Bus Stop Art
This is a post from the weareoca.com archive. Information contained within it may now be out of date.
Something unusual is happening all over the UK. The display windows lining the bus shelters all over town, which once displayed advertisements for high street brands, have begun to display works of art. A once dull walk through an industrial estate in North Leeds is now an appreciation of the paintings of Francis Bacon. The wait for the bus home after a day of work is now an exploration of the work of Gary Hume.
The project takes the form of a nationwide public exhibition, organised by Art Everywhere. As an artist and teacher I see this as a positive move. On my daily commute into town I have often commented to my partner on the amount of advertising we pass, and how it would be nice to see something a bit more informative and educational featured on the billboards. It would seem I was not alone in this sentiment.
This is a quote from their website;
Showcasing great British art across the UK, Art Everywhere is the largest exhibition of its kind in the world. From the 12–25 August 2013 some of the nation’s greatest art is on display across 22,000 poster sites and billboards up and down the country. Artists, curators, media owners and entrepreneurs joined by a love of art have fuelled this massive charitable celebration, and the general public crowd-funded over £30,000 to help make it happen.
Whilst displaying artworks outside of a gallery or museum setting isn’t new, art has been displayed on the London underground for 150 years, what makes this project unique is the interactive element, making it more of an outreach project than an exhibition. Anyone with a smart phone can point it at one of the posters in their neighborhood and access a wealth of information about that particular artwork. Their website also has opportunities to acquire limited edition prints and merchandise in exchange for donating to fund future projects, and there is an interactive map detailing the locations of all artworks across the country.
Many arts and education institutions are channelling more funds and time into outreach programmes like this in an effort to engage isolated or disconnected communities in the arts. In uncertain and difficult economic times, the arts becomes ever more important, not only in developing opportunities for personal and professional advancement for both artists and non-artists, but in highlighting the hardships and positive qualities of struggling communities.
However, outreach is a difficult thing to get right. There is a tendency sometimes for the appearance of artists and arts organisations in struggling communities to be met with resentment, as if their presence somehow highlights the disappearance of members of a once vibrant community, members who have been forced to move due to a lack of opportunity or rising costs in the area.
The first outreach project I was involved in was in my first year after graduating from university. Ambitious and passionate I paired up with a fellow graduate and we set out to organise an event to engage young people in the Lambeth area of London in contemporary art practice. Organising the project involved much more than we anticipated,but what was of paramount importance to myself was that places would be free and not based on artistic ability, and thus inclusive, for the young people involved. The difficult part was making people in the area aware of what we were planning, and ascertaining if it would benefit the community. So even though we had an initial project in mind, after extensive discussion with local people, schools and the local education authority, we ended up adapting our project quite substantially in response to the community.
So whilst outreach is becoming more of a permanent fixture in many arts organisations, or the fuel behind the formation of organisations such as Art Everywhere, it is a much more complex operation than simply hiring an artist to put on a workshop in a town hall or putting on an exhibition. Outreach, if it is to be successful, must be flexible and responsive to the communities which it proposes to engage and, above all, fun!