We’re here today to talk about public art, its potential and experience for ourselves how it can impact upon a community. Hosted by Claire Doherty, Director of Situations, this is the second national event in the Public Art (Now) series, taking place at Homebaked, the community-led bakery grown from the ground up by Dutch artist Jeanne Van Heeswijk as part of her 2Up 2Down initiative, a key commission in Liverpool Biennial’s 2010 public art programme.
An appetising aroma in conjunction with background clatter from the till and kitchen emphasise that today’s workshop is being held in a very much alive and thriving bakery. Packed into this intimate setting are those primarily involved in public projects; curators, producers, a developer and the Anfield community associated with Homebaked.
The steel security shutters partially lower as Paul Kelly, a former Community Development Manager of the Liverpool Housing Action Trust prepares his presentation. Paul provides the context to the whole project, explaining the scale of regeneration occurring directly adjacent to the famous football stadium. Vast areas of land have been cleared and hundreds of empty shop fronts and terraced houses remain closed up. It is astonishing to see first-hand the extent of the city’s recent major transformation, from 1946 when there was a population of 870,000 to today where it is around 430,000. Unable to ignore these issues, artist Jeanne Van Heeswijk used her time in Liverpool to explore the communities in both Anfield and Breckfield.
Jessica Doyle, one of the co-founders and bakers of Homebaked comments on the lack of trust in the city council, with residents successively being evicted. The history of the building itself (formerly Mitchell’s Bakery, which served the community for 85 years) connects deeply with locals. The Liverpool Biennial’s initial support was unsustainable and therefore the community that built up since its conception began to look elsewhere for funding. The government approved £100,000 for the group to acquire the disused bakery, refurbish it and bring it into community ownership. A Kickstarter Campaign was also launched helping to raise an impressive £18,725. Jeanne Van Heeswijk, the initiating artist, now plays a much more invisible role in the project, although she still helps to support and direct it. By taking a step back she emphasises the integrity of her practice whilst handing an empowerment to the Homebaked team. Those involved in the early stages, such as Jessica Doyle, compare their involvement in the project to “…having a whole new education.”
Today, Californian artist and Futurefarmers founder Amy Franceschini introduces the first of four projects in development for Slow Space Bjørvika, the new public art programme for the city of Oslo. Futurefarmers have set up Flatbread Society (2007+), a diverse team who are working towards the development of Bakehouse Bjørvika, a permanent site dedicated to grain production and baking on the city’s coverted waterfront, produced by Situations.
The group divides into two for the first of today’s breakout sessions. Paired up and kitted out in aprons, we move into the back kitchen to rustle up some Irish soda bread. This exercise leads the group into the next discussion on the relationship between the artist and producer. Claire addresses Situations’ current project Bakehouse Bjørvika, describing how plans constantly change and how it is important to work with an artist that can navigate this. Anne Beate Hovind, project manager and developer for Slow Space Bjørvika recalls the initial assumptions about the proposed site –
“Initially there was no community, no one knew about the bakehouse. The temporary use of the allotment gardens/”Herligheten” soon opened the eyes of developers, planners and the public of the need for a different kind of programming – an engagement in creating public space alongside more organic site development. In parallel it has also raised awareness for urban gardening, urban farming and even political actions against GMO. In account of all this a situation now exists where the development of an urban farm growing ancient grains will include the building of a public, permanent bakehouse.”
Amy asserts they have now been made to feel extremely welcome and that the next step is finding a local partner. However, in order to create the “desired magical moments” they must try to change the professional planners’ mindsets, who often have a very linear way of developing. As Anne Beate-Hovind has described above the project began in the empty commons, offering 100 free allotment gardens to the public. The overwhelming response to this temporary food production zone (over 4000 applications were submitted) immediately excited the commissioners. It’s popularity provided a strong example to present to the planning board, making it easier for the artist’s creative process to move forward. Views from the group suggest part of the producer’s role in a successful public art project is to protect the artist and translate for them. Claire is adamant that with large-scale projects it is important to remain watchful and to make adjustments in order to maintain artistic integrity. It is exciting that although Bakehouse Bjørvika is totally different to its surroundings, the people of Oslo really want it.
It is now our turn to undertake a walking tour on housing, community and regeneration led by Homebaked member and LFC season ticket holder Jayne Lawless. Beginning the tour Jayne tells the group that 20 years ago Anfield was a pleasant area to live. However, it was one of many areas in the UK subject to the Housing Market Renewal Initiative (HMRI) and under this Jayne’s family were forced to take out a loan in order to afford the move to a new home. This debt has now been passed onto Jayne. The very engineered decline on this blighted area is self-evident in the extortionate number of ‘tinned-up’ houses. Jayne ends the tour by showing us the now green and fenced up area of land where her former family home once stood. The house was demolished in July 2013 with evictees receiving no compensation.
We arrive back to circulating trays of scones and Jessica distributing our earlier attempts at Irish soda bread. Finding a seat, we listen to moderator Lucy Antal and Claire Doherty address the points that really resonate from the day. It is certainly an epic task to sum up the day’s events. The concept for Homebaked was created in collaboration with the local community which is perhaps why it has become so successful. Artists who enter deprived areas like Anfield and introduce different ways of tackling situations of hardship, need to ensure they listen to the community. Homebaked is an open club, understanding the location and residents involved and because of this it prospers from a high level of trust. It is easy to talk about failure, but it is crucial that misguided judgements are recognised.
Let’s hope the queue outside continues to grow.
Clawson + Ward
Slow Space and Bjørvika Utvikling
Slow Space is a programme of public artworks set to unfold in Bjørvika, Oslo’s former container port, through collective activity, annual events and interventions, often in close collaboration with existing organisations and artist-run initiatives across the city. The programme is commissioned by Bjørvika Utvikling(BU), the development company that provides a common platform for dialogue with authorities and organisations involved in the Bjørvika Development – a major site of regeneration on Oslo’s waterfront.
BU is dedicated to progressive forms of supporting the arts as part of the development including a programme of temporary commissions in 2009-10 entitled Common Lands and the establishment of Kunsthall Oslo, an independent exhibition space for contemporary art in the Opera Quarter providing a permanent resource for the exhibition and exploration of artworks. In 2010, Bjørvika Utvikling invited UK-based producers Situations to devise a new curatorial vision for the area – one that would challenge preconceptions about the forms and timespan of conventional public artworks. Claire Doherty, Director of Situations, proposed Slow Space – an unfolding series of events and permanent projects that would gather together artists, architects, planners and curators from all over the world in Oslo to help us think about alternative approaches to public time as well as public space.
Bjørvika Utvikling established the subsidiary Bjørvika Infrastruktur, who is responsible for the construction of the commons, water-font promenade and technical infrastructure in the new city district in Oslo.