Meanwhile Use, Gentrification and Activating Space for Communities

May was a whirlwind of a month for Artspace Lifespace advocating for cultural spaces in our cities. Here are some reflections from our Company Manager, Kathryn Chiswell Jones.

On May 11th-12th, we celebrated our first year since Sparks Bristol opened to the public. Thanks to Arts Council England for extending our funding, enabling us to carry out lots of great arts activity over our anniversary weekend. Everywhere we turned, there was a pop-up art workshop or circus workshop. It was wonderful to have Jospheine Gyasi and Ngaio Anyia play some tunes for us. Jospehine was one of the volunteers for the Artspace Lifespace and Invisible Circus Inclusion Project, funded by Bristol City Council Imagination Fund and led by Ngaio Anyia. The tagline of the SDGs is “Leaving no one behind,” recognizing that for sustainable development to be truly ‘sustainable,’ it has to be inclusive. One of our motivations for creating Sparks in partnership with Global Goals Centre was to create an inclusive space in heart of the city, that broke down barriers for audiences that are considered ‘hard to reach’, so it was a lovely full-circle moment inviting some of that original team who helped us think creatively around inclusion in our very own #DepartmentofImagination to play for us.

On May 13th, I shared our experience of setting up Sparks and the challenges and opportunities of meanwhile use at a workshop organized by Daniel Keech of the University of Gloucester on cultural regeneration of the high street, including ‘meanwhile’ use of buildings and public spaces. We were warmly hosted by Daniel Crow from A SPACE Arts at the beautifully renovated God’s House Tower in Southampton. I talked about how supporting artist spaces contributes to cultural vibrancy and community engagement, as well as the need for succession planning and support for people to take on new meanwhile spaces.

On May 15th, I was back in Bristol, this time at the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft alongside Lucas Batt from the Stokes Croft Land Trust, to talk to Rob Maidment at Sharp Focus Productions about development and gentrification as part of a short factual film commissioned by Burlington Books. The film is for educational use for Spanish students where gentrification and touristification are cited as issues.

Then on May 16th, I dashed to London in the afternoon. I had a quick inspirational visit to the Barbican Centre, one of the UK’s most ambitious exercises in place-making and architecture. It was great to catch the Soufiane Ababri exhibition ‘Their mouths were full of bumblebees’ and the new artwork ‘Purple Hibiscus’ by Ibrahim Mahama on the Lakeside Terrace, which envelops the building’s iconic concrete walls with bespoke woven cloth created in collaboration with hundreds of craftspeople from Tamale in Ghana.

Thoroughly inspired by the power of placemaking and art, I made my way to St Andrew’s Church Holborn for the Festival of Place Pineapple Awards Ceremony, where Sparks Bristol was nominated for The Pineapple for Activation: Community Space. The Pineapples celebrate places that thrive, contribute to urban life, and encourage people to dwell, live, work, connect, learn, or play. Seventeen golden Pineapple trophies were awarded to developments and initiatives, selected from 88 shortlisted projects.

There were some amazing other projects nominated in our category:

The Bell, Ticehurst, for AreYou?, with We Like Today, Chris Baxter, Ben Stagg Architects, and Gleeds

New Greenhill Building, London Borough of Harrow, for Harrow Arts Centre, with Chris Dyson Architects, Webb Yates, KLA, Studio Emmi, and PT Projects

Houlton, Rugby, for Urban&Civic and Aviva Investors, with the Houlton Project Team

LJ Works, London Borough of Lambeth, for London Borough of Lambeth, with Architecture 00, Jan Kattein Architects, Public Works, and Meanwhile Space CIC

Tooting Works, London Borough of Wandsworth, for Business Launchpad, with alma-nac, Townlab, and Dollman Ralston

And the winner was ‘Sparks Bristol’ for Artspace and Global Goals Centre with Invisible Circus!

The judges commented: “The project effectively realizes its ‘commune not consume’ message and proposes a strong model for high-street regeneration that is responsive to the character and values of its location.”

Approximately one in seven shops and one in five shopping centre units are now empty across the UK, and meanwhile use is a great tool to revitalize areas. Time and again, culture is used to kickstart regeneration and retail. By taking on the challenge of Sparks, our aim was not just placemaking but place guarding, demonstrating that regenerating our high streets needs to be more than just enhancing the retail offer. It needs to provide spaces for people to commune, not just consume, to breathe new life into our ailing high streets.

Sparks Bristol, though a meanwhile project, aims to be a model for this vision for cities across the UK. We are proud that the hard work of the many people involved has been recognized by the Developer with this prestigious award.

If you are one of the many people who helped make Sparks fly over the past year, do come and take a photo of yourself with the Golden Pineapple! And if you are a building owner, developer or a charity or non-profit interested in sparking your own change then get in touch as Artspace Lifespace also provides consultancy as well as activation of underutilised and unloved spaces