The Peterhead Creative Communities Project. 2005. (Support Artist)
Peterhead is an industrial town on the north east coast of Scotland with a population of 19,000. Its economy has been based largely on fishing, and on oil and gas – industries that are facing major challenges – and the harbour now shows signs of a downturn in marine trade. Other sources of employment have become uncertain, too, and there are concerns about drug and alcohol dependency and poor educational attainment.
In 1998, Aberdeenshire Towns Partnership (ATP) – comprising Aberdeenshire Council, Communities Scotland and Scottish Enterprise Grampian – began to plan the regeneration of Peterhead.
In January 2005, Aberdeenshire Council appointed Sans façon as lead artist-team to work at an early, outline stage of planning for Peterhead’s current phase of regeneration, within a scheme called The Peterhead Creative Communities Project.
I was engaged for a fixed period in Jan/Feb 2005, beginning just prior to the appointment of the lead artist, as support artist, with a brief to raise awareness about the project and begin the consultation process within the town.
I stayed for around 7 days in Peterhead in January / Feb 2005, when the weather is bitterly cold, often wet and the days short. Fortunately many of the people I met were warm, welcoming and supportive.
The project was focused on three key areas in the town, one being Kirk Street: a narrow road which at one time would have been a busy shopping area, but now experienced as a bit of a bottleneck for vehicle traffic, making it unwelcoming for pedestrians, with the result that many of the commercial properties were closed or in decline. The street often felt gloomy in the day, and sometimes almost medieval at night , as the street lighting was very poor.
One of the empty commercial properties had been taken over as an artist run space, and I was given permission by the proprieter to use the venue as a project base. In the two large street facing windows of the former shop, placed light boxes and a convex mirror to try, in a very small way, and lift the light level, and attaract people's attention. I researched aspects of the area and presented maps and visual documenation and then posted cards to every house on the street inviting residents to come to a couple of infrormal drop in events, respond to the material presented and share their views about the area.
The project was covered and events promoted by the local press.
I also met with a group of young people, who were involved in a small film production company, and they agreed to make a short film about the street which was shown on a loop during the drop in events, which were attended by around 25 residents. Over cups of tea, people were invited to trace the routes they used onto a large map of the locale, building up a picture of how they inhabited and navigated the space.
Where were the invisible desire lines?
The second key area was the local community centre which was undergoing fairly major building works to create a new entrance tinto the building. The architecture of the building, which had little exterior glass, reportedly resulted in it being percieved by many as a closed institution, and there were concerns that this was inhibiting some local residents from taking full advantage of the considerable recreational and educational facilities inside.
I was asked to try and create a public consultation event about the building, and learning from the experience on Kirk Street , where I felt many people were either too shy to come into an unknown space ( the project base), or were just concentrating on struggling though the toughest time of year, and staying inside as much as possible, I felt a more direct appooach was required.
Partly as time was very short, I elected to try and take advantage of a temporary entrance corridor which had been constructed to bypass the building works at the original main doorway. On a Saturday, which would see a lot of mixed generation users to the centre, I invited passers by to use the temporary unpainted plaster walls as graffiti boards where they could express their their views about the centre for all other centre users to see, and respond to.
Offerring stencils and spray paint, and a little guidance, I gave people a pretty free rein, and it did appear quite a liberating experience for some. Many participants expressed quite strong opinions, which I did not censor, ( though nobody used four lettered words), and my understanding is that some of the buikding management, who had given permission for this activity, did not appreciate the more negative comments about the building being on display, ( even though some of the staff had contributed to the content).
This graffiti wall caused a quite bit of controversy, and was covereed by the local press, who reported a range of opinions about the intervention.