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Short Ships by Faceless Arts

The Farrell Review – the Role of Artists and the Arts
Brief Presentation for a Meeting of Arts and Built Environment Practitioners
Beam / The Orangery, Wakefield 13 November, 2104

Outdoor Arts & Public Realm

In thinking about today’s meeting, I thought I might share some of the thoughts I had on the Farrell Review. I have three different perspectives by which to contribute to the discussion today.

Firstly, I am an Outdoor Arts Practitioner and Educator. As founder member of Faceless Arts, the majority of my outdoor and community arts practice for the past 25 years has been about bringing art and people together in the outdoors, using visual art and performance to creatively explore senses belonging, identity and place.

Secondly, I’m board member of ISAN, the London based national development organisation for Outdoor Arts in the UK. At ISAN we regularly deal with issues of policy in the public realm in order to support the work of our members which comprise artists, programmers, producers, festivals and local authorities.

Thirdly, I have just completed a post graduate research project at Leeds University about creative outdoor arts experiences as nurture rather than instrument. During the process of practically mapping creative arts experiences, I applied a few seminal socio-philosophical theories to contemporary outdoor arts practice, such as Rancière (the Emancipated Spectator), Bourriaud (Relational Aesthetics) and LeFebvre (The Production of Space).

Public Realm is of course social space, shared space, the space of our audiences and participants. Street artists animate the public realm by what Bourriaud calls a social interstice – an interruption in the everydayness of people, inviting them to look afresh at the environment of the public realm, its inhabitants and its functions.

However, LeFebvre argues that much of our urban and suburban public realm is produced to control. It is an increasingly privatised and homogenous space bogged down in a risk averse culture of consumerist economics. This iteration of the public realm, its design for perceived needed contemporary functions bring a host of challenges for the street performer, such as:

– A drink fuelled night time economy
– Impractically designed /misconceived public spaces leaving them underused and maligned– eg soul-less, overdesigned spaces, ubiquitous central sculpture, or “plop art”, as Andrew Knght calls it
– Public space as thoroughfare – places of transit rather than spaces to linger
– Traffic – noise, poor air, increased risk
– The desolation of the high street when the shops are closed

To subvert these difficulties, street artists are truly imaginative, they create ;
– Giant spectacle works that bring cities to a halt
– Visual non verbal poetic works that touch audiences emotionally and draw them into a narrative
– Community engaged and co-authored site specific works
– Intimate and immersive works using digital technology sound and light
– Family friendly works adding to the linger factor for people of all ages
– Naughty confrontative and subversive work, which sparks thought or simply interrupts the tedium

The report talks about place based planning and design. In my opinion, place based design to date has been the servant of destination marketing and I am not sure of its success. In a scramble to make place destinations to boost our flailing local economies through tourism, we have forgotten the people who use the space daily, the people who live in our villages towns and cities, who’s experiences in public realm are the making of place. These opportunities for co-authored shared experience are the nub of what Rancière analyses in The Emancipated Spectator as the Sensus Communis – or a sense of communal experience.

Cardiff Bay, Salford Quays and Newcastle Quayside are examples public realm design and urban regeneration that work for me both as street performer and visitor. Cardiff Bay is controversial and has its problems. See Jones the Planner. The positives include:
– Intensive mixed uses and traffic free.
– Spaces flanked by theatres and concert halls, restaurants and shops, places of work, leisure and policy making – the Welsh Parliament is in Cardiff Bay.
– Accommodation for artist studios and the creative industries
– People live there.
– Functional yet exceedingly flexible to host huge outdoor arena style events or small intimate quirky animations.
– Breathing, working, living, play spaces.
– Intriguing spaces for discovery and play.
– Alive night and day and frequented by people of all ages with people of means spending their cash in bars and restaurants whilst cash strapped young people and families walk, play or picnic.

They function similarly to the great civic spaces of the ancient Greeks – they’re our modern Agoras.

My final observation is about the report’s call for new levels of public engagement through “education and outreach in every village, town and city”. This is work that is close to my heart as I work in outdoor arts with communities, creating events on urban outskirts and rural borders. Faceless Arts recent use of strategic touring funds from the Arts Council has enabled us to work in with small isolated communities of West and East Yorkshire off the M62. Their public realm can be the cross roads, a park or Community Library Garden. Last year I directed The Empty Square and this year I made Follow the Diversion. Both these projects explore and celebrate stories of place as a means of encouraging communities to re-purpose their minimal public realm as spaces for community creativity and social gathering. These funds from ACE are welcomed by us as artists and by the communities with whom we work, who have limited access to high quality touring work. We also have to remember too, in this time of austerity and spending cuts, that street artists need access to funds and resources for continued innovation and that local authorities, town and parish councils need to be able to access a programming budget to continue to inspire people to use the public realm as a creative, playful social space of thus contributing their own memories of place to a democratisation of the public realm.

Bev Adams FRSA
Artistic Director Faceless Arts
Board Member ISAN (Independent Street Arts Network)


Snaith 2013 – photo by Amanda Crowther