Katy Sadler explains how a festival in one of Birmingham’s busiest thoroughfares enables craft and design graduates to test their ideas in a supportive environment.
In:Site, curated and produced by Craftspace, is an annual festival in the centre of Birmingham that provides an opportunity for new arts graduates to create bespoke, site-specific artworks.
The supportive environment creates the opportunity for them to test out new ideas with little risk
Now in its ninth year, the festival began as a one-day event with only three graduates. It quickly grew, in partnership with Birmingham Cathedral, into a five-day festival, attracting new makers from across the country who are selected by a panel from open submission.
It takes place in Cathedral Square, a major city thoroughfare and meeting point, with as many as 20,000 people passing through each day. It is the perfect venue to attract a new audience for contemporary craft.
Over the course of a week each maker is allocated a day to make and install a temporary artwork, turning the making process into a performance. The passing public watch, participate and engage with the creation of the artworks, and previous festivals have seen giant embroidery, castings in concrete and pewter, clay modelling and wool spinning.
Graduates have not always had the opportunity through their coursework to consider socially engaged practice or creating public art. At Craftspace we are often involved in commissioning public art or bespoke work for particular settings, where our clients require a certain level of experience and track record. We have often been unable to appoint new graduates for these opportunities.
So the festival provides graduates with the chance to test the viability of their ideas, go through the process of a live commission, respond to a brief and a specific site and engage with the public at first hand. They also learn about risk assessment, contracts, working with an arts organisation and positioning their practice.
Having something credible on their CV soon after leaving college is definitely a benefit. Working with an organisation like ours means that new graduates can tap into our extensive curatorial expertise and knowledge of the cultural sector, as well as our networks and resources. We can often signpost people to further opportunities.
Makers have reported that the project has increased their confidence to work in new ways as professional artists and consider other types of income generation aside from selling work. The supportive environment creates the opportunity for them to test out new ideas with little risk.
Samantha Wilson, an exhibiting graduate, says: “Taking part has allowed me to build up my portfolio, taught me how to showcase my work in a public art setting and has given me the confidence to consider projects like this in the future as I hadn’t even thought about it before now. It’s been both inspiring and enjoyable.”
Another exhibiting graduate, Emma Jackson, says: “Finishing a course is a difficult time in terms of what you will do next, and taking part in an event like this helps to give a focus on what your next steps will be.”
In:Site 2019 returns to Birmingham Cathedral Square from 5–7 September and will be open for applications in May to UK-based artists and makers who have graduated from a BA or MA art, craft or design course in 2018 or 2019.