Continuing our residency with Piccadilly charity shops, last Friday we opened the Fatter Quarter fabric sale outside St. Vincent’s. This mini project is the result of our research in the early days of Counterplay, when we snooped around the Cultural Quarter, in everyone’s spare rooms for potential work spaces and materials.
At St. Vincent’s we found a stockpile of materials that was taking up a lot of space, mainly bedding and curtains. These items flood into the shop and are difficult to sell. After using some to create the peregrine watch sign, and dressing the tables for the piccadilly picnic, we decided to use the fabrics to draw more creative people back to the Cultural Quarter, create more street level activity and make some space and money for the charity shop. So the idea of Fatter Quarter was born.
Fat Quarter Bundles are collections of different materials from a fabric line. Fat Quarters are quarter-yard cuts of fabric cut wide (hence the name fat). Since we had such a lot of fabric, we decided to sell it by the pound, 1lb for £1, and invite all of the local costume designers, dress makers, textile artists and workshops we could to the sale. We set up a pair of scales in the street and brought down all of the fabric from the store room and piled it up on the stone benches.
As well as local creative practitioners, the sale was popular with people on the street, including many people who have english as a second language, who engaged more with this event than any other in the project.
We sold a total of £105.20 of fabric (105.2lb/ 47.7kg) 5 times St. Vincent’s usual days takings, an bought them a little extra space in their storeroom. On the street people were enjoying seeing the activity. A quote from a passing woman sums this up.
“I don’t know what you’re doing, but I like it!”
along with a spontaneous ‘high five’ I got from another passer by.
Of course the city’s textile makers went away with what they need to clothe this years pantomime dames, create a new batch of faux taxidermy shields and the next yarn-bombsite.
On September 18th 2015, the Counterplay project hosted a meal on Piccadilly in collaboration with Art Lunch organiser Chris Reader.
Chris made 20 free tickets available and advertised to regular art lunch attendees, local artists and creatives. Winstanley & Nadin arranged with the two charity shops on the street (St Vincent’s and Shelter) to utilise their stock to set the tables (for which we used the stone benches). All of the tableware, table cloths and some chairs were for sale and a starter and dessert was sourced from Piccadilly food vendors Zest and Tsp respectively. The main course was provided by the diners who each bought picnic style food to share.
The lunch was attended by approximately 32 people, including charity shop volunteers and passers by who joined us for food and a chat about the project. Thankfully the weather was dry and warm which allowed us to spend approximately 4 hours at the lunch (12-3). The surrounding businesses seemed happy for us to set up in the location and foot traffic was not negatively affected. Many people who attended the lunch reported feeling more connected to the creative community and enjoyed the street culture atmosphere. The two charity shops, who have been incredibly welcoming and supportive of this idea from the outset, enjoyed the day and were pleased with how it went. St Vincent’s reported an extra £15 of sales from the diners alone.
Passers by were confident to approach diners, were overwhelmingly positive and keen to engage with us about cultural subjects. The lunch made it easy for pedestrians to meet with a group of local artists because of the public location and relaxed atmosphere. One passer by, who had engaged with Counterplay before (inquiring about taking up photography) joined the art lunch to further discuss his interests.
The evidence suggests that this event could be regularly repeated and would become a popular fixture with the local creative community and the public alike.
Quotes from diners
“Thank you so much for in- viting me to sit with you for the Piccadilly Lunch. What a lovely way to get the public involved.”- Passer by.
“Full of vibrant complexity” – Diner
“Lovely Afternoon! I really enjoyed meeting friends from the art world and meeting new people too. As I work on my own for most of the time, this feels really important. Thank you. – Diner
“Can we do more?”- Diner
Whilst decorating two trees outside Panasonic with ribbons yesterday, we noticed the familiar screech of the Peregrine Falcons that roost on top of the BT building behind the Cultural Quarter, now perfectly framed by the vacant plot on Piccadilly.
They’ve been a fixture there for several years, but have recently reared a successful brood thanks to the installation of proper nesting boxes.
In a 2014 Sentinel article, Craig Slawson, manager of the Biological Records Centre at Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, said: “Peregrine falcons are rare particularly due to a decline caused when harmful pesticides were used.
“The poisons concentrated in the predators and they laid very weak egg shells. A number of birds of prey became very rare but to some extent they have recovered.
“Peregrine falcons are not common although I am not surprised that they have laid eggs on the BT’s buildings.
“In built-up areas they do like tall buildings because they imitate their natural habitat.
“It’s very good news. There are probably only a handful of pairs breeding in Staffordshire.”
Considering the excellent view from Piccadilly we decided to see if either of the charity shops on the street had any binoculars- luckily they did! So we set about creating Peregrine Watch.
Using strips of bedsheets from St Vincent’s charity shop we made a sign on the heras fencing and attached a storage jar containing the binoculars, along with some information about what they’re for. It immediately engaged passers by of all ages. This, along with the other interventions we have made within feet of it (Ribbon trees, CQ tourist information, Window poetry and the photography exhibition) foot traffic significantly slowed and people were noticeably dwelling in the area. It felt very much like the beginnings of the atmosphere we are trying to encourage.
We had conversations with lots people today who approached us to ask why we were doing this. One man apologetically approached us to ask if we knew how he could get involved in photography in the area. We’re putting him in touch with the Photographers Collective North Staffs. This encounter was made possible because, for today, this was our office.
We were also joined in our office today by textile artist Cathie Powell Davies who advised us on what we could do with excess charity shop bedding and did a little of her own work. At the moment, having a personal presence on the street seems to be a key factor in connecting people to creative offerings- those not familiar with the arts need guidance, reassurance and above all permission to engage. Lone and nomadic artists like ourselves also need space to connect with other creatives for support and inspiration.
Emotive eyes on moving screens,
Captivate the mood through cinematic portals
Minds wondering and wandering up the stairs,
The roof of imagination on a silvered screen.
Look in anticipation,
Street life on stage.
Here and now,
Proud of Piccadilly and its page.
This is a extract from a poem by former Staffordshire Poet Laureate Tom Wyre. It is inlayed in the pavement outside Panasonic where our first residency project begins today. When I first spotted it, our idea was already formed. I got shivers when it dawned on me how pertinent it was.
The idea is a simple one; to make the most of the high definition screens (or cinematic portals, if you will) that dominate the space, Panasonic will be hosting a programme of photography exhibitions for the duration of the project.
The exhibition begins today with 5 small collections by Jenny Harper and Tim Diggles of the Photographers Collective North Staffordshire. Themes include childhood, domesticity, seasonal change and urban landscapes. The exhibition also includes an excellent project by Diggles, in which he has retaken well known photographs using only himself in his own small front room.
This exhibition is made possible by two simple things- 1. A number of USB sticks and 2. Cooperation between photographer and business. There is no cost to either yet there is a mutual benefit to each. Our project budget has paid for 26 USB sticks (one for each TV in the shop) which any image maker, film maker or sound artist can collect from the store to curate their own exhibition.
Over the coming weeks we’re planning to work with several other groups to create new exhibitions. Make sure you drop by next time you find yourself in the CQ.
In our experience, throwing money at arts based regeneration doesn’t necessarily make it stick. What sticks is proof that small, easily achievable actions can make a difference. This way people are more likely to continue once the artist is eyebrow deep in another funding bid.
In this spirit we’ve given ourselves a rule on this project- to make any changes easy and inexpensive.
Before and After.
Our first street intervention is a temporary ‘Cultural Quarter Tourist Information’ board, which is written in chalk-pen on the window of a closed shop. This simple intervention is low cost, eye-catching and temporary.
It promotes the activity in the Cultural Quarter, whilst simultaneously covering up the inactivity of the closed shop.
We have also tidied up the windows and added some vinyl shapes, and chalkboard paint to create a changeable interactive message board. At the moment we’ve filled it with some poetry about the pigeons.
The effect of this is to make people stop and look, to slow people down on the street- and to a large extent this has been happening. In fact it started happening from the minute we’d finished.
Many of the business owners on the street say that people use Piccadilly as a thoroughfare, visual artist can do a great deal to encourage people to dwell more, as well as offering the pedestrian a richer experience and the artist a public platform.
Over the past two days we’ve been mainly walking up and down Piccadilly, introducing ourselves to the shop owners and finding out what it is like for people working in the Cultural Quarter today. Many are finding it difficult to say the least, but gladly most people we’ve spoken to are open to the idea of creative intervention. ‘Anything’ they say, ‘that could help energise the street, we’re up for’.
Our job now is to design ways in which artists, cultural practitioners and other creative groups can benefit from working with or within these businesses. Our feeling is that if these mutually beneficial relationships can be built and sustained, it would be a step towards creating a real living and breathing Cultural Quarter.
So recently we have been investigators on the trail of potential partners, work spaces, participants and building owners. It’s exciting to live so inquisitively, one of the reasons I think artists do what they do. You don’t have to be an artist to live inquisitively however, here is a fantastic trail you can do around the Cultural Quarter that we just found on Historypin. Click the image to take a virtual tour.
Today, Sarah and I have started work on a new, and very exciting project for us. Counterplay is a 3 month pilot project based on Piccadilly, Hanley. We are taking up residence in 4 shops and businesses to create a series of site specific mini projects, happenings or artistic interventions. The aim of this is to apply our practice to a set of problems faced by the CQ today:
Its peripheral location means that there is low footfall, exacerbated by loss of trade to online shopping and off-putting public realm works. Despite having several high quality cultural destinations, the CQ lacks a strong cultural identity and isn’t particularly seen as a cultural destination.
As non building based artists, we see an opportunity for people working in the creative industries to inject some energy and excitement into the area. With this project we’re making it our job to identify ways that this can happen for the benefit of practitioners, businesses, the public and the CQ as a whole.
Residency 1 is in 74-78 Piccadilly A.K.A The Panasonic Store. Call by and say hi. Mark, the store manager is accommodating us, showing us round and making us cups of tea.