We take as our starting point the belief that cities are, in part, formed and reformed by the interplay of different groups and interests – politicians and policy-makers, practitioners and professionals, and residents who all act in their own way as play-makers – as well as economic forces. As such, the knowledge each group or interests has, and the interpretation that they place upon it, can become extremely influential on the way in which the city develops.
What happens when artists are integral to their locality? Can artists be a catalyst for local change and development? What do artists bring in addition and alongside organisations working to develop local areas? How are these issues reflected in an artists’ practice?
East Street Arts has a 21-year history of working with and supporting visual artists to develop new work, concepts and services based on interactive and social engagement. Our interests are heavily influenced by the artist-led movement: A culture that sees artists taking control of their profession by starting collaborative practices, curatorial programmes, discursive platforms, studio complexes and showing spaces. We’re keen to support artistic freedom and innovation; often working with artists who are pushing boundaries and positioning art within our everyday lives. We believe that through empowering artists to operate in everyday spaces, with opportunity to work closely with locally based people and places, they create social, learning and creative spaces and events that directly affect people and places.
There’s a huge amount of theory and debate happening nationally about participatory arts, socially engaged practices and, especially through the development of social media, widening engagement. In response, and through support from Leeds City Council, Empty Homes and Seedbed, we secured a two-bedroom house in Beeston, South Leeds, and launched Artist House 45.
Artists Lloyd-Wilson have been the occupants of Artist House 45 since January 2015. In their own words, they are not ‘drag and drop’ artists. They are not painters or object makers; they are hosts. By building spaces designed to encourage exchange, organising events that leave room for discussion and taking local recommendations on where to have a pint, they have begun to get a feel for what’s important in Beeston and generate their own responses to it. Did they arrive with a game plan? Have they made the work they thought they would? That’s one for Toby and Andrew to answer.
The project is unique. We have researched, visited and learnt a lot from our European peers, mostly running spaces in Belgium and Holland where there is a long history of live/work initiatives, but we haven’t found anything quite like this in the UK. We really wanted Leeds to be the first place to transform residential areas through artists’ living and working from and with local areas. We’re excited by the real possibility for residents to become co-producers and investors, rather than just consumers, and the opportunity to unlock and share experiences, learning, resources and relationships not dictated by any market or institution.
Beeston and Hull are hosting our first two houses but, we hope, by reflecting on our learning, responding to each place individually and uncovering practitioners already making interesting things happen, there will be more. The ultimate aim? An artist on every street.
Text by East Street Arts