The day started off with David Butler introducing the conference, talking about the aims of the day and speaking a little about the fact that it was taking place at the end of the ten day symposium and that the creative practitioners who took part in that residency would be talking further about their experiences later in the day.
Claire Tymon and Paul Haywood were the first of the guest speakers. Claire spoke of her role in encouraging the use of creative practice within areas of housing renewal and how often she is asked for evidence of how the artists involved help lead towards an outcome. This in itself is a frustrating question to be posed as often the positives of creative involvement cannot be quantified in a way that members of councils and others in a position to engage artists would like. Paul Haywood is an artist who teaches at the University of Salford. He spoke about his experiences of art and public liaison, using the project Salford Reds as an example. What seemed to come from his presentation was the importance of perceived value for money (in a similar vein to Claire’s) and the problems they had dealing with this. One example sited was the issue of the artists’ intellectual rights within the process. Questions were also raised about the issue of the role of artists within the regeneration process, the drive to be recognised purely for the skills that an artist can bring to the situation and to not be shoe-horned into another role or used for political gain.
The architect Andrew Siddall (civic architects) and artist Kevin Carter then spoke about their experience of taking part in the Burnley Public Arts Programme which took place 2006-2008. Issues that were raised during this talk involved how to go about contacting the ‘invisible’ people and not just relying on the opinions of the loudest, most vocal members of a community. They mentioned their belief that the most effective way to engage with locals was to meet them on their terms, travelling to were they normally spent their time. This was thought to be much easier than truing to set up meeting on architecture terms, meetings which no-one would, or did, attend. Andrew and Kevin also stressed their desire to create a shared ownership of the design creation, shared between the local community and themselves. They believed that this would make sure that the proposals that were produced had meaning to the locals and created some sort of legacy for the project.
A very interesting point that was brought up was the issue of censorship within one of their proposals, the peers plaques project. The negotiation of this censorship was discussed and I would have liked to hear a bit more about how this was dealt with and whether or not they felt their differing professions (as an architect and an artist) altered the way in which each responded to this issue.
After a coffee break Cathy Newbery spoke about the Riversmeet community co-operative that she is involved with and spoke about local capability as a catalyst for change. She mentioned the co-operative’s desire to change horizons, from ideas of top-down leadership towards a more bottom-up local engagement/empowerment approach. Questions from the floor included whether there was a risk that all the good work could be undermined by global companies and whether there were steps in place for this type of community co-operative to extend out to other areas in the country. The point was offered that as local councillors are elected by the people, if those people are not happy about what the local council is up to, they could just re-elect someone else. This was countered by the idea that it is actually the restrictions placed on those in council that were being side-stepped, that as a local community group they had more direct power for change than those tied to a certain, structured way of doing things.
The last speakers of the morning were the architects Prue Chiles and Leo Care from the Bureau of Design Research at The University of Sheffield. They spoke about a project they were involved in in Canklow, Rotherham which aimed to create a shared vision for the community by opening up the design process and putting local people on the same power level at the architects. Prue stated, ‘with knowledge brings confidence and a greater sense of being in control.’
An interesting point that came out of this talk was the catch-22 of community engagement – that architecture/consultation and public art takes a lot of time to build up the relationships necessary for successful outcomes. Often this time is not afforded and therefore the outcomes are not desirable and fail and that therefore even less time is afforded in the future. I was also very interested in Prue and Leo’s view on the negotiation of expectation, an issue that was prevalent throughout the ten day symposium. Prue mentioned that it is her belief that it is okay to raise expectations as this expands peoples minds to the wealth of options available.