5 Questions to… Eleanor & Rosie, The Brick Box Ladies

5 questions to...

I recently had the great personal and professional pleasure to work with The Brick Box, a Community Interest Company currently working across London and in Bradford but constantly expanding their reach thanks to their determination to spread “art, love and magic” all over the world.

Ruling the roost, the Brick Box Ladies – a.k.a. co-directors Eleanor Barrett and Rosie Freeman – preside over a small army of artists of all denominations and project managers – like myself – who work collaboratively to infuse under-used public spaces with a new lease of life. Their latest projects include the A13 Green in Canning Town (a village green complete with fairy-lit bandstand under a concrete flyover), the Light Fantastic in Thamesmead and the Electric Fireside in Little Germany, Bradford – and most recently the event I contributed to, the Big Draw by the River in Nine Elms. There are tons of photos and videos on their website (they’ve got their marketing priorities nailed down and always employ top-notch photographers and videographers) so I’ve pinched a few to include in between each question and show off their fantastic work.

 

Rosie (centre) and Eleanor (right) at the Toast Temple, Wandsworth Arts Festival 2014. Photo: Hannah Maule-ffinch.

Rosie (centre) and Eleanor (right) at the Toast Temple, Wandsworth Arts Festival 2014. Photo: Hannah Maule-ffinch.

1. Your next event is Light Night Canning Town on 29 November 2014. What’s a typical day right now?

Busy! We’re ramping up marketing and press, trying to get the word out far and wide. We’ve got such a fantastic programme we want to make sure lots of people come and enjoy it. We’re also making daily prayers for good weather!

The Light Fantastic on The Moorings estate in Thamesmead. Photo: Roxanne Grant.

The Light Fantastic on The Moorings estate in Thamesmead. Photo: Roxanne Grant.

2. You’ve been organising events for several years now. What gets easier with time? And what doesn’t?

It’s been 4 and a half years as The Brick Box, far longer in different incarnations. It’s easier to work out budgets, have an idea of what an event might be like, and pack gaffer tape! What doesn’t get easier? Worrying that no one will come!

Half Moon Theatre's Punch and Judy on the Royal Victoria Beach. Photo: Kevin Ricks.

Half Moon Theatre’s Punch and Judy on the Royal Victoria Beach. Photo: Kevin Ricks.

3. Before, during or after an event – what’s your favourite moment, the one that makes it all worth it?

Definitely during an event – it’s great to see people enjoying themselves and taking part in the things we hoped they would.

The Toast Temple on The Moorings estate in Thamesmead. Photo: Roxanne Grant.

The Toast Temple on The Moorings estate in Thamesmead. Photo: Roxanne Grant.

4. What other event(s) would you love to attend as audience member?

Eleanor: Shambala Festival
Rosie: another Bruce Springsteen gig!

10-piece drum and brassband, Old Dirty Brasstards, at the launch of the A13 Green 2014. Photo: Matt Badenoch.

10-piece drum and brassband, Old Dirty Brasstards, at the launch of the A13 Green 2014. Photo: Matt Badenoch.

5. Who would be your dream artist(s) to collaborate with?

Eleanor – Grayson Perry and Mae West
Rosie – William Blake and my friend Lisa!

And finally, hot off the editing bench, here’s a little film of the Big Draw day by Tomo Brody.

Grow Your Own City

Programming

Gardening is my graffiti: I grow my art.

– Ron Finley

Ron Finley urban famer

Ron Finley, graffiti-gardener

Urban farming has its new hero: Ron Finley, artist-gardener, on a mission to make kale sexy in South Central Los Angeles, one of America’s food deserts. Since he planted a vegetable garden on a city-owned strip of land outside his house in 2010, then got fined for it and successfully led a campaign to make curbside gardening legal, he’s received a lot of media attention, including a TED Talk in 2013 (from which the quotes above and below are taken).

“Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

“Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do, especially in the inner city. Plus, you get strawberries.”

“If kids grow kale, kids eat kale. If they grow tomatoes, they eat tomatoes.”

“We gotta flip the script on what a gangsta is — if you ain’t a gardener, you ain’t gangsta.”

The video below, featuring Ron pre-TED fame, encapsulates the multiple benefits of urban gardening: healthy eating, communal activity, cultural heritage, sensory stimulation…

From producing fresh food in a brownfield and at the same time beautifying an area to providing a physical activity to local people while creating community links, urban farming is a multi-layered activity that keeps on giving. I’ve looked below at 3 other initiatives with deep roots – transforming a school’s rooftop, re-inventing the city as a public orchard and blowing the seeds of change from a West Yorkshire village to the rest of the world.

The Teachers: School Grown

If there is one constant with urban farming, it’s that it can happen anywhere and everywhere: on the side of the road in LA, 33 metres below the busy streets of Clapham, or at the back of a truck, anywhere. By comparison, a rooftop farm is perhaps quite banal, but the one transformed by Food Share in Toronto – that can be seen from scratch to end in the timelapse video above – is rather special, because it doubles up as a “food literacy education centre, large market garden and vibrant event space all wrapped into one”.

The 16,000 square foot rooftop currently includes over 450 garden planters, 100 shiitake mushroom logs, a dwarf fruiting orchard, seating for over 200 people, a covered area and an indoor classroom – and has plans to add a rooftop teaching kitchen, a small greenhouse, a composting area and an open air cafe.

Students sell their ‘school grown’ produce at three local farmers’ markets and also supply several Toronto restaurants.

foodshare.net/schoolgrown

@FoodShareTO

The Gleaners: Not Far From The Tree

Founder and director Laura Reinsborough got the idea for Not Far From The Tree when she was working as a Community Arts Facilitator for the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) and was asked to pick apples from an urban orchard and put them to good use.

From this first experience was born Not Far From the Tree, an initiative that picks unwanted or surplus fruit from residential properties, sharing the harvest 3 ways: ⅓ to the fruit owner, ⅓ to the the volunteers and ⅓ to social agencies. In 2008, their first full season, 150 volunteers picked a total of 3,003 pounds of fruit, and the concept has now grown into a fully-fledged, city-wide, award-winning charitably constituted organisation with permanent staff.

In 5 years, they have:

  • harvested over 70,000 pounds of fruit;
  • donated more than 22,000 pounds to social service agencies;
  • registered over 1,500 trees to be picked in our operating area;
  • registered more than 1,600 volunteer pickers.

They have also produced a pretty 5-year annual report available to view online, listing these achievements and more, and also regularly commission artists – such as the one below – for their event and campaign visuals.

Apple-by-Zeesy-Powers-Oct-2012-e1393605838297

Apple by Zeesy Powers (2012)

notfarfromthetree.org

@NFFTT

The Planters: Incredible Edible

This is the extraordinary journey of a small market town in the North of England, now a hotspot of the local food revolution. With just a handful of people and seeds to start with, Todmorden has transformed itself into a place where fruit and vegetables are grown everywhere – outside the police station, in the cemetery, along the canal – and for everyone. Pam Warhurst, one of the instigators, calls it “propaganda gardening”: a way of ensuring resilience by creating deep links between community, learning and business. It’s even created a brand new genre of tourism, with “vegetable tourists” coming to the 15,000-strong town to visit the Incredible Edible Green Route.

The Todmorden experiment has inspired over 200 local groups in several countries that form the Incredible Edible Network and are typically involved in “setting up community growing plots, reaching out to schools and children, and backing local food suppliers”.

c554_incredible_edible_todmorden_police_station_food_to_share_incroyables_comestibles_w680

Incredible Edibles, outside Todmorden Police Station

c558_incredible_edible_todmorden_green_route_food_to_share_incroyables_comestibles_w1600

Food to Share – Incredible Edibles Todmorden

incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk

incredibleediblenetwork.org.uk

@incredibledible

 

High Street Art

Programming

I’ve managed to clock two conferences in two days, both about the future of the arts (and arts funding), but otherwise different in every possible way.

On Thursday 5 June, Owning the Arts: Making Things Happen, organised by Rowan Arts as part of the Holloway Road Festival, aimed at “artists, arts managers, producers, educators and community activists”, was all about creative and collective problem-solving. The following day, Arts Development UK’s national seminar on The Value of Public Commissioning gathered arts and cultural organisations engaged in community building, well-being and regeneration together with public service commissioners for a day of keynote speeches and case studies presentations to discuss evidence, outcomes and evaluation.

I’m probably going to blog for quite a while about all the people I met, projects I’ve discovered,  and things I’ve agreed and disagreed with, just in the space of these two days, but to start with I wanted to highlight two great projects taking art to the high street – by taking over retail spaces and codes – that were presented at each conference. I’m also throwing in a personal favourite for good measure, to follow my preferred tripartite format. As I haven’t – yet – fully experienced these projects myself, I’ll let them speak for themselves in their own words, photos and videos.

1. Fully dysfunctioning: Hunt & Darton Café

A nice treat at Owning the Arts: participants didn’t just get to hear about the concept of live art duo Jennifer Hunt and Holly Darton’s project. We first got into teams to compete in the Not Great British Bake-Off, a sugar sandwich competition, to get a taste of the Hunt and Darton Café’s live experience, before getting into details of the project background and history.

Here’s what they say themselves about it:

Hunt & Darton Cafe is the product of Hunt & Darton, artist led producers creating theatrical experiences in unconventional spaces. Audience experience is our priority.

A fully functioning Café that blends art with the everyday, Hunt & Darton Cafe is a social and artistic hub where spontaneity and performance meet great food and drink.

Jenny Hunt and Holly Darton expose the inner workings of their business by presenting everything as art-from public display of their bank balance to the lovingly handpicked charity shop crockery.

Hunt & Darton Cafe encourages playful participation and meaningful social encounters. It can operate as an offsite micro-venue or temporarily transform and existing space in a gallery, theatre, public building or outdoors under canvas. Whether seeking surprising art or a relaxing place to spend the afternoon, customers can expect a welcoming atmosphere and food served with a twist. This is an exciting, innovative and entrepreneurial project unveiling and celebrating the ‘Cafe’ as an iconic and socially important hub for creative productivity and conversation.

The Cafe takes over empty shops, often working with council initiatives and art centres to benefit and increase artistic activity within the area. The alternative service from Hunt & Darton themselves (often wearing their iconic pineapple outfits and hats) comprises deadpan style and theme days such as ‘you-do-it-day’ where customers are encouraged to serve each other. Hunt & Darton also commission local artists to wait on the tables and create unique performances as they serve. (…)

Hunt and Darton Café, Hackney, 2013

Hunt and Darton Café, Hackney, 2013

The café started in Cambridge in April 2012, travelled to Hackney, Edinburgh and Brighton, and is about to embark on a 5-city tour over the next 18 months. Here’s where and when to catch it:

Colchester – Oct 2014
Folkestone  – Feb 2015
Manchester – March 2015
Harlow – June 2015
Peterborough – Oct 2015

 

2. Social & Emotional Transactions: Encounters Shop

Ruth Ben-Tovim presented her work with Encounters Arts in a Cultural Commissioning session on place-based outcomes. It’s an art based on co-production, dialogue and long-term relationships – and for Ruth, the essential part of her work is to craft the invitation.

From the website

Since 2003 Encounters have been taking up residence in disused Shops across the UK, working with thousands of people to create evolving, co-authored artworks about the joys and challenges of everyday life.

Shops have taken place in Sheffield, Winchester, Liverpool, Dewsbury, Totnes and London. We also deliver Mobile Shop projects that tour and connect different locations within a neighbourhood.

Encounters Shops become meeting places in which local communities can collect and exchange experiences, memories, objects, journeys and thoughts about their lives, where they live and the wider world.

We use photography, visual art and text to collect personal material from visitors reflecting this back through the creation of interactive, evolving displays and verbatim performance events and publications. Talks, workshops, community visioning, feasts, inter-generational exchanges and cross-cultural dialogue processes can also take place in the Shops.

As well as using a selection of these favourites in each new Shop we set up, we tailor-make Invitations to Join In that respond to the place, context or commissioners focus.

Over the years, Encounters have developed a tried and tested series of participatory Invitations to Join In that you are likely to find in any of our shops including; Blackboard Questions, Memory and Story Maps, Recipe Cards, Stepping Stones, Lake of Tears, Tell Me a Story About, Seeds of Change, Family Portraits, Journeys, Collage Blocks, Anyone Who’s, and Lost and Found.

Where’s the heart of Andover? Inside the Encounters Shop.

Inside the Encounters Shop – photo (c) Paul Bevan Photography

The 10th Encounters Shop is currently in Andover, Hampshire, until 15th June.

 

3. Heart-felt nostalgia: The Cornershop

Felt artist Lucy Sparrow crowdsourced over £10,000 – from an initial £2,000 bid – for her Cornershop project, and she is now creating enormous amounts of felt-replicas of everyday objects that will go on the shelves of her pop-up Cornershop.

From the Kickstarter campaign:

In 2014 I, Lucy Sparrow, will be restocking an abandoned Cornershop in London with felt products. Each item – from the bean cans, to the cigarette packets, the chewing gum and the porn mags – will be made entirely out of felt: each item meticulously hand sewn, stuffed and priced by yours-truly. During the month-long installation The Cornershop will be visited by both local passers-by and art audiences, once inside the shop they can not only view the products, but can handle, and even buy them. They will also be able to watch live-sewing events, participate in workshops and can even be drawn into improvised performance works that make them reflect on our taken-for granted shopping behaviours. The installation will be accompanied by a series of making workshops. In addition to drop-in workshops for one and all, I will also offer more specialist workshops for the local community and the neurologically diverse communities.

Weetabix

Weetabix -work in progress

Tampax

Over the counter emergencies

Rizla

A cross-section of rolling papers

Cat food

Cat food (supermeat)

Lucy’s ambition is to create in felt every single item usually found in a cornershop, in the right proportions: here’s the full list of everything that needs to be made. The shop’s opening is currently planned for August 2014 in Bethnal Green, and Lucy’s progress can be followed on her blog, website, Instagram and Twitter.

The Art of Evaluation

Tools of the Trade

On my third day in London, I got lucky and was offered a place on a sold-out workshop hosted by the Live Art Development Agency that just sounded too intriguing to be missed. Here’s the description that caught my attention:

Fed up with the standard evaluation surveys? Situations and the University of Central Lancashire have been developing an innovative new group based evaluation method to move beyond overt measures of impact and unlock the deeper story of an artwork’s effects on the imagination.

Titled Thinking Beyond Measure, the day-long event, part of the Public Art Now national programme of events, promised a mixture of practice and theory to explore the scope of results and potential applications of what the research team calls the Visual Matrix: an interpretation process based on a series of images that act as prompts to elicit associative thinking and make it easier for people to think and talk about their experience.

The case studies we discussed were Nowhereisland, an itinerant, durational and participatory project by artist Alex Hartley produced by Situations in 2012 as part of Artists Taking the Lead, the Cultural Olympiad series of major commissions –  and Verity, the Damien Hirst’s half-sliced pregnant bronze warrior loaned for 20 years to the Devon resort of Ilfracombe, one of Nowhereisland’s port of call.

The research team, led by Professor Lynn Froggett and Dr. Ali Roy from UCLAN in association with Situations, conducted an evaluation in Ilfracombe on both works in 2013, one year on. They used the Visual Matrix alongside other forms of evaluation to explore Nowhereisland and Verity’s respective role in reflecting local engagement and citizenship, as well as their legacy in terms of change and transformation.

I’ve summarised a few key points from the day but there would be much more to say – not least about the contrasts in findings between the two selected works and between different methods.

Process

First, some disclaimers: the workshops featured two sample 20-minute Visual Matrix and participant feedback sessions, one on each work, so a short version of the 2 first steps of the full process. Besides, workshop participants had, for the vast majority, no direct experience of the artworks – this was meant to be an exercise. By contrast, the case studies that we were somehow reproducing had gathered people with a varied range of exposure to both artworks, from passer-bys to contributors, all living in Ilfracombe and therefore able to reflect on a personal and community level on the effect of these two artworks on citizenship and their legacy of change.

1. The Visual Matrix

Ideal group size should be between 6 and 20, with at least 2 facilitators.

– Chairs are arranged in a snowflake formation – concentric circles that are slightly out of alignment to avoid direct eye contact.

No introductions are made: this is to avoid the bias of expertise and authority that can sometimes be overwhelming in a traditional focus group.

– Participants are explained that they will be shown a slideshow of 20 to 30 images, each lasting for 10 seconds, about which they can then express what they feel – what it reminds them of, in which state of mind they find themselves. They are expressedly ask to suspend judgement and refrain from interpreting or analysing what they see, and instead to feel what the images do to them.

– In the ensuing 1-hour session, which can occasionally be stirred – but not chaired – by the facilitators, participants should be reaching a state of “rêverie”, gliding from one idea to the other. They are not quite holding a group conversation, but rather letting their mind go back to the images and the experience itself  and absorb the new thoughts and images produced by the group.

– A form of documentation, such as note-taking, audio and/or video recording – whichever is most practical and less intrusive – is essential to this stage of the process.

2. Feedback with participants

After a short break, the participants, guided by the facilitators, start pulling together the themes that emerge from the Visual Matrix. This was an interesting process of convergence, pulling together the threads of information produced in the first part of the session, and we worked as a group to make sense of what had been expressed. One of the facilitator organised the ideas in a visual form.

3. Feedback with research group

Reconvening after another break, the research group – now on their own – starts to analyse the participants’ responses, working on their memories and notes of the Visual Matrix session as well as the synthesis co-produced by the participants. The nature and quality of the metaphors and the vitality – or lack of – with which they were produced are equally taken into consideration.

4. Wider discussion

The last phase of the process looks once again at the Matrix results and the layers of interpretation created by the participants and the research group, and can involve external advisors if appropriate: the aim here is to expand and generalise the results, for example to the realm of policy-making.

Benefits of the Visual Matrix

The Visual Matrix is inspired by Social Dreaming and aims at unlocking the deeper effects of an artwork on the imagination. Because it is based on imagery and metaphors, and not on expertise or status, such process makes it easier for anyone to participate. All thoughts are valid and they feed into one another to express a rich and nuanced response to an artwork or situation.

It is essentially a collective, participatory process, which seems appropriate to explore the collective resonance of complex works of public art (or other situations in the public realm).

It is also an open-ended creative process, and as such closer to the artistic process itself than sliding scales of enjoyment or debates about taxpayers’ ROI.

Considerations

The workshop allowed plenty of time for a group exchange about theoretical and practical considerations, and here are the ones that stuck out for me.

A. Training

The Visual Matrix method has been used for a while in different settings, but introducing it as part of a new evaluation framework for the arts would take some dissemination and training. It would be interesting to get to practice the interpretation steps and to be guided by an experienced mentor, to be able to reap the full benefits in a set amount of time.

B. Participants

Results are highly influenced by the group composition, and the dynamics between the participants will have a bearing not just on what they produce, but also on the ‘quality’ of the matrix – whether it is solid and keeps going in a steady state of “rêverie”, or breaks down into analysis and critical judgement.

Participants for the two case studies presented mostly responded to invitations from mailing lists and in the local media; they were self-selected and not screened against specific criteria.

My concerns here are as much about outreach – to attract a varied group of participants – and effective facilitation, to create the right setting and understand barriers and biases.

C. Image selection

The matrix is supported by visual materials – although other types of sensory prompts could be used, such as sound or movement – so it seems rather important to choose them well. It is probably also worth stating to the participants that the sequence of images is not meant to form a narrative sequence.

Practical Applications

This is an interesting method not just for evaluating the effects and legacy of public art, but also any collective experience: for example, applied to a volunteer programme, this method would allow to go much deeper than focus groups to uncover the intrinsic motivations of arts volunteers and the benefits of volunteering. It enables to measure success in terms of effect, not just figures.

Just like any other evaluation method, the trick is in the interpretation of the findings – and as it’s the part of the Matrix that we didn’t get to do by ourselves, I look forward to more workshops and guided applications to learn more about the process.

 

www.situations.org.uk
www.uclan.ac.uk
www.publicartnow.com

5 Questions to… Asia Diaz, YELL Festival Director

5 questions to...

Event planner Asia Diaz has set up her own company, Magnum Opus Events, to have the freedom to dream up, design and deliver the events that matter to her. She stumbled across Art of Festivals when searching for street event planning tips, and I took the opportunity to ask her a few questions about YELL Festival, due to take place this summer in Shoreditch, London.

1. You’re planning a street festival right now. What is it going to be like?  

The YELL (Young Entrepreneurs Living in London) Festival is going to be a celebration of young entrepreneurs and new business owners in the city. Our aim is to create a fun, family friendly, carnival like atmosphere for all. We want to offer a platform for new businesses to display & trade their products, gain exposure, build and make contacts. There will be live music, entertainment, games, giveaways, food drinks and dancing. It’s set to be a great event!

2. What has surprised you so far in the planning process?

I’m still very early in the planning stages, but I have been very surprised and pleased at the feedback and positive comments I have received when explaining or discussing my idea. I’ve been taken aback by the amount of support I have received and how many others want to get involved! Another surprising find, is the amount of preparation that actually goes into a street festival. There are so many factors to consider that hadn’t occurred to me. My background is in events management, usually within established venues, so I never really had too much to do with trading licenses, planning permission and the likes. It’s a whole new world that I am rapidly learning about.

3. What are the greatest challenges that you’re forecasting along the way?

My greatest worry at the moment is getting everything done in time for the deadlines. This is my strong point in events planning, but now I will have to acquire a small team and be able to trust that they will deliver on time so that the whole operation can go to plan. I think that people management will be my biggest task during this project.

4. What other festivals and events do you attend – or would you love to attend – as an audience member?

Last year in June I went to the Rivington Street Festival, which also takes place in Shoreditch. It was a great day with a great party vibe and atmosphere. They had a lot of activities and entertainment and it really was an enjoyable event. I really like going to events that have features that you can take part in as opposed to just watching a show on stage. Interaction is always a lot more fun.

5. What would help you most right now?

A good solid production team, being granted the funds to make this all possible and the strength and sanity to push through any set backs that may follow!!

_ _ _

Best of luck, Asia!

A website is in the pipeline, and in the meantime you can follow Asia on Twitter (@Asia_Diaz) to join the YELL Festival team and for all updates about other Magnum Opus Events opportunities.