Art on The Green Case Study

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Name of project

'Art on the Green / Meet on the Green'

 

Site location

The Green and Merchant Quarter, Aberdeen

 

Artist

Amy Marletta

 

Date of completion

Research and participatory period November 2010 - April 2011
Final exhibition event 3rd April 2011

 

Commissioner and key project partners

Aberdeen City Council's Arts Development team

 

 

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Description of work

'Meet on the Green' was a participatory public art project supported by Aberdeen City Council's Arts Development team. The project focused on the impact that art and an integrated creative public dialogue can have for a community and the city as whole - breaking down barriers for long term engagement, participation and retention of cultural activity within the city.

Artist Amy Marletta worked in and around the Green for approximately five months attempting to gather stories and meet people who had a connection to the place. The aim was to create an artwork that was a response to the environment and community, working with local people to build up a picture of the area, both past and present.

By allowing chance encounters to lead the way, the project was shaped by the community that directly contributed and linked to local research gathered by lead artist Chris Biddlecombe (a separate research project on the Green). The final outcome took the form of a series of portraits and as song lyrics woven together from stories told and overheard around the site.

Sixteen local artists were invited to take part in the project by creating portraits of local people, who live, work or socialise in the area - in this process the artist acted as both go-between, collector and catalyst. The portraits were exhibited throughout venues on the Green in April, with the opening event taking place on Sunday 3rd April at Café 52. The exhibition continued for the following few weeks at three local venues.

These portraits were also reproduced as a set of limited edition postcards that were distributed around various venues on the Green and were able to be collected for free - encouraging 'collectors' to move around public houses, and restaurants that they may not regularly visit.

The song, which was recorded by local singers gathered together and mentored by Amy, was also made available as a free CD, played on the local radio station and broadcast in the local shopping centres.

 

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Context of the work

This project is a direct legacy of the research and consultation work undertaken through the 'City of Culture' Feasibility Study 2009 and the development of the 'Vibrant Aberdeen' Cultural Strategy.


The commissioner chose an artist that had a history of working within the Public Art field, a strong understanding of collaborative practice and was comfortable developing methods of consultation, participation and community involvement that would lead to the production of a temporary piece to be located within the Green/ Merchant Quarter of Aberdeen.
Amy is an artist whose practice is based around collaborative processes and community interactions. Her previous experience included two key projects - 'Re-imagining the Centre' in Inverness (2009) and 'Ganghut Gala Day' in Lumsden, Aberdeenshire (2007) - where she developed community based interactions that energised neglected local spaces. This work was created through thoughtfully spending time with existing groups or creating new associations that would then manifest themselves as a celebratory 'performance activity'.


Within the context of the Green / Merchant Quarter the focus of the work needed to be about how different on site spaces worked, as it was about improving the emotional appeal of an under used area of the city. Although the remit of the artists focus was open, an initial understanding and consideration of how the Green functioned and how it links together all it's users (residents, workers, business', tourists) needed to be considered.


The focus for this collecting of information was to be channeled through two paths - a direct exploration by Amy of the local residents, groups in the wider Aberdeen community and the use and history of the site, and as a collaborative relationship with the lead artist/researcher who was developing a more in depth evaluation of how the site could be affected by artistic activity. Within the relationship between the commissioned artist and the lead artist, duplication was to be avoided, research shared and a support system created through open discourse.


This project was to act as a pilot for future public art funding and be evaluated and assessed as part of the larger research project that is the Art Engagement project. Therefore, the process (relationship building, network connections, and negotiations towards the production) and the showcase of a final art work, were equally important within the project brief. To this end the artist was asked to keep a project diary and evidence of her methodology throughout the project.


NOTE: Site Context - The Green is a historically significant area of Aberdeen and was once the main highway into the city. Due to changing topography, particularly the growth of Union Street, the development of nearby indoor shopping centres and the demise of the street market, the Green has undergone a steady economic and structural decline. The Green is part of a Townscape Heritage Initiative that supports the re-evaluation and regeneration of this important city site that currently appears to act as a forgotten through-way between Aberdeen's main transport links and the key city retail areas.

 

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Response to key objectives

 

Outputs
The key output in this project was the methodology of engaging community interaction and linking to an appropriate creative response. The issue with this site was that there was no clear group or existing connected community activity identified. This was particularly challenging for the artist as there is a high percentage of working, one person, rented households in the area, that may suggest low local interactivity. The artist saw her role as instigator, not to solely implement her own ideas, but to find new ways to collaborate with others, suggest new ways of expressing creativity, be accessible and bring together groups on site.
To this end Amy contacted and created connections with six different music/singing groups based in the city, two different youth groups, Four artist groups, and Four culture and education initiatives. Individuals with connections to the site (both artists and general community) were contacted through local radio, publications and interactive media sites. In turn, individual visits were made to twenty different shops, restaurants and public houses, the Trinity Shopping Centre and the Indoor Market, to highlight the initiative, negotiate support and encourage involvement in this and future projects. All meetings became an intrinsic part of the creative process, sharing information about the changing history of the site and future possibilities.

 


Outcomes
The portraits were a simple idea intended to 'break the ice' between the artist and people / places around the Green - depicting people who work, live or socialise in the site. In aligning herself with sixteen local artists to create the portraits, Amy formed her own creative group in the space to then connect with community individuals. Initially both the artists and community were new to this way of working, but an interesting dialogue about collaborative working methods was initiated.
These relationships have been built between: the different artists who painted the portraits (a group of whom may go on to exhibit together for the first time); the artists and the portrait subjects (on the event night many met with subjects, some artists gifted the portraits to their subjects, whilst some were bought by friends or family); both artists and subjects with the venues who exhibited the portraits (many visitors at the event noted that they hadn't been to the Green for a long time or weren't aware of these venues, commenting that they will return).
'The Green Song' was a more abstract way of collecting ideas and disseminating them back into the community, and also creating a new group of nine singers with varying experience. Here both the process of sharing and learning, creating a quality 'object' and then releasing/listening in the public space, are equally important parts of the creative work.
The portraits and the songs document a place at a particular time. They depict the people who spend time in that area and how the history of the area is remembered and re-told today. The portraits and the voices on the CD all look at the individual and how they make up a community.

 

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Challenges


The key challenges on this project were:


A difficulty in getting participants involved in a creative dialogue - partly due to the lack of past artistic activity in this area of the city and the diverse/transient nature of the community.


Some people found the artist's ideas unusual, still thinking of public art as being something sculptural or permanent. This is inevitable, given the constant evolving nature of artist practice, but highlights the need for inclusive dialogue between the artist and a community where the focus is on quality and interesting activity, rather than a constant re-definition of the process. This kind of approach is about experimentation, challenging those individuals that are less likely to openly express an interest in the arts.


Because the artist visited a range of venues, responses were mixed - again this is inevitable when one explores a site. But the places and people who did participate really gave a lot of time and effort. Even the fact that the local public houses took the postcards, although quite a small thing, was quite significant. It is important to note that this kind of project will rely on a variety of large and small gestures of exchange to create an overall impact.


The 'run-in time' to develop relationships could be longer - maybe consider a 'part-time' research period and a project creation period, to extend the actual life of the interaction.


The size of the event - both in relation to audience and participants, was difficult to develop in a short space of time. Even though some of the places that the artist contacted did not end up becoming directly involved, the meetings still lead to positive exchanges and support for creative activities happening in the area. In the case of some groups, the timing was just not right.


How you can realistically effect an exterior site in a physical way with a modest budget - materials, logistics, health and safety and permissions can all be time consuming and costly.


No particular 'home' or work space in the site sometimes made the idea of profiling the project or creating informal activities difficult.


Because this was a pilot project exploring creative ways of working, specific project support systems were not immediately suggested by the commissioner - allowing the artist to develop their own methodology and contacts. The project highlighted that despite working to an open brief, it is crucial that the artist identifies and agrees with the commissioner the desired level of support needed - both as an introduction to site, as an administrative backup and communication support mechanism. It is essential that the artist does not feel that they are isolated between the community and commissioner.

 

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8.Reflections


The artist still believes that an organic risk-taking approach was necessary to allow a true response of the space to be developed.


The artist would probably work with a smaller group of participants to make something more concentrated in a future project.
To be realistic about what is possible in the time frame, balanced with how much support is offered and how established the project is within the chosen location from the outset - Amy said "I think there is only so much you can do in a limited time. The positive relationships I have managed to create could be developed further but that's the nature of such a project ���‚š���‚“you get to the end then you feel like really you're just at the beginning".


An integral part of public art is a sense of ownership that a community, area or city bestow on the work, ensuring a legacy for the work and offering value. To this extent participation and consultation must be factored into the project's process.
It is good for an artist to have an overview of a site and see their work as one part of a series of creative projects that will affect the area.


Within this artist's practice the integrated evaluation process and diary became a useful working tool that assisted the project development. The inclusion of a lead artist as a support, communication link to commissioner and mentor was a useful and positive addition.