Residents meet to create joined up ideas for public art in Knowle West

By Arts Programme Manager Martha King

Public Art in Knowle West spring / summer meetings summary: 

What kind of Public Art could we imagine for Knowle West? 

Knowle West is unique as a neighbourhood in having its own Public Art Strategy (written in 2011), you can take a look HERE  

With so much housing and other development happening in the neighbourhood now – the community have been coming together, since April 2021, to look afresh at the Knowle West Public Art strategy and think about the potential for Public Art in the area. 

At the initial meeting in April, 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 public art in Knowle West – which can then be presented to developers  
  • Involving more residents in these conversations and making sure we share widely the developments around the KW Public Arts Strategy 

Following the energy and momentum from the first session Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC) hosted two more sessions over the spring / summer exploring ideas and possibilities further. 

Carolyn Hassan, KWMC director, and Martha King, KWMC Arts Programme Manager, facilitated these sessions with some people joining via zoom and others in person at KWMC.  

So far, we have discussed: 

–What defines a public art project – can it be anything? 

–How we can ensure more people are able to be involved in these discussions? 

–How best to share with developers the communities’ priorities and vision? 

As well as all participating in creative activities – to start imagining what Public Art in Knowle West could do, look and feel like.  

In terms of defining Public Art, we all felt that the definition in the KW Public Art Strategy manual is really useful: 

’Public Art is art that operates in the public sphere. The term has in the past been used to describe sculpture and interventions in areas physically accessible to the general public, but, as artistic practices have considerably evolved, it has come to describe what is now a very broad field of work outside a gallery setting. Now the term may include material products such as books, posters or sculptures; a process or ongoing interaction with a community; an intervention into infrastructure or media; or public events like meetings, fetes or performances. It also encompasses socially engaged artistic practices that involve a public in their making, exploring issues directly relevant to their lives. Since the 1990s many local authorities have started to commission public art within regeneration and cultural development programmes’’. 

There are many definitions of Public Art, but for the KW definition it is important that the community are involved in the process right from the start, that socially engaged artists are part of it and that the work is rooted in place – exploring things that are relevant to the community. 

With this in mind we shared examples of existing public art that we like (for example Morag Myerscough’s pavilions and the recent local Walter Jack Studio ‘PositiveNegativePositive’ commission) and then spent time exploring together: What kind of Public Art do we want to see in KW. People worked in small groups to respond to these questions:  

1. Where in KW would you most like to see something happen?  

2. Who should be involved?  

3. What themes should be explored? (Looking back at the P.A Strategy manual and thinking about which of the 12 instructions or inspirations (on p.23) are most inspiring) 

In terms of themes – clusters of ideas and priorities started to emerge, especially around – ‘Encouraging Use of Green Spaces’, ‘Play’ and ‘Intervening in Community Space’. With agreement that welcoming new residents, way-finding around the area and connecting up separate parts of the neighbourhood are also really important aspects to incorporate in to any Public Art commission. 

In terms who should be involved people felt it was important to include everyone in the KW community – especially the younger generation and also to find ways to connect with / include those who may be housebound or feel isolated. It also seemed essential to include artists whose work is participatory and that artists with a high profile could help make Knowle West a destination.  

From these emerging themes we developed ideas further by writing ‘mini briefs’ that could form the basis for Public Art commissions and writing ‘newspaper headlines from the future’ as if these works existed in the neighbourhood. This was a creative way to start imagining what we want to see and what the impacts could be for the community. We were also joined by an illustrator, Jazz Thompson, who captured key parts of the discussions (see images below) 

Everyone at the meeting committed to sharing the discussions happening at these sessions with wider community groups and contacts to get more input and we all agreed that it is really important to find ways to share these ideas, priorities and themes with developers and city council members – in order to make sure there is a more joined up approach to Public Art Commissioning across Knowle West. 

In terms of encouraging more conversation around Public Art we have been inspired by the work happening in Brighton and Hove, led by Lighthouse, to encourage residents and communities to voice their opinion about public art in their city. You can watch some of the videos HERE. Perhaps we could create our own Knowle West community films talking about Public Art? If you are excited by this idea or have other ideas please do get in touch, or come along to the next meeting. 

The next meeting, is open to all and will be on September 28th 10am – 12pm at KWMC and via zoom. This meeting will focus on how to connect the work happening at these meetings with the live opportunities for Public Art that are arising in the neighbourhood. 

If you’d like to join the next meeting or have any other questions please email: or call KWMC on 0117 903 0444.