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.

Drawn In

The Turnpike Gallery, Leigh
1st April – 11 June 2021
Tuesday – Saturday 10:00-4:00

Drawn in is an exhibition celebrating 50 years of wonderful art at The Turnpike gallery in Leigh. A show of drawings and works on paper, showcasing works by 50 artists including those who have exhibited there previously, are based in the north-west who have a connection to the Turnpike. Artists include Henry Moore, Lowry, Tania Kovats, Layla Curtis, Tony Bevan, Halima Cassell, Susie MacMurray, Naomi Kendrick, Masakatsu Kondo, Glenys Johnson, Suki Chan and Jill Randall.

I’ll be exhibiting one of my One Minute works on paper in this exhibition, and as part of my involvement I thought I’d reflect on my own connection to the Turnpike Gallery. After I graduated in 2003, my second job as an artist was at the Turnpike Gallery. I’d seen promotion for the Art Factory exhibition, and my degree-show work of an office chair fitted with pens to draw on the floor seemed like it was a potential match for a show about using experimental processes for drawing. I think I got in touch with Martyn Lucas and his team after being encouraged by a mentor, and ended up leading some workshops in the gallery creating drawings using the movement of the office chair participants’ wheelchairs and probably some other processes. I went on to devise a number of workshops to connect to the Turnpike’s programme and that early career support was so valuable in building the practice I have today. The drive to bring quality arts programming to places outside of cities like Leigh and my base in St Helens, developing a process-based artistic practice with other people and using the platforms I have to support other artists, are all things that I can trace back to my experiences at the Turnpike in the early-mid 2000s.

One Minute, Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin. 2012. 42x59cm £400