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Charles Quick describes how a programme of creative activities built around the Preston and Lancashire City Deal has brought together artists, residents and policy makers, and been met with a surprising amount of enthusiasm.

Photo of sign advertising event outside cafe

At In Certain Places (ICP), we have been exploring new approaches to art, culture and urban development for 14 years in Preston, Lancashire. We encourage artists and architects to develop temporary interventions in and around the city, connecting with individuals, organisations, businesses and institutions in the creation of locally rooted work.

There is a sense that this project will enable communities to have a proactive involvement in the development of the city, rather than merely responding to formal consultation

However, recently we have begun to research how the city’s outer areas and periphery are connected to its centre. The Connected City is a programme of creative activities and collaborative artworks focused on places involved in the Preston and Lancashire City Deal a £430m, ten-year infrastructure scheme that aims to deliver new jobs and housing to the centre and peripheries of Preston.

The artists involved are carrying out research focused on their areas of interest, including mapping memories, cycling infrastructure, spaces for play, our relationship with the land and intergenerational housing.

A growing network

The Connected City Network is an open group that brings together artists, residents, researchers, urban planners, field professionals and policy makers. This is coordinated via a series of events, conversational gatherings, focusing on the themes and the work of the Connected City artists and the wider issues of the City Deal development. It is intended to give the Connected City programme of artworks a critical context as it develops.

At ICP we support artists to create bespoke events that respond and expand the knowledge base of the areas they intend to explore. We have identified non-arts venues in communities, such as cafes and public meeting centres, we have invited people who hold knowledge related to artists’ themes, and then decided on the structure of the event, such as a presentation or workshop discussion.

The network provides an opportunity to engage with the artists and contributors to the programme, to find out more about the context of the work and share in the conversation that each artist’s work encourages. Members are invited to bring expertise, contribute opinions and facilitate debate though the events and shared learning online, via blogs.

The network is for people who live and work in the city, local groups, organisations and anyone interested in Preston’s present and future. The open events are held in the city where artists present work in progress, and academics, residents and people involved in the City Deal discuss the changes it is bringing about.

All contribute to the artworks and research. Artists from the city value these democratic forums that allow them to have access to stakeholders, policy makers and other creatives, while enabling them to contribute to the development of their city through ongoing conversations. As a critical mass develops, there are more opportunities for artists to influence the arts and regeneration debate.

Outcomes and feedback

Many new and unexpected relationships have materialised. At ICP we have been genuinely surprised by the enthusiasm for this activity from people who were not already connected to us. They came from a wide spectrum of backgrounds and wanted to contribute in some way. This has had an impact on how the artists have evaluated the direction of their projects.

For others, it has deepened and strengthened their knowledge base, enabling them to share this to the benefit of local debates, casting them as an expert in the context of the local.

The network should act like a membrane within the overall scope of the project, linking the different stages of this three-year programme. We look forward to making visible the cross-referencing and fertilisation between artist projects, enabling us to look at the work as a body and examine what it highlights about the involved communities.

It will be important to continue to exchange the shared learning, generated by external perspectives, artists and residents of Preston. The video recordings and associated blogs of all the events will be online generating a wider audience, as well as acting as an archive for future research. There is a sense that this project will enable communities to have a proactive involvement in the development of the city, rather than merely responding to formal consultation.

Charles Quick is Co-curator of In Certain Places at the University of Central Lancashire.
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