On Thursday I met Gemma Thomas in Stoke Town to talk about the opening of her SHOP.
Gemma has been given a little shop, right next to the Spode Factory Site in the town. It is a reasonably sized two room space, with a lot of windows. Gemma has lots of ideas and plans for the venue - and is taking an eclectic multi-disciplinary approach. She is offering a number of residencies for artists, as well as opportunities for exhibitions, commissions and other project based activities and events which will be happening. Gemma is keen to involve lots of practitioners and already has artists, musicians, actors and craft makers on board for the programme. This Thursday will be the first 'event' to take place at the shop. The event is a sort of site visit for the practitioners who will be involved in the project, and will consist of a tour of Stoke, some background delivered from the Shop and a facilitated activity (which is where I come in.) Gemma has commissioned me to set up a mapping activity to take place on Thursday. The activity will serve a number of purposes: it will help the practitioners to orientate themselves in the Town, and will also help us to create a first piece of work to be displayed in the shop window, but as well as this it is an important awareness raising activity. The practitioners will be tasked with going into the town to identify 'Independent Shops' in order to record them, they will aim to interview the shop keepers, and photograph their hands holding something which represents them and their business. They will then return to the shop where we will create a 'Map of Independence.' The shopkeepers will be asked if they would like to be kept informed about developments at SHOP, and hopefully will help to embed SHOP within the town, and build relationships.This information will be collated and will become a document of Independent Shops in Stoke today. I will also be working on a more immersive mapping activity during July, which will be developed into a tour and maybe an exhibition in SHOP at the end of August.We also popped over to Spode to have a word with Allen - site manager there, and see if we can include Spode in the site tour on Thursday.
SHOP is a project which Gemma has instigated in Stoke, which will bring artists and other creative practitioners together to revitalise, revive and set out possible future visions for the empty high street shop. This project has been funded through the art council's unprecedented 'Art in Empty Spaces' project which has seen more than £500,000 awarded to projects like this across the U.K.View from upstairs in SHOP
It will be interesting to watch what develops as a result of activity of this kind. I am also really keen to find out what the general public think about empty spaces being used in this way, which is something I hope to tap into within the project.
I carried out a test interview, as an example to show the practitioners on Thursday - my interview took place with the proud 'owner' of Number 116 Church Street.
Shop name: SHOP
How long have you been open?
Today is the first day.
What do you sell/do?
We are animating an empty space - not just this shop, but the whole town, by bringing a mixture of artistic activity to excite local residents.
What's it like - running a business in Stoke?
I imagine it's a challenge, but I'm quite excited about that.
Can you give me or let me photograph an object that sums up your business?
The keys to SHOP!
Roll on Thursday...