Wednesday, 17 June 2009

A Place For Creativity? RUDI Conference thoughts

I spent yesterday at a conference in Manchester called A Place For Creativity?, organised by RUDI (The Resource For Urban Design Information) and PlacesMatter (an organisation focused on generating a strong sense of place in environments throughout the Northwest).
It was a good day – lots of interesting presentations, and a couple of arguments! I wanted to blog about2 things that came out of it that I think relate particularly to writing/literature.

1. Throughout the conference architects, urban planners and artists kept talking about finding the story of a place, discovering the narrative, getting under the skin of a place. ‘Every town’s got a story if someone takes the trouble to find it’, one speaker said. Sans Façon are a really interesting collaborative arts practice (2 guys – 1 an English artist, the other a French architect). They talked about how they ‘read from’ place – which I thought was an interesting phrase. It strikes me that this is what the poets on Apples and Snakes' My Place or Yours project are doing – getting under the skin of the places they are connected to. It also strikes me that this kind of understanding of place is like gold dust for those developing masterplans, strategic frameworks etc. for regeneration projects.

2. Paul Kelly is a name I’ve come across before connected to a fantastic project in Liverpool in the 90s called Further Up In The Air (a series of artist residencies in a tower block destined to be demolished – which included a residency by Will Self – I’d encourage you to find out more, on Neville's site, and A Place For Words ). Anyway, he’s now a project manager for Heartlands and is working with Liverpool Biennial on a public art commission on the canal in Bootle, Merseyside. He talked about the incredible low aspirations of residents and the council in Bootle, how he is consistently told: “you can’t do anything here, it’s Bootle”. Which brings me to another hobby-horse topic of mine. I think that story can be really powerful in this context – that sometimes places (and organisations, and individuals) get stuck in a cycle where they keep telling themselves the same story (Bootle’s rubbish, nothing exciting can happen here, for instance). For me, regeneration is about telling a new story, about opening up the idea of change, and through describing this new narrative for a place, creating the space for that change to happen in.

And finally, this gorgeous project by Sans Façon. As part of Glasgow’s Festival of Light in 2005 they created this piece with 2 theatre spotlights attached to a streetlight, and then camped out in a building with a view of the street to see what happened: everyone who entered the ‘limelight’ performed. I just think it’s beautiful!

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