Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Community Maker 2016

Community Maker is a 3 year project, a partnership between British Ceramics Biennial (now known as The Clay Foundation - since the activity delivered is all year around, and not just during the Biennial) and AirSpace Gallery. 
In 2015 - the project was all about aiming to create space for a community to get together, eat, meet and make - and explore together, how to develop the area. I am the lead artist of the project, and much of my thinking around the project stems from the very interesting dilemma of being an artist and a resident. I have worked in public and community contexts many times over the years, but this is the first time I have done so within my own neighbourhood. The interest for me stems from the context we, as a family, find ourselves in, as members of the £1 home scheme - we were tasked, as part of the deal, with being 'active members of the community - and agreeing to be part of community life, using our skills and resources to support the community to develop.' We, and 32 other households across 4 streets agreed to this when we took on our £1 houses in this area. I was really interested in exploring what role an artist might be able to take in this context, and the Community Maker project takes this as a starting point.
The project methods came from thinking about the Homemaker tableware, designed by Enid Seeney (the first female to be trained within the design team at the Spode Factory - a strange coincidence, which I was not aware of when first setting out on the project - given that BCB are based at Spode.) The homemaker design came at a time just after the war, when people began to think again about a little luxury being brought back into the home, the plate is a template for 'modern living' and proposes the ingredients of a successful home - my thinking around this was that though I became a homemaker when we took on our £1 house - the context is not just about me in my house, but all of the houses on the street, and this got me wondering - what are the ingredients of a successful community - and what would a plate for that look like? 
In addition, early meetings with other community members had a real 'make do and mend' feel to them - in this area, a residents have told us during the project, people have tended to get on and organise things for themselves, without much in the way of outside resources. One such 'tradition' in the area that has sprung up out of this has been get togethers where people 'bring a plate' - with everyone contributing a plate of something, altogether a community meal has been created. 
I love the idea of all these different plates, coming from all the houses - and the thought was that what if we were able to celebrate that attitude with a special community plate, which comes out of people's cupboards at community events - but which was not regarded as a make do and mend activity, and a point of necessity, but a choice for the community to share - celebrated with this special community ceramic.
The biggest hurdle we face in Community Maker 2015 was the lack of a venue - and so we ended up running our sessions from a tent on the newly developed green space,
What we know from 2015 is that without a community base, it is really difficult to build momentum in the area, and for the community to begin to become successful and feel connected. 
Also in the summer last year, The Oasis Social Club came to our area, with lead artist Rebecca Davies, though the idea around this project was always to be housed within a temporary structure, the project aimed to work with the community to uncover the communities hopes and aspirations, and to support the community to identify what would be needed to help the area to grow.
Throughout our conversations, and events the recurring issue of the need for a community space was raised, both within the Community Maker and The Oasis Social Club projects. Since the Community Maker sessions in Summer 2015, the community group have attempted to organise events, but the lack of a space has continually made these events difficult to manage.
Since the positive experiences of 2015's 'Community Maker' programme, we were contacted by the City Council, who asked us to look into the viability of turning the currently boarded up pub over to the community, keeping all of these things in mind, it would seem to make sense if Community Maker 2016 were building on the successes of the 2015 programme - and cross checking if the results are right, and that in fact the thing that this community most needs to make it successful is a space, and importantly, ascertaining whether there is enough energy, commitment and will within the community to run the space if it is handed over by the council.
Therefore our primary aim for Community Maker 2016 is to find out: Does the community want to take over and run The Portland Inn?
If so, what and who would that involve?
Is there enough commitment from the community to make this work?
If the community were to take over and run The Portland Inn, what activities and events would happen there and who may be the potential tenants who might be interested in being involved in taking space in the building, in order to ensure financial stability?
Dena Bagi and Jo Ayre from Clay Foundation and I have just spent time planning for this year, and leading in to 2017, and it feels like a very exciting strand is about to be explored
Over 4 weeks the Community Group will organise events and activities each day - and within that Community Maker will aim to deliver 5 days of that programme within the pub, before working on a physical artwork, in the form of 'Talking Tableware' - using digital technologies to bring the ceramics to life with the voices of the community.
In 2015 events were generally for two or three hours - but in 2016 - in order to see the pub activated, it will be more of a residency approach - I will be opening the pub from 11 - 4pm on each of the session days, working within the space, and then running a public workshop in mould making, mould use and ceramic glazes - with the community - working together to create a set of table ware for the artwork.
We will then present the experimental artwork over two events, one aimed at artists and other creative practitioners who may be interested in discussing the role of food within art projects, and the second a community Christmas Meal, where the artwork will be shown.
The exciting and unknown part is in exploring conductive glazes, mixing in arduino technology - and in particular seeing if we can make talking tableware - something which we hope to work on towards 2017.
In order to continue to explore the role that food and making can have in supporting the community in coming together, we will be keeping in mind the Portland Inn development project's four week timetable, but also looking to incorporate our own design process.
Our ultimate goal for 2017 is to create a community ceramic plate, which everyone has in their house, and which comes out for community get togethers, when people will 'bring a plate' to contribute, and also to set the precedence for community meals/food sharing in the area.
The aim for 2016 will be to work together to create a hand-made dinner service, as a prototype artwork for 2017. We can return to the highlights of 2015 - imagery and texts already gathered, and use these as starting points for 2016. We will aim to also be able to give a full experience for the community, so that if anyone were to follow all of the community workshops, they would have experienced a full range of clay making processes, including: making moulds from objects, using the moulds to create tablewares, printing onto wares and glazing wares - and then finally hearing their own voices within the wares.