Developing a shared vision for Public Art across Knowle West

Summary of the September 2021 Public Art community meeting 

By Arts Programme Manager Martha King

With any housing development comes the potential for developers to invest in Public Art.  

Every developer is recommended to invest 1% of the overall development budget on Public Art – this rarely happens however – but imagine what the community could create if it did… 

As there is so much development going on in the Knowle West neighbourhood right now we, as a community, have an important role to play in helping incentivise more investment in Public Art.

By shaping a shared community vision, we can help show developers the impact of community led Public Art and in turn create amazing things together that the community want.  

What defines Public Art? 

But what is ‘’Public Art’’? It can be anything from permanent installations in the public realm – like play areas or street furniture – to pop up gardens, celebrations, feasts or songs.  

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The Community Meal. Photo credit: Andy King © 2014, courtesy of Public Art St. Paul 

Knowle West is unique as being the only neighbourhood in Bristol to have its own Public Art Strategy, ‘The Manual’ (written in 2011), you can take a look HERE.  

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In the manual it explains that public art doesn’t need to mean large sculptures that appear from nowhere and can take many forms – including parades, temporary structures and food projects. The manual also clearly explains that whilst there are many definitions of Public Art the KW version always: 

1.) Includes the community right from the start  

2.) Involves artists who are brilliant at working with communities  

3.) Results in work that is rooted in place and about things relevant to the community.  

Past meetings: 

Since April 2021, Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC) – as the neighbourhood’s arts organisation, has been hosting meetings for the community to come together and look afresh at the Knowle West Public Art strategy.  

At the initial meeting where ‘Residents met to begin re-imagining public art for Knowle West’  everyone agreed that now is a really good time to be:   

  • Developing joined up ideas for what the community want  
  • Involving more residents in these conversations   
  • Making sure developers are using the KW Public Arts Strategy  

You can read more about the spring meetings via the link above and the summer meeting HERE, where we began to map out ideas around where we want things to happen, who should be involved and what the priority themes are. 

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Live sketch by Jasmine Thompson of the Summer Public Art meeting at KWMC. 

September Meeting: 

In September KWMC facilitated another meeting with people joining via zoom and others in person at KWMC.  Community members, representatives from the city council and artists working in the neighbourhood joined to: 

-find out more about live opportunities for public art in the area 

-review and connect ideas developed so far   

-create a plan for taking ideas and community priorities to developers  

It was emphasised that this is an open and evolving group, people are welcome to join at any time and all are encouraged to continue conversations beyond these meetings. 

People from the group shared information about developments planned for and already happening at: Inns Court, KnowleDGE, Filwood Broadway, Knowle West Health Park and others.  

A case study, ‘being led by teenagers’: 

We then shared a bit about some great work already happening in the public realm as an example of community-led activity that could grow into future Public Art projects. 

Clara Collett, KWMC young people’s project manager told us about a recent project where teenagers from Street Space designed, built and decorated their own outdoor seating using the Making Together blocks – the same system that was used to make the outdoor structure / pavilion outside KWMC called BlockWest. The StreetSpace collaboration illustrated just how impactful it can be when local people are involved in creating things they want.  

The mission that the young women from Street Space set out on was to creative positive change in Knowle West. Identifying the issues with the neighbourhood: ‘No places for YP to sit and hang out in the area’, ‘that they felt safe.’ Then they took part in various workshops to learn how to design using the Blocks – and get creative and hands-on with the tools! 

To figure this out, they worked as a team, learned to use the accessible building tools, took us on a trip to explore the neighbourhood — sharing, observing, listening, designing, and building.  

On the build day, the young people came together and gave it their all, they led the day and got really stuck in! The decision to paint the structures gave the girls agency and ownership over the product they had created. 

We then paraded the structures around the neighbourhood and this created conversations – a local circus group engaged with us and did a mini-performance getting the young people involved – and other young people from Street Space were able to see it and try it out! 

Giving it the tick of approval, it created strong connections in the neighbourhood – putting the design and decision making into the hands of the local young people.

The final outcomes were fun and functional – with life-changing benefits and positive attention from lots of young people in the area. Bringing young people together, it allowed them to create their own space, be active, be safe and connect with other young people in the community. 

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Tour of the neighbourhood + designing 

Build Day  

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Parading the neighbourhood  

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The Pros and cons of a joined-up approach: 

After celebrating this local example, we all acknowledged that the opportunities and activities going on across KW can often seem fragmented and not as joined up as they could be. We discussed as a group whether we feel there is potential to think in a more joined up way about the public realm across KW? Most people agreed there was potential and that a more joined up approach could help connect areas, make KW a destination and create a shared visual language across the neighbourhood through things like gathering spaces, street furniture or more permanent market structures. Delving into the pros and cons of this approach raised really interesting points too. See the jamboard below with some captured notes: 

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Imagining together: 

Malcolm Hamilton, an artist and founder of Play Disrupt led us through a creative mapping and making exercise, asking us to think about pieces of art/music etc that we like and why we like it. This sparked our imaginations and opened us up to think about why art is important to us and how it makes us feel. For example, to bring joy, make us feel uplifted, to connect different parts of an area, to open our eyes to new things, to remind us of home… etc.  

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Malcolm Hamilton, of Play Disrupt leading people through an imagination activity using his newly developed playful engagement Balance © boxes . 

This activity prompted discussion around how we describe the value of art and through conversation raised awareness that developers are required to deliver ‘social value’ to a relatively high equivalent percentage cost of the development.  

Everyone agreed it is important to incentivise developers to invest properly in Public Art. And that finding a way to condense the 84-page Public Art manual is essential in order to ensure the good principles and processes listed there are used and put into practice. 

Making the manual useable: 

Lively small group discussions were then held around this prompt: 

‘’How could you make the KW PA manual into something useable and engaging?’’ 

How could it be applied? Who would use it? E.g: – Artists / community / developers? 

So many important points were raised and ideas shared in response to this question. Including: 

-the need to involve more community members in these conversations and get buy in for Public Art from everyone 

-the importance of creating something that uses accessible language, is visual or playful and exists offline as well as online 

-to reach developers it would need to link to their business case and use their language 

-we need to be clear about how Public Art directly links to social value 

-visualising the process, showing case studies and illustrating the impact seems important  

-maybe we need more stick and less carrot with developers, e.g: ‘here’s the do’s and don’ts, you will be held accountable and we are all watching’!  

More captured notes in the jamboard below: 

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Next Steps: 

It was agreed that a good next step would be to form a small representative working group. This group would combine ideas from these sessions and come back to the wider community with some clear possible ways that the manual could be made really useful.  

If you are interested in being part of this working group and ongoing meetings, please get in touch.  

Any questions or to find out more contact: or call KWMC on 0117 903 0444.