It’s been a busy week. NIA artist Marega Palser took her Inviting ‘The Neighbours Around To Paint’ project to Maindee, a ward in Newport. The project is an open invitation to participate in the creation of an ever-growing art piece across three large free-standing boards. There are no rules. Marega invited artists to ‘host’ each of the five days and the results are an extraordinary montage of paint, print, collage and sculpture.
This project is part of Maindee Unlimited’s Finding Maindee, an ongoing exploration of the identity of the ward that has been sponsored by Arts Council Wales, National Lottery and Wales Assembly Government under the auspices of Ideas, People, Places (IPP). IPP is an arts led regeneration scheme that has furnished a number of groups across Wales with some hefty funding to… well, regenerate the respective areas each group represents.
Maindee have commissioned a few local artists to contribute projects through their New Pathways programme. Comparatively small bursaries are offered to artists for projects to work within the community and NIA artists have been involved and I’m sure they will share their experiences at some point. However it has forced me to consider what arts led regeneration really is or can be?
What strikes me as a key consideration is that most regeneration projects seem to start with building. New property seems to be the blanket local authority response to reviving a sagging economy, strongly supported by government policy. The creation of new or refurbished housing stock generally sees an in pouring of builders that boost some local trade. The resultant building is a tangible outcome and perhaps some needed housing or retail space. I wonder what the equivalent art project would be to this sort of hard outcome? Would it be a statue? Something along the lines of Verity in Ilfracombe by Damian Hirst? Something contemporary by someone suitably famous that would be sought out by the eager followers of an art movement creating a new economy or building on the existent trade?
It’s not what I imagine in Maindee. Certainly not as part of New Pathways anyway. However there are other outcomes that I think the arts offer that are rarely considered. What if regeneration was more about people? What if specific art projects were aimed at improved use of public space, developing local spirit, engendering identity and creating community. What was deeply apparent from a week on the busiest street in Maindee is that Inviting The Neighbours Around To Paint and the participating Artists created an environment that allowed people to be together and that provides a whole host of new possibilities. In science the builders of the Large Hadron Collider in Cern aimed to build a machine that would create the right environment for particles to collide. I suggest that this is what projects like Inviting The Neighbours does… it allows people’s lives to collide, connect and new possibilities to grow. Can that be regeneration? Well I will leave that to you to decide but what is clear is that new and engaging ways of bringing people together creates energy and that is positive in any community.