Build on Solid Ground Conference – To Sum Up



David Butler once again took to the floor to sum up the proceedings for the day. This was short and sharp due to time restrictions (ironic) but managed to highlight some of the major issues that had come up during the day.

Policy-making can be very forward-thinking, challenging the rest of us to come up with creative solutions. This type of successful top-down planning really relies on the production of an ambitious brief as it is almost impossible to get a good outcome out of a nothing brief.


Regeneration is a really long-term process and therefore the artist/creative practitioner’s engagement in the area should be. 


The importance of giving a voice to those who aren’t often heard.


The importance of building a knowledge base amongst people in a community.


Taking steps to ensure that an artist involved in regeneration is being capitalized for the benefits and skills an artist can bring to the process and not just appropriated into some sort of council role.


Build on Solid Ground – After Lunch Part Trois



The last presentation of the day was taken jointly by the artist Kerry Morrison, who took the role of head artist during the ten-day symposium and Paul Kelly, HMR Public Realm Project Manager, Liverpool.


Both Kerry and Paul used examples of socially engaged practice that they have taken part in or are currently undertaking in and around Liverpool. Kerry presented her ongoing project ‘Wild and Productive’ which centres around the towpaths and surrounding residential areas of the Leeds-Liverpool canal. This project started with Kerry working directly along the banks of the canal, documenting the types of wild growth in the area and building up a relationship with those who used the towpaths by being a constant, obvious presence over the course of time. Through conversations that came about through these burgeoning relationships the project organically moved away from the towpath to a residential area nearby. Here Kerry set up in an empty shop and continued her investigations into the area. 


Paul Kelly spoke of the work being undertaken for the Liverpool Biennial, including the kitchenmonument. This is a giant ‘bubble’ designed by the German architects raumlaborberlin and plastique fantastique and was inflated in various location in South Sefton. This created an event around which talks took place about the future of the housing marker renewal area of Bootle and South Sefton. One of the main aims of the programme was to explore ways that art can be integrated into the regeneration process as an integral part of the housing market renewal programme, not as tokenistic pieces of art work in renewal areas. 


The aim of both Kerry and Paul’s presentation was to highlight the importance of time within socially engaging process. It was stressed that it takes a long time to build the relationships which are necessary to make this process successful, time which often isn’t afforded. They called for a need to reconsiders how artists are commissioned, with Kerry mentioning that she feels the 12 months she was given for the work around the Leeds-Liverpool canal area was still not enough. This type of work must be done with a degree of sustainability and it is not just the case of parachuting someone in for a finite amount of time. The danger with this approach is that some of the art being commissioned has nothing to do with the localities and as such is both a waste of money and time.


A thought-provoking point that came out of what Paul was saying was the notion that the housing renewal process isn’t necessarily something that is awful and depressing. He spoke passionately about the need to instil excitement and optimism in the local community about the changes in the area and the possibilities for the future. Paul spoke about the fact that regeneration is a really long-term process, the time is available to discuss and debate and get people excited. Activities and other engagement tools around regeneration issues are hugely beneficial in keeping everyone motivated through-out the process.


Another interesting point that came from the floor regarded the title Housing Market Renewal when the programme was so obviously about more than just housing but building sustainable communities. This was left unanswered but it was obvious to more than just me that a huge amount of work needs to be done to ensure that the different branches of local authorities involved in these processes work in a much more integrated manner.  

Conference – Images





Carolyn Butterworth presenting her joint paper with Trish O’Shea.



Kerry Morrison presenting a project that she is currently involved situated around the Leeds and Liverpool canal.



Paul Kelly speaking jointly with Kerry Morrison on the need for appropriate time-scales within community engagement projects.

Build on Solid Ground Conference – After lunch Part Deux



The second to last paper of the day was a joint paper by architect Carolyn Butterworth and artist Trish O’Shea,  presented by Carolyn Butterworth.


The paper focused on the collaborative work that they have been doing in the Sheffield area and engagement work done by Carolyn’s students at the University of Sheffield in and around Accrington. Carolyn spoke of her desire for artists and architects to work collaboratively within communities and the belief that the practices of both art and architecture can meet in the realm of community engagement.


Listening to the paper it was clear that what both Carolyn and Trish are striving for is an art and architecture collaboration in which both parties are involved in long-term occupancy of the project, working together from day 1. This is opposed to the norm, as Carolyn saw it, of the artist working on a project at its very early stages, completing highly valuable community engagement work and then having the outcomes slowly diluted, if not forgotten as the mechanisms of design, planning and construction creak into action. Barriers are often formed when an artist works on a project at an early stage and then an architect is brought in, or commissioned separately, which Carolyn and Trish wish to break down,


It is also Carolyn’s view that this dilution of the rich early stage concepts which came directly from the community are far less likely to be undervalued at latter stages if, instead of seeing engagement as only an early stage ‘box-tick’ it actually takes place through-out the course of a project, right through to completion. In this way a design would come about organically through the collaborative process taking place not just between the artist and architect but the local community as well. The long-term goal of this type of practice, as she sees it, is the creation of a more relevant architecture.


I was interested to hear that one of the major obstacles in this type of practice is in convincing architects; changing the profession so that they realise the benefits of working with artists. This includes the need to start to dissolve the notion that a collaborative process means losing control over the outcome.

Images – Break-out sessions




The break-out session ‘the adoption of arts process into other professional methodologies.’

Images – Symposium Presentation





Tom Green performing magnificently in his role as ‘Disagree.’



Lorna Green (no relation) writing down comments during her break-out session. 

Build on Solid Ground Conference – After lunch



After lunch the creative practitioners who had taken part in the symposium gave their presentation on their experiences over the ten-day period. I believe that their decision to get all the delegates out of the conference room and onto the lawn outside worked well, though I think that there was the feeling that this idea could have been pushed further, that the delegates would have been happy to engage even more with the process.


The statements (which I have blogged about in the post entitled 24th June – Back at the Barn) were read out and the delegates moved around the lawn according to their reactions to the statements. The group then split down to further discuss these issues. I took part in the discussion around ‘Artists must consider the political implications of their work within the community’ led by Pippa Koszerek. Ideas that were thrown around included the amount of power over the project held by different stakeholders and the notion of biting the hand that feeds you. The group then reconvened in the conference room to summarise the discussions that each faction had been having.


At 2.45pm the room once again split down into discussion groups, this time for the break out sessions. These sessions were about varying issues related to socially engaged practice and were hosted by different people:


  • 1. Ethics of socially engaging practice – David Butler
  • 2. Collaborative practice – George Lovett
  • 3. How can you help people make informed decisions? – Jeni McConnell
  • 4. Issues around the control of information/spin – Ana Ospina and Cara Flynn.
  • 5. Making connections between community engagement and strategic decisions – Paul Hartley
  • 6. The adoption of art process into other professional methodologies – Julie Heron

Unfortunately these break-out sessions did not last as long as first planned as were squeezed other over-running talks earlier in the day. However I believe that they were successful in starting to highlight some of the questions involved in this complex area of socially engaging practice. The break-out session I led looked at the adoption of art process and we started by looking at what ‘art process’ was or had that was different from most other professional processes. One conclusion that came from this was the desire not to reductively say ‘art’ but instead use the words ‘creative practice’ to begin to draw distinctions. What I believe was also interesting was the issues around pre-conceived professional skill-sets and that maybe attempting to draw any kind of distinction is a bit reductive. But then maybe making these sort of basic groupings (ie creative and non-creative) is necessary at the start in order to begin to have this type of conversation?

Conference – Images




Leo Care from the Bureau of Design Research speaking about a project they were involved with in Rotherham.



An errant cow, as you do.

Conference – Images




Paul Haywood speaking about the Salford Reds project.



Andrew Siddall (with Kevin Carter appearing on the left) presenting the Burnley Public Arts Programme.



Cathy Newbery presenting the Riversmeet community co-operative.

Build on Solid Ground Conference



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.