How not to do it and how to do it well (but not tell anyone!)

Posted on September 23, 2007

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Back in August I posted about one aspect of the lost-o project in Ashford.  I wanted to start a debate about the quality of a piece of graffiti that had appeared on the edge of the town centre, not because it was graffiti, but because it was a bad example of the form that had gained public prominence.  Overall, i think the lost-o project had the potential to be really exciting and to make a fantastic contribution to the development of the town, but although some parts of it were great, the execution of the project as a whole seems to have let it down.  Have a look at the pictures below:

          

The first image is part of the ‘ring road revolutionaries’ project, where 70s pop album cover-style posters were made, showing individuals who had contributed to the redevelopment of the Ashford ring road. I liked these posters, but not the way in which they were used – Firstly they went up before the work was finished, portraying these people as ‘heroes’ of a project that was receiving almost universal condemnation at the time and secondly, there appears to have been no commitment to maintain them, or take them down when their time had passed.  This has meant that they have become weather worn and vandalised and are producing a feeling of neglect and indifference around the unfinished redevelopment project – the exact opposite of their intention.

The second image shows a flock of flying birds that were painted on the road.  I watched this being painted and the end result was arresting and beautiful, an organic re-interpretation of the most man-made of structures.  As soon as they were finished however, a series of cones were placed over them and have remained there ever since. It is now impossible to gain a good impression of the work as a whole, leading to many people describing them as ‘spilt paint’ or complaining that they confuse traffic.

Unfortunately this project has been conceived and managed by individuals and organisations from outside of Ashford.   The local council however, have been organising Ashford’s second ‘visual arts and architecture festival’ – a series of events that are much more locally grounded.  I was involved in a short film night that took place on Thursday and on Saturday I went to the town centre with Abi and Lyra to have a look at an affordable art fair, an environmental art workshop and to see Flora, the lovely Singleton Giant.

                 

In the first picture Lyra is making a ‘bug hotel’, to be placed in the flowerbeds of a new local environment centre.  In the second picture, she is being introduced to Flora.  Both of these things, and the affordable art fair featuring Ashford Visual Artists, were public in the best sense of the word, being on the high street on a Saturday.  The day’s events were participatory, inclusive and still engaged with the development of the town and its communities.  The only problem was the lack of publicity, although things still seemed quite busy!  The whole festival could do with with a vastly increased marketing spend and much more support from the local press, who continue to run reports on bad traffic lights and the project overruns on the local leisure centre when they could have been promoting something so much more positive.

So, here are my rules from this for public art:

  1. It must have a local base, or at least local oversight
  2. If it is meant to stay, it must be maintained
  3. If it is temporary, it must have a date for removal
  4. You have to tell people about it!
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Posted in: art, public art