Sunday, October 31, 2010

ASK ANNA: Final SHOP episode

The final SHOP episode of Talking City Live took place on Thursday night.
ASK ANNA interviewed three people this time: First was local resident and SHOP attendee Michael Ogundibo about what he thought of Stoke Town. He also finished the episode by serenading ASK ANNA with a Lionel Richie number, which I have a feeling might be one of the agony aunt's favourites.

askanna and Michael Ogundibo from glen stoker on Vimeo.

Pam Rowlands - Landlady at the very successful local boozer 'The White Star' talked through how well the pub has been doing since it opened in 2008. The pub of course has an array of locally brewed Titanic Ale, which is delicious. Pam brought along three of the best sellers for ASK ANNA to try.

askanna talks ale with pam rowlands from glen stoker on Vimeo.

Then RE: Stoke's Clare Reynolds and Paul Rogerson came along to tell us about their work, and in particular the RE: Claim project they are working on which will be sited on the Spode Factory works.

askanna and re:stoke from glen stoker on Vimeo.

The final episode was great - but we still need to return to Stoke soon to make some 'adverts' about some of the shops in Stoke Town. We took the exhibition down then and there as another artist was taking over the shop the next day. It has been a whirlwind project - but I am sure that some very interesting information has been gathered.

I went along today to SHOP for the final event in SHOP's program - a Halloween themed meeting - a chance to have a chat and informally go over what has happened within the program - and talk about what the future might hold for SHOP. Gemma has been offered the premises til after Christmas - but obviously the art's council funding has all gone. Gemma has also been given a Shop premises in Hanley - which we will be using for our Conjunction Live Art event.

SHOP was Gemma's first big project - and I must say how impressive it has been. She has approached the project with an inclusive, experimental ethos - which has meant the project has appealed to a broad range of people. She has been very involved with the local businesses in Stoke, which is admirable. There are many empty shop projects which ignore their locality, and do not consider what happens once they are gone. SHOP has been the opposite of that. Gemma has worked with lots of artists, but has approached the curation and selection of (for example) the residency artists with true professionalism - assembling an eclectic mix of selectors to help her choose. As well as the residencies, SHOP has provided a space for many local artists to show and sell their work, plus providing studio space for recent graduates, and through my commission - allowed me to develop a new piece of work. Gemma is now working with those who have been involved in the project as volunteers and regular visitors to now 'transfer the keys' to them. It would be fantastic if the project could survive - and would show just how art projects can really revive and refresh places. SHOP has definitely brought numerous people in to the town to visit - which no doubt leads to increased business for traders in the town. I do not usually go to Stoke Town much, but have visited numerous times since SHOP opened, usually staying to drink in the local pubs afterwards, or do a bit of shopping. I really feel that SHOP has been a roaring success and feel that Gemma should be very pleased with how her very hard work has paid off. Well done Gemma!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Talking City Live: Interviews and Events

ASK ANNA interviewing Enterprise Coach Gayle Jessiman
We are more than halfway through the Talking City Project now, and it has been going down a storm.Culturing Stuff Oatcake demo
The interviews have gone really well - we have had oatcake demonstrations, live draws and a couple of music gigs. Michael Colley playing the Hang
There have also been two New Generation Space events, the first where I gave a talk about my practice and the second a tour of stoke and revisioning/rebuilding activity for artists.Saturday 16th October - just before I gave a talk about my practice
Saturday, 23rd October - setting out on the artists' tour
Artists looking at the details
We walked the streets - looking differently at the familiar - using binoculars and peeping through letter boxes for new ways of seeing the city
Considering what we thought about the developments that have already taken place
We then returned to SHOP and everyone shared their thoughts before getting started on the rebuild program.
Some of the ideas which the artists came up with included wi-fi hubs at spots around the town. A botanical garden walkway from the train station. A green bridge bringing visitors from the train station through the civic centre and into a fantastic green square with a fountain. The town became pedestrianised and cycle friendly - and a star shaped arts hub was built. Also GR codes were mentioned as something that could happen quickly and cheaply - which could act as a permanent tour through Stoke town history. I will write up the artist's findings to send through to URBED the Urban Design company currently working on the Masterplans for Stoke Town.
Friday night also saw the second episode of Talking City Live to broadcast from SHOP. There were an exciting array of guests including Kevin bell: Stoke Town regeneration Manager. ASK ANNA asked Kevin all about his role in the town and the sorts of activities he has seen happening.

ask anna interviews stoke town regeneration manager kevin bell from glen stoker on Vimeo.

Next up were David and Andrew, Directors of AirSpace Gallery. ASK ANNA asked them how they got started, what impact their activity might have had on the regeneration of Stoke, and finally how they plan to survive in light of the difficulties facing the arts.

ask anna presses AirSpace Gallery duo for answers. from glen stoker on Vimeo.

The Behjat Omer Abdulla spoke of why, as a recent graduate, he had stayed in Stoke. Behjat surprised the regeneration agony aunt by asking her to draw the winner of his 'Familiar Face' competition live on air - which was very exciting.

ask anna with behjat abdullah from glen stoker on Vimeo.

and then finally Kate Barfield and Greg Stephens (of the Boat Band) came along to talk about some of the site specific theatre projects they have been working on for the past few decades - they then closed the show with a lovely tune.

AskAnna asks Greg Stephens and Kate Barfield from glen stoker on Vimeo.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

ASK ANNA: Episode One

This Saturday saw the first of the ASK ANNA episodes to broadcast from SHOP. Six people came along to be interviewed, and our studio audience were fantastic.

First, SHOP's own Gemma Thomas talked about her inspiration for SHOP and what she hopes the legacy might be for the project.

ask anna interviews gemma thomas from glen stoker on Vimeo.

Next up local Enterprise Coach Gayle Jessiman talked about her work with new businesses in the area - and why we might have reason to be cheerful in Stoke.

ask anna and gayle jessiman from glen stoker on Vimeo.

Then there was a cooking demonstration from Culturing Stuff's Lisa and Chris - who showed us how to make the traditional Staffordshire Oatcake fresh that morning from 'Traditional Oatcakes' just down the road from SHOP.

ask anna interviews culturing stuff from glen stoker on Vimeo.

Local resident's association member Liz Perry came along to talk to us about her passion for seeing more green spaces in the Town, and to talk about the community garden she helped to set up on London Road.

ask anna in conversation with liz perry from glen stoker on Vimeo.

Then B Arts came along to talk to us about some of the projects they have worked on over their last 25 years in the City. Touching on why they do not feel that the massive cuts to the arts are a totally gloomy thing.

ask anna - b arts interview from glen stoker on Vimeo.

Finally, Michael Colley introduced us to his Hang. An instrument from Switzerland which he hopes could offer a manufacturing business opportunity for a local entrepreneur - economic regeneration through music.

ask anna meets michael colley from glen stoker on Vimeo.

The next instalment of Talking City Live is 7pm on Friday, 22nd October.

If you would like to be interviewed by the Talking City Agony Aunt then get in touch!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Talking City Live: with ASK ANNA

This Tuesday my new project Talking City Live kicks off. This is a commission from Art in Empty Spaces Project SHOP in Stoke Town. The project, led by Gemma Thomas has seen an empty shop in Stoke revived and revitalised - bringing hundreds of visitors into the town from far and wide to enjoy the multitude (and variety) of projects which have been taking place.
Tuesday will be Episode One, where ASK ANNA will be popping over to the Roundtable event at the Kings Hall, Stoke to hopefully video the event. Urbed (urban design company) have been employed to draw up a masterplan for Stoke Town (with a focus on the Spode site) and will be talking to people about this.
I will go along as ASK ANNA to meet the team and try to interview a few people, and also set up some Interview slots for the coming 'Episodes' to be broadcast from SHOP.
There will also be a number of opportunities for other artists and interested parties to get involved with two different Saturday events.

Saturday, 16th October: 1pm - Walking in the City (A talk about my practice to date.)

Saturday, 23 October: 1 - 2 TALKING CITY ON LOCATION in Stoke Town Tour (Episode Four)

Where I will lead a tour of Stoke Town, which will attempt to point out parts of the town that are working, as well as picking up on the areas which require most intervention. This is a session for artists, encouraging new ways of looking and seeing. Then we will return to SHOP and do a revisioning session from 2 – 5pm: Revisioning Stoke Town.

This session will be a chance to consider what we would like to see happening to the Town. The results will be on display in SHOP and the Urbed team will be invited to explore the artists findings which could inform their thoughts about the regeneration plans.
The three LIVE shows which will broadcast from SHOP will take place at the following times:

Episode Two: Saturday 16 October, 3 – 4pm, Live Interviews (SHOP)

Episode Three: Friday 22 October, 7 – 8pm, Live Interviews (SHOP)

Episode Five: Thursday 28 October, 7 – 8pm, Live Interviews (SHOP)

I already have some of the slots sorted for the Episodes, and these will include, Gemma Thomas (SHOP project manager), Behjat Omar Abdulla (Studio Artist at SHOP), Kevin Bell (Town Regen Manager of Stoke), The Boat Band (Musicians and regular visitors to SHOP) I also hope to carry out some demonstrations i.e. Cooking with Oatcakes, and floral arrangements - and I would like to get the Guy from the Record shop to talk through his top 5 records of all time, and also interview some of the volunteers that have been involved in the project...there is still alot to organise and get off the ground. Then once everything is complete it will be edited to create a 60 minute program, for the SHOP website, and as a record of the SHOP project.

If you would like to be interviewed as part of Talking City Live then email:

BCCA Questions

Yesterday's BCCA conference has left me with some questions - some of them are questions I have been grappling with for a while, and others are brand new ones.
The main one (which is of course the working title of my PhD thesis) concerns the artist's role. Steve Connelly (Town and Regional Planning, University of Sheffield) spoke about activism in the age of The Big Society - and talked about whether there could be any reason for hope in this age of austerity. He posed the question of whether the artists role in this age is as activist - and questioned what this might mean.
Neil Gray (Variant magazine) countered that the discussion of The Artist's Role raises a number of issues - the main one being in the term 'role' saying that this notion is in itself problematic. Why should the artist have a role over any other person - he also said that artists should stop seeing themselves as artists and should start seeing themselves as exploited workers - and should find common ground with other exploited workers.
The second question, or can of worms, involved considering what the value or worth is, of the activity which artists are engaged with. In particular this question was put to the practitioners in the room who had been paid to make work in West Bromwich for BCCA. We were asked - what is the real benefit of what you are doing/have done, and what do the public get out of it?
This question probably came at absolutely the worst time for me.
I have been struggling with this one myself over the past two weeks. I feel that I have been on a rollercoaster of artmaking for 2 years - not having time to stop and contemplate the direction I am going in, and whether what I think I am doing is actually what I am doing. I am very much concerned with the value and impact of cultural activity on cities and towns (in particular those in the throes of regeneration) and have been involved in an action research activity which has aimed to explore this - but I now realise that the action part has taken precedence - and what is desperately needed is a period of reflection on what it all might mean. In particular as I have been lucky enough to be funded to carry out a number of projects.
Is what I have been doing really useful/worthwhile in some way? Does the public get anything out of it? or is it just a flight of fancy - self-indulgent and exploitative of public funds?
Why is it that artists are always required to justify everything that they do? Is it because we received payment for it? I get paid to teach at the University too, but I do not have to provide a rationale as to the usefulness of this activity - it is accepted at face value.
I think that Neil Gray's point is a good one, Monika mentioned that for her, considering the project BCCA, if it were a personal project rather than one she was doing as a job, she would expect that people would get involved as volunteers. I would not be involved in this as a volunteer - I do plenty of things as a volunteer (AirSpace Gallery stuff), and would not travel elsewhere to do it. Monika said that as this was a project she was employed for, she felt it important that the artists get paid properly, but this would have been different if she were not doing it as a job.
I agree with the ethos of paying artists for their time - we are professionals - being employed on that basis - but question whether what is being said is backed up by the reality of the situation - if we were to look at the payment received by the artists for the amount of work which was done, it may look like close to minimum wage (for example: I received £650 for which I did a 5 day residency, plus 5 days collating/creating the works and information gathered during the residency and one day at the conference - if we were to take each day as 8 hours (which often it has been more than)- this would work out at £7.39 per hour.) For a professional this is decidedly cheap - and seems to uphold Neil's point - so why do we do it?
We do it because it is not just about the money, we do it because we believe in it, we do it because we want to make something and make something better - even if in a tiny way (and I am not saying that we are always successful in this), we do it because it is what we do.
So why should we do it for little pay or for free, and why, if we are paid at all, do we always have to justify it? Rich White grapples with these same questions in his piece of writing 'State of Practice ' from the Interrogation Conference - and talks about needing a reclassification of Art - feeling that some artists have got fat off the opportunities offered by the regeneration processes. He says
'In our currentsituation, where only very recently incredible amounts of money have been spent
on artworks, arts centres and regeneration projects involving artists, and we are now moving into a period where there is going to be less money available, we, as artists, have to make sure our work justifies its existence.'
I am not sure about that yet, but I have met some of these rogue artists (is it them who gives everyone else a bad name?) They are just as bad as the vulture regen professionals, who move from city to city - going where the next haul might be; not because they believe in it, or have some altruistic stance on failing places, but because they see money there. A couple of years ago there was an influx into Stoke - now that this particular flayed city has proven to be a dead duck, many of them have flown towards the Big City, and all that is promised by the Olympics.

I do feel that important information has been gathered out of some of the activity I have been involved in, within regeneration projects over the last few years - but what happens then? As Karen Leach framed at the conference 'Are we just talking to ourselves?' If it is only other artists and practitioners that get involved in the discussion around the findings, and look at the output from the activity, then is it really worthwhile?
Lots of questions to grapple with then.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

BCCA Conference this Saturday

On Saturday I will be heading back to West Bromwich to talk in the BCCA conference.
I will be presenting the work I did back in July when in residence in West Brom for a week.
I will talk about the interviews I did with the market stall holders (focusing on the lack of information which is filtering through about the future of the market - and the desperate need for signage telling people about the market in the town centre) and I will also talk about the shop audit I did on the pedestrianised section of the high street - setting out how many empty shops, how many phone shops and how many pawn shops there are.
This piece was in response to one of the conversations I had in the market (with the gentleman who owns the children's clothing stall) he said that the high street was full of empty shops, mobile phone shops, discount shops and banks - and nothing else.
There are actually:
13 discount shops
6 charity shops
9 betting or pawn shops
11 empty shops and
5 banks/building societies
There are no mobile phone shops on the high street - but there are quite a few to be found inside Queens Square.
I have just 10 minute slot, so I think that will be enough.
Part of the project work I did is in the 3rd edition of the BCCA, which can be downloaded here, or picked up from the market stall or from the conference.
The conference will take place at the PUBLIC - and you can book a place by emailing

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Interrogation: West Bromwich Over and Out

Interrogation: West Bromwich has been and gone. Over four Wednesdays in September groups of artists came to a little (previously) empty shop in Queens Square shopping centre - the Interrogation Room.

Planning time with Rich White
The night before their mission they would receive a text with instructions and a code phrase to deliver. They would all be issued with an agent uniform and a methodology to follow for the day's response. We gave them historical information about the Town and also sketched out the regen plans - asking the artist to respond to these and the physical reality of the High street. We would then take a quick tour - before the Agent Artists would be given lunch and planning time.

A tour with Michael Pinsky and the Agents
The artists would then have 2 hours and 15 minutes to carry out their Mission response in the High Street.

Agent's plotting
So, over the four weeks the High street has seen a party to celebrate West Brom.

Happy public reaction to a party.
A new anti-art space - The Private.

Artists have created numerous reframing opportunities for the people of West Brom to engage with, usually as a starting point for discussion about the Town. Some artists responded better than others to the project, but I feel sure that at least they all had an immense experience.
Each week we have been joined by a specialist artist - who has worked with the Agent's to develop their ideas.

In week one the mission was Action Research and Micheal Pinsky was the specialist artist.
Then in week two the mission was Participation and we had the wonderful Ania Bas to work with the agents.

Agent Lynch with Phil from Juneau Projects.
Week Three was Site specific and the marvellous location specific artist Rich White did a great job supporting the agents in developing their ideas. Then in the final week Phil and Ben from Juneau Projects pitched in and supported the artists.
The people of West Brom seemed quite shocked by our presence at first, but over the weeks people became used to us, and it seemed they became more ready to talk to and work with the artists.

interrogation:action reasearch from glen stoker on Vimeo.

The project culminated in an exhibition and conference (on Friday 1st October) where all of the specialist artists returned to speak - Rich White introduced an exclusive new piece of writing for the conference called 'State of Practice' (read it here) and we also heard from Gemma Thomas about her Stoke based empty SHOP project (Gemma was also one of the Agents this year). Rednile spoke about their regen based works - they were employed as Double Agents - as we were very keen to evaluate the programme this year - so we asked them to give us feedback from the artists point of view as to how they found the process. We finished the conference with a discussion activity - in order to map out where artists are bridging gaps, what these gaps are being filled with and what the concerns and issues might be for artists and the public in relation to this gap filling. WE are still collating the information and the films from the day - and will add them soon - but for now go to the project blog to see documentation of all of this years projects.