Artist-Led in St Helens

Creative Activity in Empty Shops, 10 January – 31 March 2022

In 2022 St Helens Council awarded a tender for me to deliver Creative Activity in Empty Shops as part of the Welcome Back Fund, funded by the European Development Fund. The project was promoted under the title ‘artist-led in St Helens’ with Claire project managing the delivery. A team of freelance artists supported Claire in the delivery; as installation and invigilation assistants, social media support and project management support. Partner organisations including Wonder Arts, Short Supply and Heart of Glass supported delivery of the programme. Here is a summary of what happened.

Print 20:20 exhibition by Platform Print, Buzzhub and Hot Bed Press in the window of Salsa for an 8 week period
Three Artists Together events, providing space for more artists local to St Helens to come together in a space, for the first time in 2 years, to make new work in the town centre.
Aliens, Zombies and Monsters & Alien Agency Exhibitions open in 2 empty shop spaces on Church Square for 8 days during February half term, welcoming over 1000 visitors through the doors in that time. Delivered in partnership with St Helens based Wonder Arts and working with local independent businesses St Helens Bookstop and Geek Retreat to build interest in St Helens’ town centre offerings. Featuring a day of zombie-inspired dance performances by MD Creatives.
SLAP DASH: 1-day artist residencies on 3 March, 1-day symposium on 5 March and 6-day exhibition in an empty shop in St Mary’s Arcade to research ways of creating a culturally centred town centre. Working with North-West based organisation Short Supply to build a regional audience to visit and work in St Helens and supporting local independent businesses such as Phoenix Plant Based Eatery, Rennies and St Helens College Print Room in the production of the events.
Our Susan’s an artist… and Traces of the Town.
A 1 day event where visiting members of the public could share the creativity that they treasure that doesn’t usually get seen in a public space and where they could explore what St Helens town centre means to them through drawing – leading to a new interactive artwork and the exhibition of 10 illustrated photographs by Grace Collins in the windows of 3 more empty shops in St Mary’s Arcade, which will be in place for a minimum of 3 months March – June 2022.
The Many Uses of a Blanket and A Cosy Jumper exhibitions (both projects originally commissioned by Heart of Glass) across 2 empty shop spaces for 7 days, creating comforting spaces where people could reflect on connection and creativity within our community and where two St Helens artists were commissioned to create additional new works.

And here’s the key facts and figures:

  • 63% of the total £30,000* budget was spent directly in St Helens supporting local retailers (9%) and the St Helens Arts economy (54%), predominantly to individual artists living, working and studying here who will go on to spend their income in the local retail economy.
  • A total of 1738 people came through our doors on the 22 days we were open
  • From the postcodes we’ve collected, 73% of visitors were from St Helens, with 13% from Liverpool City Region and 13% nationally.

*numbers are rounded

Who did we work with?

  • 53 individual artists were involved either in the creation of works or as support staff for the events
  • Local independent businesses including Phoenix Plant Based Eatery, Bookstop St Helens, Geek Retreat, Rennies, Vinyline, Retro Chimps, 1 hour stitch, Victoria Flowers.
  • Local and regional arts partners including Wonder Arts, Heart of Glass, St Helens Arts Service, St Helens Libraries, Short Supply, Buzzhub, MD Creatives, Hot Bed Press.

“The major benefits …was being able to see a variety of ages, genders, backgrounds interacting with artwork in the heart of the town centre. The reactions were…of surprise and intrigue and to see the joy that art work can bring to audiences that aren’t not expecting to see it on a routine outing was wonderful.”

“The Benefits for our members have been extraordinary. We have been able to showcase the work of our talented members in various locations around the Town. It has enabled their local community to recognise and appreciate their talents. We have had the privilege of working with some amazing Artists… Our aspiration is inclusion. Our members (as) equals within their society. Opportunities to be admired and respected. Working with these artists allowed this to happen…we saw the Town Centre come to life with creative spaces ” – Buzzhub St Helens CDP

“It was wonderful to be welcomed into a town and space I would likely otherwise never have worked in before. I learned about the energy you find in small towns, breaking down that assumption that creativity isn’t worth bringing to a small town because nobody is interested in it. The project proved resoundingly that isn’t true, and furthermore proved how a little care, attention and effort can bring life and energy to even the smallest places.”

Check out @artistledsthelens on Instagram and Facebook for posts made during the project.

Artist-led in St Helens Creative Activity in empty shops was receiving up to £24,500 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund, specifically the Welcome Back Fund, as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (and in London the intermediate body Greater London Authority) is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information visit https://www.gov.uk/european-growth-funding.

Constellations of Kindness

Sutton Oak Primary School
February 2020

Claire returned to Sutton Oak Primary School with her Constellations of Kindness workshops which explore how art can be used to express kindness and empathy.

Beginning by passing our positive actions around the class with a symbolic handful of light, we worked to create a number of art installations which take the idea of stars and how we view them collectively in constellations as a metaphor for how a community can work together. The story of Hoshi and the legend of the origami lucky stars inspires a creative activity where the classes worked together to create their own jars of paper stars.

One night while watching the stars, something happened in the sky that made her sad and she began to cry. The stars were falling out of heaven like a shower. So many of them were falling that she was afraid there would be no more.

The story of Hoshi

With magazine cuttings, found text and images pupils used compositional skills to lay out a design that created a message linked to emotions and kindness, then used drawing pins to prick holes into segments of a black card sphere along the outlines of those shapes. The sphere segments were joined together to create a suspended orb that you can duck underneath and view the pin-pricked drawings from within – the light shining in from the outside creating a universe-like experience, full of symbolic objects and positive text.

This was the first time creating these pin pricked drawings into a 3-dimensional form at such a human scale, and the hope is that more works like this can be created in other locations forming a universe of kindness.

This project is available within St Helens schools via Cultured St Helens, or contact me directly if you want to create more universes of kindness where you are.

First performance of ‘What are you waiting for?’

On Monday 7th October, 4 people wearing crowd control barriers on belts waited in Runcorn Old Town.

What are you waiting for?


This work is included in the exhibition ‘Interval’ at the Brindley Arts Centre, Runcorn until 25th November 2017.

For more information about the work, visit its portfolio page

Explorations with the Foxton Centre

Between March and September 2017 I’ve been working with a lovely group of people from the Foxton Centre in Preston at the Harris Museum and Art Gallery.  It started out with a request from Kyra Milnes, the Harris’ outreach worker to do some work which linked into their Martin Creed – Artist Rooms exhibition and has developed slowly and organically as we’ve developed our working relationship together.  We’ve shared stories, aired our grievances about PIPs, got lost (literally! we had to pick up two people from the police station as they had no way of finding us), shared our skills (Gail can find you the perfect charity shop bargain), fallen in the sea, searched for a set of false teeth in a receding tide, got a panda-face sun tan and learnt about how to make art together and alongside each other.

As a programme of workshops it’s been different to a lot of what is usually commissioned by galleries as we had a starting point, but there was no pressure to get to an end point.  We’ve created objects, drawings, sculptures and videos along the way, but a lot of the time it felt like I wasn’t doing much as an artist/workshop leader.  On reflection it’s been quite Creed-ian – nothing happened, but at the same time lots did happen, it’s all been a bit like the lights going on and off, you have to sit in the room for a while to appreciate what is already there even when you think that there is nothing. If anything, now that the workshops have finished, it’s like the group are in a great place to begin.

Here’s some of the things that happened over the last six months

The adventures of the inkpot and the quill, by Nirmala Dholakia

 

The Crosby Trip, performed by Neil Black

oooh, plan, you, see, lord

 

With thanks to Paul and Laura who work tirelessly with the Foxton Centre, to the always-present Neil, Gail and Nirmala and everyone else who worked with me over the past 6 months.

At the library – a meccano portal

On Saturdays 17th and 24th June at Meadows Library, Maghull we celebrated the legacy of Frank Hornby and the library’s Meccano collection. Families were invited to design and construct a full scale Portal Door to be housed at Meadows Library, becoming our magical gateway to a host of imagined worlds. Using vintage Meccano multiple generations explored building techniques, playing with both small, scale and human scale creations.  Together we imagined the worlds that might lay beyond a portal, with the initial idea coming from a 1930s Meccano instruction manual before scaling up our ideas using contemporary construction materials. The families ideas came together to result in a time travelling portal, complete with whirling rotor blades, steering wheel for setting the gauges and options of which world to travel to next.