1.2 What is the site and community - and what part do they play in the project?

 

Choosing the Site


Deciding where to create a project must first be determined through identifying a need or desire in the city, as listed in section 1.1. This will vary in many ways: from the artist who independently identifies a hidden space that he/she wishes to reveal; the developer who wishes to activate a new build entrance-way; and the community group that want to revitalise a pocket park.


The best way to identify a potential site is to walk around the area of interest - linger - take photographs - make notes - discuss observations - consider the site as a meeting place for a variety of interests (what is the scope?) - Respond to new ways of seeing familiar things - how can the sites potential be enhanced and challenged? What is the existing community? - avoid setting too rigid parameters.


Once this initial survey has taken place and you have decided that the site and the project has potential for development, it is then a good idea to research the site further and possibly draw comparisons with public art case studies of similar spaces (not to copy, but to understand potential). Involving a lead artist or artistic advisor in a consultancy roll early in the process, and linking them with other professionals involved in the project, will also help to open up the imaginative response and the real possibilities of the site.

At this stage it is also advisable to ascertain:


  • Who owns the site?
    Does the site have any special requirements/restrictions - geological, historical, usage, access?
    Are there any planning, environmental, conservation considerations?
    Will the site require advance preparation - landscaping, engineering and design?
    Will the site preparation add extra expenditure to the project?
    What scale and materials are suitable for the site?
    Should the response be temporary or permanent?


If the project is temporary you may wish to explore a more 'dispersed' form of public space. This can include performance, printed materials, the internet, projected video, or street interactions between people. The city itself or a series of sites can be proposed for the project - fixed, mobile or pop-up events. Even in this scenario site access issues may still need to be negotiated and different community connections organised.


The Community Connection


Every project based in a community needs to be aware of the specific audiences the work is intended for - in terms of both residents and visitors. These audiences will have diverse backgrounds with a variety of potential community interests. Some form of consultation should always take place at an early project production stage, to inform the development. In the first instance investigations should be made with the city arts development team, education and planning departments to ascertain if there are known connected community groups associated with the site. Initially it should be decided how the community could be linked into the project in an appropriate and useful way:

  • How is the community linked to the development of the idea?
    Will the community assist in developing the concept, design and making of the work?
    Will the community have a role in choosing the artist and methodology?
    Will there be community workshops linked to the commission?
    Will the community be given informal feedback as the project progresses?


Also consider that there may be different public audiences at different stages of the project. Will you respond to the general site audience as it drifts in and out of the project? Will you choose a specific local community? Will you bring a new or extended community to the site? Or, will you have a multi-level community approach?


Outlined below are two examples of what may be considered in evaluating a site - both are aligned to exterior public sites but indicate the principles that could be used to checklist possible areas of interest in interior spaces.

 

 

Areas to explore for further Creative Inspiration

 

The site in relation to the surrounding city
The relationship between a chosen site and the overall plan of the city can have an important influence in developing a creative response and also how it is viewed or supported as a 'city' project. Understanding the beginnings or significance of a site can sometimes be difficult to ascertain. In terms of historical proven fact, this may be a problem for historians and antiquarians. However, ambiguity, fictions, theories and curious connections can be far more interesting and generative for the development of a creative project than a straight forward linear story.

 

Site boundaries and the changing streetscape
When developing a creative project the chosen site can be a specific location, a whole street, a 'quarter/district', or an entire city. However big or small, the area should be clearly defined so that the project can be focused both physically and conceptually. In understanding how the historic boundaries and streetscapes have occurred and grown, information can be placed alongside contemporary patterns of use to form a sympathetic overview of how a creative intervention may best be placed in the space.

 

Key historic buildings and industry on site
The complexity of how an urban space has grown and continues to develop can be indicated by the history of it's previous and existing architecture. It's relationship to the city can be revealed by what has been lost and how new developments have been created. A building, it's history and architectural relationships can act as both a physical space to create work and a basis for further themed research.

 

Streets and associated meanings
A street name or odonym is an identifying name given to a route. A singular name or a combination of names can give reference and meaning to the overall site - types of commerce or industry, landmarks, self descriptors, destination, distinguished or famous individuals and symbolism. A street name may act as a starting or revealing point to developing a creative response at the site.

 

Key historical personalities associated with site
The chosen site will have a complex history that is further enriched by the people who have lived, worked or moved through the space. The connections with the site that can be creatively developed can be varied: the specific 'story' of that person, the way that person 'touched' the site, the relevance of that person to the city, or how that person may relate to a contemporary relevant issue.

 

Shops and business's related to site
Exploring the streetscape shop fronts and 'industries' of the site may be likened to collecting a 'working demographic'. The process is most useful if the ground floor street activity is the focus, rather than upper floor secondary office spaces.This information may be used in four key ways:

  • To compare historical working processes or retail in the area and connect continuing patterns or highlight an interesting 'process'
    To use the proprietors of the business's as the 'eyes and ears' of the day to day street scene and understand past, present and future concerns with a little more local authority
    To link with a particular 'establishment' to create or support a specific 'process' for the project
    To use the premises as a venue or marketing support for the project

 

A photo survey and indicator of 'gateway' routes to site
A photographic survey of all entranceways to the site acts as a permanent visual reminder of how the chosen site is first perceived or recognised by the 'visitor', and what the project may need to consider to create a 'public visibility'.

 

Relationship of site to its immediate neighbours
No site works in isolation (exterior or interior) - therefore be aware of what happens around the site and how it effects its operation and community.



Demographic information
In assessing the users of a site, access to the local or national census may be useful to gain an overview. The national census occurs every ten years. Other local city based surveys may also be available from local authority specialised studies. In all cases, unless a specific survey has been commissioned for the project, the information will probably cover a more extensive area than the chosen site - the investigator then has to adjust the relevance of this extended scope.

Commonly used demographics include gender, race, age, disabilities, mobility, home ownership, employment status, and location. Remember that demographic profiling is essentially an exercise in making generalisations about groups of people - not about specific individuals. Therefore this information should only be used to direct the project into a further form of detailed investigation. This may lead a project, for example, to focus on specific age groups or ethnic backgrounds for community activities.

 

Public movement through the site
Understanding how pedestrians use the site (how they come into and move through the site, do they stop and how do they exit) is useful to establish positioning and 'signing' of a creative project. At an early stage it will also be a key indicator on deciding the appropriateness of the site for a potential project.

 

Recent survey documents - proposed planning, conservation, civic upgrades
Sourcing and researching existing survey documents that focus on the area to be explored, or the 'district' that the site lies within, can provide good background information and shortcut difficult surveys. Information can lead to more in depth investigations in certain areas, support on going research carried out by the artist, or lead to associated partner groups that could assist the project. Initial surveys to be considered may be able to be sourced through local authority planning initiatives or heritage/conservation projects.

 

Community consultation and existing local groups
Direct community and business consultation work can be a very important element in the development of a creative project. To be effective it has to be initiated at the earliest stage of the project. Any public involvement must be well managed and allow the participants the time and space to comment freely on their observations and feelings. Commissioners and artists are advised to discuss this issue with Planning Officers and the Arts Development Officers at the concept stage.

It is vital that the reasons for initiating public consultation are clearly understood by the artist and the commissioner at the first stage, and then if it is carried out the public must be aware of how the consultation will affect the project. Remember this is not a process where the artist is asking for permission to work with the community and site - it is a process where the artist is connecting with the community. The type of question, the manner in which it is asked and the focus group should be carefully considered, so that the information is genuinely useful in the creative process.
This consultation can manifest itself in a number of ways:   

  • A direct consultation process, where the general public or a specific community are invited to discuss the commission concept and respond with information, personal stories, histories or ideas
    Participation in workshops and outreach work - where the artist works directly with the community to inform the idea or assist in the design/making process
    Making the artwork under the artist's direction using local makers or industries
    To have an input into the selection process of the artist or the project
    Exhibitions or public seminars where the project is discussed, the public is informed and updated
    A community celebration or event is linked with the project

Once the community is involved it can:

  • Add a sense of spirit to the project
    Create community pride or enhance local identity
    Help decrease vandalism
    Act as a learning/teaching initiative
    Improve the status and public awareness of a development
    Create a sense of genuine ownership

 

Links to the site through information guides and forums
Researching and cross-referencing on line can open up new paths of exploration. Starting with 'official' guides and services and moving to independent investigations on specialist areas can initiate unusual strategies, unknown links and playful inventions in the urban landscape. In turn, new active partnerships may be formed to collaborate directly or indirectly with the project.

Documentation of public art / street events that have occured on site
Understanding what previous events have occured on the site or what neighbouring permanent public art works are in the area, can:

  • Prevent duplication
    Create linking themes
    Reveal previous community responses and highlight important issues
    Reveal additional partners

 

Photo survey of signage / ornamentation / curiosities on site
Alternative documentation of the surrounding environment in all its details - good, bad, distant, micro, historical, contemporary, transient - can reveal hidden sources of inspiration.