How do we move beyond the idea that city centres are the home of culture? What does a collaborative relationship between artists and communities look and feel like?
During 2018, Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC) commissioned five artists; Myah Calista, Marc Blazel, Gill Simmons, Paul Lawless (Brave Bold Drama) and Ellie Shipman to explore these ideas by, working, making and – on occasion – living in Knowle West.
The Living, Working, Making, Together exhibition, showcasing work created during the residency, opened on 20 November 2018 and will run till April 2019. Throughout the exhibition there will be workshops and a closing event. Look out for more information
In September 2017, KWMC hosted a pop-up Artist Hotel in Filwood Community Centre (FCC) raising questions about where artists live, work and make in the city, and exploring collaborative approaches to urban planning, beyond the often repeating patterns of ‘re-generation’ where artists and communities become pushed out by rising house and studio prices: forced to leave the neighbourhoods where they previously lived, worked and made.
a-n covered the event and writer Rowan Lear penned the piece: ‘Bristol’s Artist Hotel: awake with ideas about art, community and ‘regeneration’. She described how “the event was pitched as an opportunity to question how an artist hotel might operate differently, or even be distributed across a community: importantly, to become ‘not a retreat, but a space to engage’”. Rowan concluded that “if the Artist Hotel demonstrates anything, it’s that constructing pseudo-borders between artists and ‘communities’ is over: it’s time to imagine possibilities and realise solutions to housing, employment and welfare – together, as neighbours.
At the Artist Hotel event Filwood Community Centre expressed a keen interest and need to explore new uses for their building. The centre already runs an active programme of classes; including boxing, Slimming World, tap dance, job skills training and bingo. However, in light of recent funding cuts there is a need to animate the centre in new ways. FCC had an appetite for experimentation, a will to practically explore new uses for the centres’ spaces and a desire to build new relationships between local people and artists.
FCC and KWMC collaboratively wrote an artists brief and commissioned the four artists projects they were most excited about and which seemed to have the most potential to explore new ways for artists and local people to work together.
Here is an insight into what the artists got up to – in their own words:
The idea of community flows through every aspect of our lives. From social media to the physical spaces that surround us, community is an ever-evolving concept that we cannot escape. Nor is it one we would want to. I believe that community more than ever exists as an ingrained evolutionary trait, an essential attribute that allows humans to not only survive but thrive. The bell curve of self sustaining internet communities is testament to this. While chat rooms, forums and 3D virtual worlds are quickly becoming abandoned relics of a simpler time, their DNA (and the revolutionary work of early pioneers) has carried through social media to all our daily lives.
However, like every wide reaching technological revolution there are positive things lost in the transition. The current juggernauts exist as platforms for individuals, and while there has always been an element of untruth to the web it seems that anonymity is more and more being exploited for deceit rather than self expression. These now defunct online spaces existed as free states of self expression and are interesting case studies for both digital and physical community practice.
Having spent years researching these ideas and exploring online places, I was encouraged by the shared history of Knowle West and its inherent connection to innovation and new technology. It seemed like the perfect place to put some of these concepts into practice. Using my experience with live-streaming and Knowle West’s connection to community television seemed a natural and an exciting way to engage with the area, looking at community arts projects as not only local immersion but also a chance to create new collectives and spaces for expression. These past months have been about the ‘we’, connections that will hopefully continue well into the future.
Brave Bold Drama
We were delighted to be invited to work with Knowle West Media Centre on this project. We already work with a wide range of community groups in our home patch of Withywood, so we decided to find the equivalent groups in Knowle West and Filwood for this project. We visited Illminster Nursery to work with pre-school children and carers, worked with young people at a Jump Into Music workshop day at Knowle West Media Centre, visited a group for adults with learning disabilities at The Park, and met older members of the community at a tea dance at Filwood Community Centre. We also met many different local residents at Knowle West Fest and had a great time improvising and jamming songs about things like swimming, building with Lego and running around at Cubs!
We gathered ideas for lyrics, riffs (snippets of tunes) and rhythms from everyone we met. We recorded them using KWMC’s kit, and then took them all away and composed a brand new Song for Knowle West. We have written many songs before, including songs inspired by communities in Bath and North East Somerset, where we have worked in the past on community songwriting projects with Bath-based Kilter Theatre. But the songs that came out of those projects were always low-tech and intended for live performance. We have used this residency at Knowle West Media Centre as a great opportunity to learn more about producing and mixing tracks digitally, and how to use sampled sounds. We hope you enjoy our song and we look forward to hearing what new sounds you create using our Songs for Knowle West Sound Station!
We are so detached from the production of food that we have no real understanding of the time and energy invested in what goes into what’s on our plate. Bristol is at the forefront of food growing organisations, charities, collectives and community gardens. Don Jones, local resident and Filwood’s volunteer garden pioneer, has got the ball rolling for a communal garden in Filwood Community Centre.
Over the summer the garden bore dozens of beans, hundreds of tomatoes and some ginormous squash to name a few! re:fill Cafe at FCC, part of re:work on the Broadway, are advocates and great appreciators of fresh food, making lots of delicious food from ingredients grown in Knowle West and now the centre’s garden. The cafe staff produced some delicious chutneys which were tasted and then sold after Knowle West Fest making use of every last tomato.
They were known as ‘The Cafe’ but now have the newly coined name and identity ‘re:fill’ which combines both their own and the Filwood Community Centre’s brands. Throughout the summer, drawings of vegetables were collected from local residents and cafe customers that were then translated into an information board using gardening knowledge and expertise from Don, explaining how and when to grow these ‘doodled foodles’.
The garden is still starting up, but the summer has seen a massive change, with lots of food produced, residents helping to create and control a compost pile, gardening tools donated from a local resident, more plots dug out and the foundations for a greenhouse being put into the ground. Don has worked relentlessly to transform the exterior and interior gardens of the centre and has such vision and drive. He once said, and definitely lives by the mantra – “be brave, be bold, get out there and get on with it” – with this passion, Filwood’s garden can only grow!
Filwood Community Centre sits on a remarkable 80 years of history, as the community and city around it has ridden the waves of regeneration and decline, bringing new opportunities and challenges as it does so. My practice explores urban regeneration and sustainability through a participatory, craft-based process inspired by my love of encouraging the creativity in everyone and my background in community development.
My work often questions the significance of cultural and personal identity, and how that is portrayed in communities and individuals. I am interested in the secret skills living behind closed doors – the making, growing, caring and imaginations lying apparently dormant to the outsider, but which are in fact active or have potential to be activated. The possibilities of these skills correlating with new waves of DIY learning and opportunities for self-employment offered by online courses and resources are huge.
The Living, Working, Making Together residency seemed the perfect opportunity to explore these ideas – from, in and with the community they are responding to. This immersion enabled the project to explore local nuances of the past, present and future of Filwood (known locally as Knowle West) and use those as the creative starting point to make patterns, fabric and products which culturally represent local individuals and the wider community.
In practical terms, this consisted of distributing flyers inviting local people to draw, write or scribble things which remind them of the past, present and future of Filwood. These drawings were then digitised and designed into patterns to be used on fabric souvenirs of the area, and explored further in drawing, making and sewing workshops. This became FILWOOD FABRIC.
I hope FILWOOD FABRIC acts as a catalyst for people living and working in the area to explore new outlets for their skills, knowledge and imagination, and to create new things which represent this brilliant community in new ways.
Marc Blazel: A multidisciplinary artist working in video, image making and web theory now based in London. His current practice involves exploring and creating online communities that push the boundaries of digital expression. For the past few years Marc’s research has been based around exploring digital ‘ghost towns’ and defunct online communities. From 3D worlds to empty chat rooms and forums, the internet is brimming with abandoned locations affected by the advent of social media and conglomeration of the web. His work aims to reclaim these digital neighbourhoods, challenge the current state of online life and see what lessons we can apply to real life communities.
Brave Bold Drama (Gill Simmons and Paul Lawless): resident at the community arts centre and rehearsal space Creative Workspace in Withywood, South Bristol, and programme community arts outreach events for the venue. Gill writes music for the company’s productions and is instrumental in devising and performing new work, as well as developing Brave Bold Drama’s community and education outreach. In addition Gill works as a composer and musician and her music commissions include work for Kilter Theatre Company (Bath), The Festival of Nature, The Architecture Centre (Bristol) and Frenetic Fox Theatre Company. Paul is a professional Actor/Devisor and Lyricist who currently resides in Knowle West and co-runs community arts centre Creative Workspace alongside Gill.
Myah Calista: A recent graduate of UWE’s Graphic Design course, Myah is a Bristol based multidisciplinary designer who’s work takes a playful approach to the social, cultural, environmental and political. She works across many mediums with a keen interest in participatory design and how the role of designer, maker and imaginer can be flipped within the audience’s realm. Her work is research- and process-led, often investigating and unpicking the meanings constructed around society, food and health, offering critique alongside designed and narrated alternative futures.
Ellie Shipman: a participatory artist living in Bristol. She studied BA Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art from 2008 – 2011 writing her thesis on the role of temporary public art in urban regeneration. Ellie completed a research year for her art practice in 2016 through studying MSc Sustainable Development in Practice at the University of the West of England where she wrote her thesis ‘Swell, breach, absorb: How can participatory art use Asset-Based Community Development methodologies to catalyse more climate-resilient communities?’. Debate around sustainability, urban regeneration, wellbeing and notions of community underpin her creative practice. Supported with a substantial body of ongoing research Ellie’s work responds to and challenges public, urban and socio-political tensions through encouraging and engaging the general public and a diverse range of community groups. This often results in co-created craft objects, participatory workshops, installations, audio pieces and printed and digital media as artistic outcomes. Ellie’s art practice, research, background in the third sector and passion for working with people led to establishing the collective ‘something good, something useful’ in 2014, which brings together a multi-disciplinary group who share common values to approach participatory projects.