THE OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES FOR REIMAGINING PUBLIC SPACES IN A POST-COVID WORLD THROUGH PUBLIC ART

Neighbourhood counts

As the pandemic continues to toy with our everyday life, disrupting the way we work, social engagement and the places we visit, at FrancisKnight our thoughts have turned to the opportunities and challenges for reimagining public spaces in our post-Covid world. 

It seems that a lot of changes have already been happening. Locally here in Kent, our road system is being adapted with the introduction of new cycling lanes. In Sevenoaks, proposals for a Cultural Quarter to promote more outdoor events such as food festivals and film screenings have received support to help the town recover. 

Nationally, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, the artistic director of the Serpentine Galleries, has called for an ambitious multimillion-pound public investment to enable cultural institutions to create a new generation of artists. Internationally, the influence of a public art per cent policy, introduced in the late 1980s in Western Australia, has seen an increase in public art policies being implemented by Perth Councils, leading to a rise in art and sculptures being installed at schools, hospitals, train stations, apartment buildings, public spaces and commercial buildings across the state.  Recently vacant buildings and empty shop fronts have been transformed in Houston, Texas with 18 public art installations dubbed windowWorksto prevent the Downtown District from looking empty. 

From our own more personal perspective, we’ve watched countless webinars and contributed to many discussions exploring how best to work with artists in the current situation, with a particular focus on placemaking. There seems to be an increased appetite and greater recognition that people want more and will demand more from their high streets, town and cities and the public spaces they encompass than ever before. We were particularly pleased to contribute to a Visioning Day with Dover District Council in preparation for their Local Plan. Debates focused on the area's uniqueness, and how to be braver, more radical, ambitious and aspirational in their approach. We posed the question: How can we look to ‘elevate the local’ through the use of public art? A phrase that seemed to resonate and became adopted through the ensuing discussion. Other contributors reflected the need to be inclusive, to listen to the younger voice, embrace digital communication and reflect the past with contemporary solutions– all valid points that chime with the way we like to work too.

Lockdown and social distancing have enabled many of us to reconsider how we should use our time, our urban spaces and how we interact with the natural world around us. Climate change and ecological drivers demand that we review how we use materials and create sustainable places, striving to create more livable and usable public realm, which add greater value to human experience. We’re determined to utilise this new way of living to consider how we could influence the pedestrian, to take more time to look and see and ultimately appreciate what is already around us.

How does this impact on our role in delivering public art? Well, we work with artists in helping to shape places and tease out the character and identity of local areas. We do this by matching the right artist to the right project and creating consequential and transformational engagement with local people and communities. Artists never fail to question, surprise and delight us every time with their responses and ideas. 

We recently unveiled new public art murals at Wivelsfield Railway Station Bridge with artists Maria Amidu and Lionel Stanhope. A project delivered during lockdown restrictions in a fun and imaginative way, created with and overwhelming supported by the local community. “Because Neighbourhood Counts” a new moto for the community has greater significance than ever before.  

If CoVID-19 has taught us anything it’s how to enjoy and connect with our own neighbourhoods. It’s so important that we live in places that are loved and looked after, that are well designed, accessible and are life-enhancing places to spend time.    

We would like to see more artists invited onto design teams with commercial developers, housing associations and local authorities to authentically collaborate as equals alongside architects, regeneration officers, masterplanners and construction leaders to help shape new developments and public open space. If social distancing is the new norm, let’s create more interest and connection in the hard and soft landscaping, in meaningful artworks and the spaces between buildings.   

It doesn’t always have to be permanent either, some of our most interesting projects have been temporary interventions, artist-led walks, performances and pop up workshops.  In fact, this is where true creative thinking and collaboration starts for many artists: talking to people and thinking about how communities can be engaged in new developments and regeneration schemes.  

With the Prime Minister calling for Britain to ‘build, build, build’our way  out of the Covid crisis, and a new Government White paper ‘Planning for the Future’currently out to consultation, it’s encouraging to read that; “This Government doesn’t want to just build houses. We want a society that has re-established powerful links between identity and place, between our unmatchable architectural heritage and the future, between community and purpose.”   

As a public art consultancy, FrancisKnight has always placed the emphasis on those powerful links. The question is, how will the decision makers rise to the challenge?   

 

Lost Without Music

AQQ

It was a great sadness to receive an email from the music manager at Pizza Express Maidstone to say that they would not be re-opening the restaurant and music venue. 

It has been a lifeline for world class music in Maidstone since it opened in 1989.

As we reflected on the great times we have had there both individually and as FrancisKnight, it reminded us that we have had a relationship with this venue in all sorts of capacities since 1993.

Highlights include:

Showcasing Maidstone based visual artists in 1993 when Pizza Express gave us free room hire.

Performing two gigs in 1995 and 2008 with 8 piece bands squeezed onto the tiny stage. 

Featuring the venue in our legendary Artist Quarter Quarterly booklet written by Mark Hewitt.  Pizza Express ‘Singer’s Night’ made number 1 in our 10 top things to do in Maidstone. We also interviewed the hosts Clare Durling and Claire Louise Harris in an article about the venue.

We have celebrated birthdays, enjoyed Christmas do’s and great nights out. Our last visit was for a boozy smooze with co-worker Roger Williams and the jazz funk band playing was fab.

A Friday night in Pizza Express Maidstone always set the right tone for the weekend ahead. We are gonna miss you!

#BlackLivesMatter

It’s been a week since #blackouttuesday, a week of thinking and reflection.  Last Tuesday was a busy day for FrancisKnight and it wasn’t until the end of the day that I checked in on our social media accounts.  I was completely taken aback at the black squares that came up. I had obviously completely missed something, not listened, not understood.  I hadn’t missed the brutal death of George Floyd but what should I do? I didn’t know how to respond, I didn’t know what to say. Posting a black square with a hashtag wasn’t good enough.  I started to educate myself, read more, listen harder, ask more questions particularly of myself and how we operate our business. We are a female led business rooted in the arts but positioned within the construction industry.  Let’s be clear, this isn’t an easy route, it’s a predominantly male sector with its own set of working practices and networks and we have worked hard to meet the challenges of building our business in this sector.  But perhaps that’s the point, we’ve still had choice, encouragement, opportunities alongside hard work and determination.  We are as a business a continual work in progress, finding our voice in a male dominated sector. So, here’s where we start. We question our own practices, can we do more, can we do better? Undoubtedly.  I started to digest information, it was overwhelming, I signed petitions, donated to funds, sought out trusted resources suggested by friends and colleagues.  Action, that was what was needed, actions speak louder than words, don’t’ they? It started with conversations in my own family and within FrancisKnight.  I’m thinking about it every day. To start, some great resources shared by my good friend Kate Chapman, and if theatre is your thing she directs you to a collection of work by leading writers and performers. An emotional Vlog post ‘Leaders are Not Silent’ from Dr Wayne Wright, business coach and mentor from our home town, the impassioned and highly charged speech from Clara Amfo and revisiting Dave’s performance at the Brit Awards this year.  So where to start, well, it was a colleague we’re currently working with at bptw. Architect Peter Sofoluke, who gently suggested a couple of books. I’m an avid reader, so although Why I’m not Longer Talking to White People about Race Reni Eddo-Lodge, was temporarily out of stock  it is downloadable from Audible, which has a 30-day free trial. If like me you love a podcast, the High Low by Pandora Sykes and Dolly Alderton offers up Anti-Racism Resources and an Author Special with Candice Brathwaite. So that’s me at the moment, listening to Reni as she talks me through black history and systemic racism. This is what I had missed, not listened to, not understood.  This is how I wake up, listen, try to understand and respond.  Louise

Lockdown Walk

 

 On my daily walks I have been exploring my neighbourhood and over the weeks yarn bombing has taken hold of the street furniture. Knitted and crochet sleeves cover the sign posts, garden gates hang decorations and windows display rainbow-tastic tasselled creations.  I imagine an army of knitters called to duty with the task to produce these gems or maybe it's a lone crafter on their own crusade? As well as brightening up the scenery, they bring optimism and a smile and every day I look forward to discovering more as I hunt for the next brightly coloured treasure. 

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Planning Awards 2020 SHORTLISTED Chatham Placemaking Project

planningAwards shortlist   

Some positive news in these uncertain times, FrancisKnight are delighted to announce that the Chatham Placemaking Project has been shortlisted for the Planning Awards 2020 in the award category for best use of arts, culture or sport in placemaking. This is a true recognition of the talented, creative artists’ team that connected, celebrated and gave voice to the past, present and future communities that made the Chatham Placemaking project such a success.

Medway Council were awarded £4 million government funding for Chatham Placemaking Project, a public realm scheme to regenerate a pedestrian route from the station to the town centre. Asequential route of connected locations and points was proposed with improvements at Chatham Station, New Cut Junction, St John's Square, Lower Railway Street and Military Square.  FrancisKnight, Public Art Consultants were appointed by Medway Council to commission artists to identify and scope creative public realm opportunities along the route. They commissioned Lead Artist Christopher Tipping to collaborate with the design team, LDA Design and Project Centre, on design solutions that resulted in permanent public art interventions as a compelling resolution to the regeneration of the public realm.

The artist team was expanded to work alongside Christopher Tipping including Writer Rob Young, Printmaker Xtina Lamb, Filmmaker Simon Williams and Furniture Maker Andrew Lapthorn. Together the team developed a community engagement programme with artist led workshops, school activity and community consultation inviting local people to contribute their stories, share personal photographs and archive material. 

The resulting work begins at Chatham Station with text embedded into the extra wide kerbs resonant of Chatham’s Historic Dockyard; this detail continues along the route. Seating, with timbers donated from the dockyard are placed at New Cut with historical and anecdotal text in the paving. A set of curved granite steps with wave step ends sandblasted with conversations and stories at St John’s Square open up the vista towards the town centre.  Lower Railway Street has new street benches on improved paving laid in a herringbone pattern to reflect the tailors and outfitters that once traded in the town. Text laid into the extra wide kerb detail acknowledges a variety of retailers past and present.  Finally, Military Square features an installation of 400 bespoke radius-cut artscape blocks of granite set into a 17m diameter circle. 

The use of materials, historic, physical and social influences in the public realm has created a contemporary streetscape with a connected, positive journey that is bold, attractive and more convivial. Chatham Placemaking celebrates a sense of place with the community by embeddingtext and pattern with a mix of eavesdrops, stories and historic fact to create a play of words, which suggests that what makes a town, is the people and their voices - however small, quiet and ordinary.

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