Written by Imogen
Community Arts Projects – A Case Study
Art should be in the open, not closed away in galleries. So the message of community arts projects seems to be. And what a success they can be. In this article we look at a successful Community Arts Project run by an arts group in Chesham, in the United Kingdom, which successfully brought together all ages, got the community creating artworks, and showcased some of the superb local artists that the area knew nothing about.
Reasons To Be Cheerful
The name of the project was ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ and it had a fairly loose brief. The aims were, broadly, to:
- Celebrate and raise awareness of the art and craftwork created locally
- Give local people the opportunity to enjoy art, and take part in creating it
- Bring a ‘buzz’ and feel-good factor to the High Street
- Make art a talking point and connect with those who have no involvement in art, enabling people to look afresh at their environment
- Create a welcome distraction from current concerns about financial hardship.
Local artists were invited to bring their ideas to the table, and they responded with enthusiasm. The Chiltern Arts Network organised the event. This is a not for profits group which provides an arts directory, events guide and news feed for the local area, and supports artist by providing profile pages, and publicising art exhibitions and other arts events, including theatre and dance. They recognise that artists are seldom well remunerated for their work, frequently accustomed to looking for the best deals on financing materials and advertising, and endeavour to pool resources in helping with these everyday concerns that artists face. As such there was encouragement to recycle and re-use materials in public artworks, such as sculpture.
One of the most successful installations for drawing children into the experience were the sheep sculptures provided by local artist Chris Sims, who took a break from painting and graphic design to have some fun. Building them out of found materials, Chris installed the sheep on the village green, where children could touch and interact with them. The variety of textures lent itself particularly well to this form of interaction. It was helpful for the children to be able to recognise everyday items used to make the sculptures, and helped them look differently at things around them.
Shop Window Installations
This was a particularly useful way of showcasing the artworks of individual artists, who were successful in persuading local shops to support the scheme. From hairdressers to betting shops, shop windows were given over to an individual artist to display their work, which certainly helped to spread a buzz and stimulate conversation amongst local people. A number of sales were achieved through this means, and as a publicity tool for artists it worked extremely well.
One of the playful features of the fortnight was the sudden appearance of random unattributed sculptures around the Chesham area. A snake appeared on a roundabout, a rocket on a road crossing. One beautiful installation appeared called ‘Dances with Walls’ which was created by Jill Grimshaw, which certainly made a nondescript wall something of a talking point.
Children’s Art Collaboration
Local children had a chance to create in a very simple way, by painting stones and forming a picture with them. The project was always keen to stimulate the interest and engagement with the next generation. This was a great low cost way of achieving that aim. Local schools were happy to have Chris Sim’s colourful banners fixed to their railings, and a local art trail ensured that the children had a structured way of finding the artworks which were to be found all over the town.
The ‘Reasons To Be Cheerful’ Community Arts Project was a success on many levels, and managed to fulfil the stated brief well. Local people engaged with artists, some purchasing work and attending concurrent exhibitions of artists’ work. As a publicity tool for raising awareness of local artists it was a great success. It also succeeded in generating the interest and engagement of local children, and teaching them to look at their environment differently. The often playful installations helped demystify artistic creativity for local people. The message that creativity need not cost a lot of money certainly came across, with sculptures made out of ‘found’ materials being a particular success with children. In this sense it made the idea of creating art more accessible to children, who loved spotting everyday objects within the sculptures. Whether is distracted from financial difficulties is hard to measure, but it certainly brighten up Chesham High Street, provided a new focus for locals and broadened some horizons. Several local people joined an arts or crafts group after meeting local artists. Overall it was judged to be a great success, perhaps with scope to be repeated in the future. All communities with local artists and craft workers could benefit from staging a similar event.
Random Sculpture – Snake appeared on a Chesham roundabout
Random sculpture – this rocket appeared overnight. It was stolen, but mysteriously reappeared a few days later!
David Rodgers (Contemporary Clock Maker) and Mary Gamester (Textile Artist) at the Chesham Museum. Window display and items inside the Museum.
Children’s art collaboration – Painting stones
Dances With Walls – installation by Jill Grimwood
School Banner – Chris Sims