Looking Forward,  Looking Back 

 Pujji montage

As we begin the new year, it is of course the usual time to look forward, to set out goals and hopes for the months to come. While we have many exciting projects and plans in the pipeline that we are looking forward to sharing with you in due course, we are mindful that for many, January 2021 does not feel like a big leap forward into a brave new world, but rather more like Groundhog Day, stuck as we are in the midst of another national lockdown here in the UK. However, while some developments may be stalling or in stasis, others are gaining momentum. We have been thinking how it seems that society may need art even more now than ever before to enable us all to process and heal from the world-shifting events of 2020. 

We have recently been inspired by listening to this episode of The Art Newspaper podcast which discusses the removal of a Confederate statue from the Capitol building two weeks after it was attacked by right-wing mobs.  And also this episode of The Developer podcast, where Christine Murray talks with the Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees. As part of their wide-ranging conversation about development, they discuss the removal of the Coulston statue in Bristol during the Black Lives Matter protests, and the renaming of Coulston Hall. At one point Rees says: “It’s about what we choose to remember, what we choose not to remember. But we have to have that fuller understanding of who we are, before we can get into that conversation. We need to tell the fuller story of our places.”

Of course, telling stories of places is core to our work here at FrancisKnight. How we use art to remember people and events – for better or worse – is a question we need to give thought to – and Black Lives Matter and the pandemic are both recent experiences that have brought this issue to the fore. To what extent should a memorial be about commemorating those we have lost and reflecting on the past and how much is about celebrating the living and looking to the future and who we are now or want to become? It is interesting to note how there is a tradition of creating memorials to enable the living to heal and enable life to flourish for the next generation as much as to commemorate and mourn the loss of the last.

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London is commissioning a memorial garden to be created in the Olympic Park that commemorates the thousands of Londoners who have died due to COVID.  33 blossoming trees will reflect each London borough and will form the centre piece of the garden, which will be open to the public. “This public garden of blossom trees will be a permanent reminder of the lives that have been lost, a tribute to every single key worker, and a symbol of how Londoners have stood together to help one another.”

Our experience commissioning the Pujji Memorial in Gravesend and more recently producing a sculptural seat and waymarkers for an individual who was sadly lost to Covidhas taught us a few key points that are important to consider when commissioning memorials. Firstly, listen, to a community, relatives or colleagues. Secondly, approach a memorial commission with compassion and give it time.  Thirdly, be considerate when thinking of a  location and give a memorial space so that people can spend time to reflect.  Finally, be aware that this is an emotive subject. At FrancisKnight we work with artists to consider a celebratory approach, to help commemorate and pay tribute. It is always a privilege to be engaged with commissioning memorials that can strike a balance between the personal and the public.


2020 - What a Difference a Year Makes

 Screenshot 2020 12 14 at 11.12.24

As 2020 draws to a close, we’ve been looking back over the past year and thinking about impact. Both the impact we have made through our work over the past 12 months, and also the impact that this strange year has made on us, our clients and the artists and project partners we work with as well as the wider world.

Back in January we were celebrating our work with Craven District Council and Great Place: Lakes and Dales (GPLD) and artist Mary Woolf as part of a programme to use art, culture and heritage to attract and retain young people to live and work in the area. New projects with Golding Homes, Mid Sussex District Council and Redrow Homes were just getting started.

Then of course the pandemic hit but we continued working – albeit in a different way, bending and flexing to work in new ways with our clients.  It also gave us the chance to explore our own neighbourhoods and appreciate the creativity seen during our lockdown walks.

In April we were delighted to make the shortlist for the Planning Awards 2020,  for the Chatham Placemaking Project scooping a Highly Commended in the Placemaking category and comments from the judges: “A high quality scheme with great attention to detail. Great to see the community involvement”

Whilst we have been fortunate to have much to celebrate this year, the events of 2020 have also highlighted that we all have more work to do towards making places better for everyone. The Black Lives Matter movement gave us all pause for thought and raised awareness of ongoing issues with racial inequality and prejudice in both the UK and around the world. And the economic fallout of the Covid crisis has had a huge impact on so many of our colleagues in the arts and of course so many other industries. We were particularly sad to lose our local Pizza Express although we hear on the grapevine that the building is being revamped into The Green Room, Maidstone’s newest venue for food, drink and music.  

As the decline in the British High Street and engagement with the traditional bricks and mortar retail landscape has continued to shift online over the last few months, we’ve enjoyed being part of the debate to imagine a new way of using the public realm.  There is no doubt that the arts can play a huge part in this and it’s been interesting to see support for Cultural Quarters, Meanwhile Uses and people wanting and demanding more from their High Streets. Our recent project in Wivelsfield definitely brightened up a dreary bridge underpass as artist Maria Amidu invited the local community to come up with a motto for their neighbourhood.  

More recently we have enjoyed finding new ways to connect with our peers in the construction and property development industry by joining the first KCFG Virtual Conference and talk more about how working in close partnership and collaboration has been central to our successful navigation of these challenging times – drawing inspiration from the creativity of artists and design teams, seeing the world afresh and creating thought-provoking art.

Spending time outdoors visiting sites with projects in progress particularly Rochester Riverside and Conningbrook Lakes has proved a vital source of inspiration and motivation.  It has been a joy to commission artists who connect to nature through their work, celebrating the diversity of the environments we live and work in.

It’s been a rollercoaster of a year and we were pleased to celebrate 16 years in business and two successful bids to Arts Council and DCMS through their Emergency Response Fund and Cultural Recovery Fund. 

Looking ahead to 2021, we are working with Great Place: Lakes & Dales on the virtual launch of Public Art Now!  Save the Date – Thursday 14th January. A campaign produced by us to empower younger culture and voices in public art commissioned by Great Place: Lakes & Dales.

We will also be sharing a series of projects aimed at Demystifying Public Art, that include film commissions, podcasts and digital downloads. We will be joined in conversation and highlighting the work we undertake with artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, photographers, architects and industry professionals. More news in the New Year!  

Finally here’s to the local yarn bombers who have cheered us up during this year with their garden gate decorations and window displays. A knitted Christmas robin, tree and mince pie appeared on the corner post box over night- a lift to the spirits on a wintery day!


front view Conningbrook Lakes Copy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Artist Commission Tim Norris 

In spite of the latest lockdown this month we’ve enjoyed getting out to visit the site of our current project with Ashford Borough Council where we are working with Tim Norris to develop a sculptural bird hide in Conningbrook Lakes Country ParkThe public art for this site aims to celebrate the unique environment of Conningbrook Lakes with particular focus on the diverse and abundant wildlife. Tim’s work draws its inspiration from the surrounding landscape, and where possible uses materials that have a direct significance with its location. Rather than produce purely furniture or sculpture, he is interested in creating inspirational commissions that interact with people to help them to relax, playenjoy and appreciate their environment. 
As we are in a second lockdown, now more than ever country parks and green spaces are so important. They provide access to spaces helping us to exercise outdoors, time for quiet contemplation and connection with nature in contemporary busy world during Covid.
Whilst non-essential shops remain closed it’s worth remembering that we have a wealth of green space across the UK that we all have access to – including National Parks, Country Parks, urban parks, National Trust, English Heritage, woodland, forestry commission and rural farmland, byways and waterways, coastal areas etc. plus privately owned estates and sculpture parks and gardensIt was great to see Yorkshire Sculpture Park promote their grounds remaining open to visit and enjoy sculpture in the open air, connecting with nature and art.
Venturing Northour work with Great Place: Lakes & Dales reminds us of the role of public art in a rural context. Our chapter in Public Art Now! explores how artists engage within rural settings and communities and how public art can be an effective way to reconnect with nature and our green spaces.  In the Lake District National Park,‘the UK’s most visited National Park’an emphasis on family –friendly activity and engagement is the driving force behind their public art commissioning.  Public art needs to incorporate high-quality design, stimulate, educate, be relevant,be appropriate, be interactive,be functional and be elemental.  
Closer to home (for us) in Ashford, Kentartists Julia Clarke, Tim Norris and Outdoor Studios have been selected for their specialisms in creating large-scale outdoor sculptural works and outdoor activities, drawing inspiration from the surrounding landscapes and using natural materials such as locally sourced timber, willow and foraged flora and faunaOnce installed at Conningbrook Lakes, these artworks will be on the doorstep for new residents, workers at the local factories and visitors to the park.  Perfect to take a ‘local commute’ to help break up home-working and signal the start or end of your business day or to refresh your mind and body during a lunch break.
Have you discovered local places and got out and about more than usual this year?  


Chatham Placemaking project

                                                                                                                                                              Image: Film still 'These Are Our Streets' by Simon Williams with designs by Xtina Lamb.
Together we're stronger: collaborating to create more sustainable developments and communities for our post-Covid world.       
Much of our role as public art consultants involves collaboration. 
This month’s Kent Construction Live Virtual Conference reminded us of the power of connecting with a wider industry network beyond our usual day-to-day partnerships with construction companies, developers, local authorities, housing associations, architects and artists. One of Kent’s first big online events for the construction sector, it was a day to get together via Zoom and hear how others are navigating the current challenges and finding opportunities to build more sustainable developments and communities as we emerge from the Covid crisis.
It was great to listen to local industry professionals like Guy Holloway and Mark Quinn talk about their work and particularly to hear Guy remarkBy creating projects where communities come together we will develop a much richer society. The value artists, makers and creatives bring to place is astounding. The creative industries should be seen as the leader in regenerating towns because they have so much to contribute.
The work we are doing for the £400 million Rochester Riverside development with Countryside Properties (UK) Ltd and The Hyde Group is a perfect example of this, with commissioned artists and architects working together to produce fully integrated and embedded public art. 
It has been particularly rewarding to engineer a successful pairing between artist Chris Tipping and BPTW architects practice. As Public Art Consultants we are often hidden in this process, negotiating and facilitating a place at the table for artists. Public Art is often overlooked and it’s fair to say we’re tenacious in ensuring that artists commissioned by FrancisKnight work closely with the design team to fully integrate and embed the public art through a meaningful creative collaboration. Fostering a way of working between artists and architects at early stages of a development scheme can lead to thought provoking art and moments of joy. 
As part of the London Festival of Architecture last year we shared some insights from our inter-disciplinary work facilitating this particular collaboration with an interview between Chris and Peter  Sofoluke,  Associate Architect  at BPTWClick here if you’d like to read more.
We look forward to sharing more about this project as we reach completion of the latest phase. We will be sharing more of our own top tips for how we make collaborations like these work effectively in future posts.



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 windowWorks to 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?   


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