning through it achieving backdoor economic outputs, as a client?  

The big-bang of signature cultural capital can be justified only so many times, and as such, an integrated cultural approach can often provide the more enlightened option. In the North West of England, the city of Preston, has an aspiration to attempt a sophisticated model of this - and indeed has high hopes for the positive effect such a holistic approach will have on the physical design and environments being created, as well as the social and economic benefits to the economy and image as a whole. The origin of this renaissance is grounded in the retail and housing market, largely through the major redevelopment of the city's 5-Hectare Tythebarn quarter by Grosvenor Estates, in partnership with Preston City Council, and working with architect and masterplanner Terry Farrell & Partners. However, the vision is also to implement a new urban heart for the city, with an integrated cultural quarter, which embeds a collaborative art and architecture philosophy very early on. It wishes to create for its people, a city of colour, light and texture, through a process that both engages its community early, as well as quickly bringing artist and architect together head-on, to jointly consider the people, use and fabric of the spaces between buildings, as well as the hard architecture and applied art & design itself. In a November 2004 lecture entitled Art and Architecture: The Ultimate Collaboration, Sir Terry Farrell welcomed the growing face of such artist-architect collaborations, arguing that artists had a "valid contribution to make as creative, lateral thinkers". His experience of this to date, has perhaps been limited to a more applied arts approach - such as seen in his recent Home Office building in Westminster where he worked closely with glass artist Liam Gillick on the façade to create a 90m coloured glass canopy. However, he is a man with a track record of taking creative risks and making bold visions, and as such, appears to welcome the boundaries between artist and architect roles being increasingly merged. 

Another indicator of this evolving process, was the strategic vision of James Green at the Harris Museum & Art Gallery, who, later in consultation with the University of Central Lancashire initiated the exploration of a temporary public art programme - and which was finally established in 2002 after the key involvement of Artist-Lecturer Charles Quick of UCLAN. From their initial partnership came the development of the Here + Now programme, which is set to explore what it terms Temporary Art for a Transitional City, and includes the new appointment of Elaine Speight as an Assistant Curator - this time funded by Arts Council and UCLAN. Another achievement of this partnership was the early establishment of an related lecture series, beginning with artist Alfredo Jaar being invited over in 2003 to both deliver a public presentation, and to engage in a structured workshop with key invitees drawn from those interested and involved in the city regeneration. Jaar's initial vision was widely applauded, giving a flavour of what was possible, and was quickly followed in 2004 by a lecture and exhibition by Farrell - to illustrated his practice's past work, as well as air his Tythebarn masterplan and cultural philosophy. This programme continued with 9 curated lectures titled Speaking of Art, and delivered by a range of eminent art and architecture speakers (including Lewis Biggs of Liverpool Biennial, Peter Sharpe of Kielder Art & Architecture and artist-architectural writer Charles Jencks), which further helped establish a quality platform for cultural aspirations in the City.

As a direct result of this, and part-funded through Arts Council England as well as the joint CABE and Arts & Business PROJECT initiative, Alfredo Jaar and Charles Quick were appointed by Preston City, with the blessing of Grosvenor and Farrell, to work together as the joint artistic lead on the Tithebarn Development. This should also be assisted by the recent appointment (funded this time by Lancashire County Council and selected strategic partners) of Neil Harris, as Preston City Council's new Development Officer for Art in Public Places. The immediate priority for all involved must be to develop more detailed consultations with the Tythebarn design team, establishing a process to find the right artists to work alongside the right architects  - as sites and briefs start to get developed and appointments are made. Jaar believes that the resultant work and relationships developing out of this process may spur him eventually to get involved in more detail through his own work and installation, although at this stage, he freely admits that he may be happy to remain more in the mould of an overarching lead artist and cultural masterplanner. Whilst Jaar sometimes likes to see his a role as a deliberate outsider, one which allows him access to an uncoloured perspective and an independent standpoint, he also likes to create strong links into the local artist networks of wherever he is working. With regards to Preston, it is his general belief, that the sense of 'Place' and his developing relationship with Quick, will dictate the cultural need. As such, he feels that too detailed an artistic vision made too early, must be resisted. He does however talk of a possible interest in developing integrated artist workshops, involving both art and architecture students, and which might take 3 - 5 years to fully implement. Quick's dual role in this collaboration, as both an artist and senior lecturer in public art at UCLAN means that he is well placed to engage artistically, on equal terms with Jaar, and to help facilitate the process of any developing arts and artist programmes. Quick's own area of interest stems from an initial mapping investigation into the historic patterns of use in the public spaces of the old town, with a current interest centred around the old covered market.

If the initial programme is successful, and augmenting specific arts-funding mechanisms, one hopes a proportion of the overall project budget might eventually trickle-down into Art in Public Places projects - either formally or informally. As it stands, the full scope and terms of any artistic engagement are still to be defined; particularly when one considers that many of the Tythebarn site briefs and design teams have yet to be declared. However, involving culture in such comprehensive regeneration is always a slow process, and is open to hard bargaining on one side, with influential arts advocacy on the other. The hope here, is that with an innovative framework to influence this is already in place, that the true value of culture will finally be recognised.

Long before London dreamt of hosting the Olympics, Preston had already set its sights on 2012 - as a target for it to finally become the designated 'Third City' of the North West. It is also the year of the next historic Guild Festival, which is held every 20 years. From 1179, the Borough was granted the right to hold something called a Guild Merchant - which was an economic guild, controlling a monopoly on Preston trade. The term Tythebarn refers to a building that held tithes (taxes) paid - as a tenth part of annual income contributing to the support of the church. Now that our faith sometimes appears replaced more often with a worship of Mammon, perhaps it is time for a new Tythe to be levied - a philanthropic gesture from capitalism to uplift the cultural life of the Preston community.