The Challenge Of Incorporating Pop-ups Into UK Cultural Policy

As I ponder the tricky question of “what does cultural policy involve?”, I am taking a look at the challenges that face local authorities as they begin to incorporate pop-up empty shop arts spaces into their cultural policy agendas.

There is wide-spread acknowledgement as to the benefits that artists and arts organisations bring to local communities when a pop-up takes over an empty shop.   December 2008 saw the highest vacancy rate of commercial shop units across the UK since records began, the figure estimated at 5% of shops on the high street standing vacant (Local Data Company 2008).  This figure tripled in 2011 to 14.5%, with as many as 1 in 3 shops empty in some towns (Local Data Company 2011).  As a result, pop-ups are a growing practice amongst artists and arts organisations, aided by charitable business rates relief and kick-started in 2009 with funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).  Further empty shops funding was granted by Arts Council England, but appears to have since dried up in the cut-backs.  This has left artists and arts organisations who are keen to make use of empty spaces struggling to find funding sources to cover the expense that invariably comes with running spaces and the project costs associated with pop-ups.

With the increased number of empty shops on the high street and growing demand from the creative community to make good use of the spaces, local authorities face new challenges as they begin to incorporate pop-ups into cultural policy agendas. Political factors are an important consideration such as setting best practice and good governance, changes in government policies and law (e.g. rate relief), conflict of interest between landlords and charities, commercial zoning restrictions.  Economic factors include the ever-changing funding landscape that artists and arts organisations are constantly being affected by, the increased number of empty shops on the high street, the rise in the number of unemployed artists and cultural workers.  This in itself raises concerns over the ongoing issue of cultural labour and the expectation for artists to deliver more for less, along with calls to include more voluntary workers in projects. The social benefits of pop-ups are widely talked about (although complicated to measure), such as reducing crime and vandalism, bringing people together, and instilling a sense of pride of place in the community.  Environmental effects are perhaps more immediate and obvious; adding vibrancy to a local area, making positive use of an otherwise wasted space, improving the cosmetic appearance which increases commercial letting potential – often the end result of a pop-up is that the shop is permanently let – in turn adding value to the local economy.  The very nature of pop-ups – temporary and unpredictable, is also a big challenge for policy makers to overcome.

My objective is to find resources discussing the topic of pop-ups, narrow down the key challenges that face policy makers working to incorporate pop-ups into cultural policy, and draw conclusions as to how the practice can be supported and made more sustainable to provide a lasting legacy for the cultural workers involved, members of the community and local authorities needing to see a return on their investment.

Frieze/ David Nash Sculpture/ Cultural Policy

1.  This year I visited Frieze Art Fair for the first time, a rare and interesting insight into the contemporary art world and it’s followers.  I found the amount of artwork on show hugely overwhelming, and it felt quite odd to experience art in a busy and bustling environment (unlike the normal calm, quiet gallery setting I’m used to seeing art in which allows space for contemplation and appreciation of artworks).  It was however an interesting experience, due in large part to the eclectic mix of people milling around which made for good people watching! Afshin Dehkordi’s review of the contemporary art fair highlights important issues surrounding the affect commercialised art fairs are having on artists and their practice, including the benefits that arise from artists using art fairs as a platform to commodify and sell their art to subsidise more experimental or community based work.

2.  The sculpture garden in surrounding Regent’s Park was more my scene, allowing walkers and joggers to encounter contemporary art as they went about their business.  Black Light 2012, David Nash.

3.  I’ve been frantically researching and reading up on cultural policy since starting my course earlier this month.  First assignment is in the form of a 3000 word essay in response to the question “What does cultural policy involve?”.

Glass/ Hand Bound Book/ Embroidered Brooch

This week I started the MA Cultural Policy Management course at City University London. I have been inducted, stocked up on pens and notebooks, and have a huge pile of reading to work my way through!  Beginning the course meant that last week I had my final day working with More Arts, and I was stunned by the number of cards, gifts and well-wishes I received from those I have worked with over the last three years.  Thank you to all the artists, volunteers and team More Arts.  Here are just three of the beautiful gifts I received – all handmade in Berkshire.

1.  Glass by Christine Morgan.

2. Hand constructed book with hand printed cover and leather spine by Joy Frey.

3. Embroidered brooch by Anne Beckingham.

SOCK/ Sketching On The Prom/ Lip Balm

1.  I was on holiday in Newcastle last week, and there was much excitement when on Friday morning the town awoke to find that the promenade had been yarnbombed.  The Secret Outside Crocheters and Knitters (SOCK) were the group responsible, who added a splash of colour to the sea front as part of Newcastle Arts Festival (NAF).  Read the BBC article about the yarnbombing here.

2.  The perfect way to spend your holidays – taking a sketching class along the prom.  The classes are free every Thursday 10am-12pm throughout the Summer, led by artist Martin McParland.

3.  Unfortunately I was unlucky to be struck down with the flu for most of my holiday, but the best cure seemed to be to get out in the fresh sea air, climb mountains, and smother on Dr Hauschka Lip Balm!

Elaine Callen: Artist

I’ve grown up with the work of Elaine Callen (who happens to be my aunty). My earliest memory of enjoying her work was when she painted a mural onto a heating pipe in our conservatory, it was the talk of the close we lived in and friends still remember it!  My parents are keen collectors of her work, from early huge colourful oil on canvas forest canopies to subtle mountain and moss pastels inspired by the Mourne Mountains.

Who or what most inspires your work?
My work is inspired by the landscape around me. By the wild beauty of  mountain, moor and bogland.

What’s a typical day in your life as an artist?
My day begins with tea in bed and a chance to recapture dreams before the day intrudes. A brisk walk on the beach awakens and consolidates ideas and designs. Back to the studio for coffee and contemplation of work in progress before getting absorbed in painting till the need for tea overtakes. By the afternoon I could be working on tapestry designs for The Big Weave community tapestry project or perhaps cycling to the harbour to help out at The Front Room Vintage/Craft pop-up shop. I like to paint in the evening, in the gloaming, till the last of the light goes.

What’s the piece of work you’ve created that you’re most proud of?
Any piece which captures the feeling of place and a little magic.

Where can we see more of your work?
The Front Room
Vintage pop-up shop
65 South Promenade, Newcastle, Co. Down, N. Ireland

Whats the best thing about being an artist?
Tea in bed!

Tree Of Light/ The Big Weave Tapestry/ Fire Garden

In the build up to the London 2012 Olympics, there has been a huge amount of discussion about ‘leaving a legacy’ – and not just through sport, but linking the Olympic values to all aspects of life.  I enjoyed participating in two aspects of the ‘Tree Of Light‘ project which took place in the Thames Valley, a collaborative project spanning two years which aimed to leave a legacy by bringing young people together through the arts.  The project culminated in a fantastic large scale performance with over 1200 participants, incorporating theatre, dance and music.  As part of the project, The Big Weave was commissioned to teach people across the Thames Valley to weave through creating a large tapestry inspired by the Tree Of Light.   The night before the opening ceremony I went up to London to thoroughly soak up the Olympic atmosphere and wandered through the Fire Garden, an installation inspired by the Olympic flame, at the National Theatre.

1. The Tree Of Light performance at Stonor Park featuring 1200 performers, a huge installation complete with lights powered by cyclists housed in the structure.

2. The Big Weave Tree Of Light tapestry still on the loom.  The completed tapestry will be toured around the various schools and venues for all to enjoy.

3. The Fire Garden at the National Theatre – perfect pre-Olympic magic!

Blooming Loopy/ Dream Catchers/ Lemon Bath

The weekend before last I was at Larmer Tree Festival in Salisbury, managing the Adults Workshop Tent.  Hard to believe with all this sunshine that the main crisis of the weekend was people slipping on thick mud as they entered the tent!  Artists from all over the country came together to provide a creative adults only zone where parents and adults got involved making a clay flock of sheep, giant dream catchers, and inspired portaloo pomanders!

1.  Floral festival hair garlands handmade by my friend Romany at Blooming Loopy were on sale at Larmer Tree Festival – she takes commissions for brides and bridesmaids too.

2. Giant dream catchers made in the Adults Workshop Tent.

3. Treating tired festival stuck-in-the-mud feet to warm lemon bath and cooling toner spritz after a long weekend in wellies.

Martin McParland: Artist

In the seaside town Newcastle, at the foot of the Mountains of Mourne, artist Martin McParland finds his inspiration and source materials (quite literally – he collects lots of materials for his work scattered along the beach in the form of driftwood!).  He’s just returned from a trip to the northwest Inner Hebridean Isles where he was on the hunt for mountains, Rum ponies and whiskey and water to inspire the sketch pad. I caught up with him in Newcastle and managed to persuade him to allow me to take some pics and ask him a few questions.  I wanted to know what it’s like being an artist in an area of outstanding natural beauty and how he ever manages to get any work done!

Who or what inspires your work?
Mostly nature and travel. I think also, since time spent living by the coast the sea and the unpredictability of the weather are an indispensable combination of  inspirations.

What’s a typical day in your life as an artist?
As a resident artist at Shimna Integ, I see my two groups of A level students and work with them . I also teach painting at two weekly classes. In between I normally go for a cycle with camera in tow. I find that is the best way to find that workable image which could start a new series of work. Finishing up with a walk up the beach foraging for that elusive washed up piece of magic driftwood..!

What is the piece of work that you most proud of ?
I collected about 200 pairs of dockers and ship builders gloves that had been preserved in the oil soaked waste ground where the Titanic centre now stands. I had started collecting them around 1993 when I was at University doing my Art Degree. I had them in boxes for a few years really struggling with what to do with them. About 1997 when I was now at Queen St artist studios, I had the opportunity to exhibit in Mostar, Bosnia. The exhibition was entitled No-bodies Children, reflecting upon the Serbian/croatian conflict which tore the country apart 5 years earlier. I had remembered watching the horror unfold on tv back then. I decided as the gloves now had a working title “lost hands”, I thought that an installation on the walls of the newly refurbished Gallery in Mostar with the gloves covering all the pillars throughout the building in and outside (incidentally), the gallery was the only building really left standing. I left the piece titled “Untitled 1887/97″, reflecting on the date I traced the earliest glove id number, which was a riveters glove, to the present day opening of the show.

Where can we see more of your work?
Nowhere at present other than private collections or hanging on sheds & trees with blue tits nesting in them!!

What’s the best thing about being an artist?
Probably being able to express myself beyond words through the art I create and altering others perceptions by challenging and provoking responses. Also not taking any crap from over paid mediocratic athocratic nitwits who have nothing better to do with themselves other than be self servient.

Yarn Ship/ Giant Colouring-In/ Festival Skin Care Kit

A couple of weeks ago I was at Wychwood Festival, a small music festival held on the racecourse at Cheltenham.  I was there to help Festival Kidz who go about the country promoting fun family-friendly festies.  I am a big fan of small independent festivals – interesting world music line-up, quirky arts installations, no queues for the loos, and most amazingly – hot showers!

1. Interactive yarn ship installation, which was built up over the weekend using yarn and fabric scraps woven over a willow frame structure.

2. Giant Colouring-In from Fancy Features, a creative company in Gloucestershire offering bespoke mural design for everyone to get involved in completing.

3. Dr Hauschka festival skin care kit I put together, containing everything you need to keep your skin care routine going even at a festival!  It’s one of those small things that can help make you feel more human after a couple of nights camping.

Type on Tuesday

I’m loving hand drawn type on chalk boards at the moment, it gives a really friendly and approachable feel to signage and is much cheaper than printing too.