Thursday, January 16, 2014

Birder's Paradise: Appetite Commission

Andrew Branscombe and I have embarked upon a new commission. We are thrilled that the ideas we had to develop a project called Birder's Paradise (see previous blog for details of history) has been commissioned by Appetite (part of the Arts Council's Creative, People and Places programme to bring arts to areas where there is less uptake in arts and culture) which sees 3 million in arts funding coming to the city of Stoke-on-Trent, specifically to build audiences in the area. Our commission comes from The Kitchen section of the Appetite programme, supporting artists in the area to research and develop ideas, and providing seed funding for projects.
We sent in an expression of interest to Appetite, as we felt their remit, to create an appetite for the arts in Stoke, through a variety of commissions could fit really well with our ideas for Birder's Paradise, which would bring arts to the public via conversations about Birds and Wildlife to be found locally.
Here is the proposal that we sent in.

Birder's Paradise: Stoke-on-Trent.
A Birder is different from a Twitcher. While Twitchers will travel miles to see an exotic or rare bird type, Birders are much more interested in spending time with the wildlife and creatures that surround them in their daily lives. This is something that we, as artists, feel an affinity with, in relation to Stoke-on-Trent. To give an idea of our possible approach to involvement in the Appetite Programme we propose to create a mobile research lab 'Birder's Paradise' a mobile bird hide, which can travel to open spaces around Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire, to gather data, identify species and deliver activities and events which create a dialogue with residents and users of the sites about wildlife in their local vicinity. The conversations around wildlife are meant as a 'way-in' to talking to the people of the area about where they live, and what makes it special. Unlike some of the other Appetite projects, the appetites we will be discussing will be of the avian variety – and we will be able to talk to people about urban birdlife, what they eat, and how they can be supported.
The content gathered from those conversations will lead to developments within the project and inform the direction of our response. We know, from personal experience, that taking an interest in green spaces and the wildlife there can improve health and wellbeing, and hope to talk to the public in Stoke-on-Trent about how they experience their local environment, and what other ways they may like to engage with it.
Andrew Branscombe: Ingrained 2010
We are Andrew Branscombe and Anna Francis (AirSpace Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent.) In terms of previous relevant experience: we have plenty of experience of managing projects which engage the public, and which lead to developments, we welcome the opportunity to tell you about some of these projects in a meeting. Also, we have recently developed a small Yarden Space at the back of our artist-led gallery into a Bird Haven, where planting and landscaping is all planned to support the diversity of birds and other wildlife in the city centre, which can act as a catalyst and learning space to encourage others to consider our feathered friends in the planning and use of urban spaces. The project was complete in April, 2013 - and we would love to embark on a venture around the area, where we can take our knowledge from the Bird Yarden on the road, and visit other areas of the city, to talk to people about what it is like to live there and the diversity of wildlife in those areas. As practitioners we have an interest in how artists can have an impact on the environment, and urban development.
Anna Francis, Brownfiled Ikebana 2012
A recent project 'Brownfield Ikebana' shows the type of approach we would take to public workshops on the sites where the Birder's Paradise Hide could visit. In 'Brownfield Ikebana,' Anna used traditional Japanese flower arranging techniques as a starting point for workshops and performances, bringing participants to a local Brownfield site. The workshop saw participants using and identifying 'weeds' and litter to create beautiful flower arrangements, but more importantly to discuss these interim sites and their uses and importance.

The Birder's Paradise project would involve a number of stages, some of the content of which is unknown as yet - as our usual working methodology allows space for participants and site to impact on direction, and activity, but to give an idea:

1. Construct the mobile bird hide: The mobile bird hide would be a converted caravan, camouflaged to blend in to Green and Urban Open Spaces, but also referencing traditional bird hides. The bird hide would act as a temporary work space and hub for working on various sites in the area.
2. Research and development stage: This would see the artists making connections in the various locations, meeting stake holders and identifying key people to involve in the project. We would identify specific locations and then visit these areas to undertake research; looking at uses, users and preliminary identification of wildlife types, and planning our next stage/response. 
3. Intensive Discovery Period: We would endeavour to spend time on the sites, holding workshops, collecting data, making art works. These will be planned and designed in relation to the people and sites identified in the research and development stage, and would centre around what it is like to live and work in the areas, and what can be done to involve people more in the arts in these areas. 
4. Presentation: we will allow the process to determine what our final product is, but for example it may be works for an exhibition; venue to be found during residency, or a mobile exhibition in 'The Mobile Bird Hide' returning to the areas previously visited, and presenting a vision of Green Stoke.

We hope that Birder's Paradise will demonstrate that developing an appreciation and knowledge of wildlife and nature is possible in built up areas and that spending time in green spaces can be incredibly important to the health and well being of residents. 
Appreciating and nurturing urban birds is a mutually beneficial activity, for bird and human, and ultimately we hope that the project will start to reframe familiar sites for residents and users, encouraging people to use open green spaces more, and not just the landscaped civic ones. We also hope it will create conversation - leading to content which talks about what life is like in this area, and how citizens can make it better.
Budget items:
Purchase of caravan and renovation
Other materials for workshops and temporary exhibition
Artists Fees: 2 X artists for 10 contact days plus other time spent.

We also sent in images from previous works, and our C.V.'s. 
We were really pleased that our expression of interest began a conversation with the Appetite producers; to explore how the commission could support us as artists in working on a project locally, what we hoped to gain in experience, and how this could be build into the Appetite Kitchen programme of support for artists in the city. The commission was granted, and we are now embarking on the project. They will be announcing a call for Year Two commissions soon, so artists: watch this space.
So far, we have purchased a caravan, and found a site to store it and renovate it - transforming it from domestic holiday home, to urban bird hide.
Andy has ripped out the innards of the caravan, and will be rebuilding in the style of the bird hides that we have seen in our research process. (see Andy's write up here.) 
We are aiming to secure partnerships with 4 sites around the city to take our mobile bid hide in the Spring and Summer - and carry out our research processes, and creation of artworks. Then we will plan and deliver workshops on the sites with the public, or stakeholders. We hope that the sites we choose will be a combination of different types of land: managed green space, for example, the grounds of a stately home or public park, wetland spaces - for example Middleport Lake, a Brownfield Site and an inner city green haven are all possibilities to explore. We will begin the process shortly of finding partners or stakeholders in those areas, and discovering who might be interested in working with us.
One of the things I am hoping to learn about during the project, as well as exploring how the different sites support bird and other wild life - I want specifically to learn about how mosses and lichens can be used to ascertain the pollution and air quality of an area, and look at ways of working with these fascinating plants.
We are really looking forward to working with the Appetite Team to make connections, and are really grateful for the opportunity to see our ideas develop.
We are also pleased that there may be an opportunity within the project to see the artwork commissioned by Capsule for the New Library of Birmingham (see previous post) will be reused in the libraries around Stoke-on-Trent prior to our residencies around the city with the bird hide, as a way of raising awareness of what we are doing, and advertising out workshops and activity.
The Appetite programme is supported using public funding by Arts Council England and led by the New Vic Theatre in partnership with B ArtsBrighter FuturesPartners in Creative Learning and Staffordshire University. Appetite is also supported by Stoke-on-Trent City Council.


Unknown said...

it was great to meet you today at the waving not drowning event. this sounds and looks like a fabulous project, i love your characters and interactions. it has been inspirational to hear about your practise. Jane George

Anna Francis said...

Thanks Jane, that's great to hear! Hope all is well with you.