Community Arts: Politics and participation – housing, arts and Liverpool

1.11.2015, Talks

Politics and participation: housing, arts and Liverpool – what is necessary here?

Liverpool Biennial's annual conference Community Arts? Learning from the Legacy of Artists' Social Initiatives was held at the Black-E on Sunday 1 November 2015. The daylong event brought together distinguished thinkers and practitioners from the field of community arts to discuss the legacy of such practices in the light of a renewed interest in socially engaged art.

Jeanne van Heeswijk, Britt Jurgensen and Angela McKay from Homebaked, Fran Edgerley from Assemble, Joe Farrag from Granby Community Land Trust, Nina Edge and Rosie Cooper contemplate politics and participation: housing, arts and Liverpool and what is necessary here. This panel is followed by a question and answer section from the audience chaired by Andrea Phillips. 

Jeanne van Heeswijk is a visual artist who facilitates the creation of dynamic and diversified public spaces in order to “radicalise the local”. Van Heeswijk embeds herself as an active citizen in communities, often working for years at a time. These long-scale projects, which have occurred in many different countries, transcend the traditional boundaries of art in duration, space and media and question art’s autonomy by combining performative actions, meetings, discussions, seminars and other forms of organising and pedagogy. As an “urban curator”, van Heeswijk’s work often unravels invisible legislation, governmental codes and social institutions, in order to enable communities to take control over their own futures. 

Britt Jurgensen is a German theatre and performance artist based in Anfield and a founding member of Homebaked. She was one of the driving forces in the development of the bakery, directed and co-scripted The Anfield Home Tour as part of Liverpool Biennial 2012, and is currently employed as a facilitator for the community-led design process of Homebaked’s new scheme. Being a co-producer of Homebaked has helped her to find a sense of belonging in her neighbourhood. Since 2013, Britt has been collaborating with Jeanne van Heeswijk on several commissions in the UK and in Germany.

Angela McKay is a founding member of the Homebaked Community Land Trust. She has lived in Anfield for the last 25 years and joined the project to leave a legacy for her two sons and show them what can be done when people get together to fight for their neighbourhood. Angela has worked the last thirteen years with homeless people in Liverpool in different roles employed by the Whitechapel Centre. She strongly believes that Anfield can become a strong and vibrant community again.

Homebaked is a co-operatively run bakery and community land trust located in the old Mitchell’s Bakery in Anfield. They are developing parts of their high street in community-ownership with the aim of keeping social, monetary and cultural value in their neighbourhood. Their bakery offers good jobs to local people and great food, as well as a place to meet to anyone who comes to visit. The community land trust has started on a whole new venture developing a scheme with affordable housing, amenities and shops, and communal green spaces. They call it ‘Build your own High Street’.

Fran Edgerley is a director of Assemble. Assemble are a collective who work across the fields of art, architecture and design. They began working together in 2010 to undertake a single self-build project, The Cineroleum, and have since gone on to deliver a diverse body of work across a variety of scales. Assemble’s working practice seeks to address the typical disconnection between the public and the process by which places are made. Assemble champion a working practice that is interdependent and collaborative, seeking to actively involve the public as both participant and collaborator in the on-going realisation of the work. This year they became the first design practice to be nominated for the Turner Prize, for their work with Granby 4 Streets Community Land Trust in Liverpool.

Joe Farrag is a member of Granby 4 Streets Community Land Trust (CLT), and one of the organisers of the Granby 4 Streets Market. Granby 4 Streets CLT is a not-for-profit community-based organisation in the L8 neighbourhood, Liverpool, delivering housing and other community facilities at permanently affordable levels for local people. The CLT was formalised in 2011, to find a way to renovate empty houses and improve the area. Joe also works for SHAP, an organisation that supports vulnerable people across Merseyside. He has been a board member of several organisations such as Steve Biko Housing Association, L8 Law Centre, Merseyside Skills Training and Toxteth Town Hall. He has worked in the youth and community development sector, city wide, for more than 30 years. 

Nina Edge is an artist. Her work in communities began in the 1980s when residents in Cardiff Docks established control over artist selection, insisting that their established relationship with Edge be recognised in the commissioning of West Close environmental improvements. Emboldened by the insight such networks engender, she went on to produce similarly inclusive works using strategies such as street performance, games or hoardings to extend audiences outside gallery environments. She was a protagonist of the Black British arts movement and is known for her interrogation of the status of production methods and materials. Although sometimes working outside the context of socially engaged practice her interest in interface makes her work widely accessible. A demolition order on Edge’s home and studio in The Welsh Streets area of Toxteth lead to eleven years of housing activism in which she has exploited culture as a political tool.

Andrea Phillips is PARSE Professor of Art and Head of Research at the Valand Academy, University of Gothenburg. Andrea lectures and writes about the economic and social construction of publics within contemporary art, the manipulation of forms of participation and the potential of forms of political, architectural and social reorganisation within artistic and curatorial culture. Recent publications include: ‘In Service: art, value, merit and the making of publics’ in Public Servants (MIT/New Museum, 2015); 'Making the Public' in (ed.) Robin Mackay, When Site Lost the Plot (Urbanomic, 2015); and more.