The Longbridge Public Art Project (LPAP) was conceived and set up in September 2012 by Claire Farrell, Director and Curator of WERK in response to the changing nature of Longbridge, a suburb of south-west Birmingham.
Once the site of a thriving motor factory (1905-2005), Longbridge was at that time in the midst of massive regeneration after a seemingly long fallow period. While some of its existing communities were still making sense of the site’s industrial loss, the creation of a town centre for the very first time, the re-location of Bournville College and the construction of large-scale retail units were designed to bring new jobs and footfall to Longbridge. WERK believed that contemporary public art and socially-engaged practice should be at the heart of such a unique and complex development.
Working to stimulate the cultural growth of the area, one of WERK’s approaches was to create the LPAP artist-in-residence programme. In 2013 WERK invited artists to embed themselves within the community, starting conversations with people of each generation in order to research the history, concerns, challenges, opportunities and futures of those that live and work in Longbridge. These conversations were catalysts to make artwork in a range of ways and media that explore social, historical and geographical aspects Longbridge, always with sensitivity to its living history.
The outcomes of the artists’ research were wide-ranging. They included a permanent sculpture commemorating the beginnings of the motor factory; planting and lighting schemes designed to enhance the appearance and function of new walkways through the town centre; a community garden at Longbridge train station and a light text piece by German artists FAMED.
Other outcomes were more subtle – sometimes temporary or fleeting encounters with artists’ work or conversations within the public environment. WERK aimed to challenge the traditional definition of what public art is through a process-driven approach, whilst highlighting how each element was productive and vital to cultural experience.
The LPAP public programme of exhibitions, festivals, walks, talks, workshops and open days were carefully planned to encourage participation and to empower community-led projects and activities in and near to Longbridge. Working with community partners (education providers, social and community groups and businesses of varying scales), as well as individuals (including several former factory employees) enabled LPAP’s work to reach into many areas of the community. This provides people with new skills and experiences, and new ways of thinking about Longbridge. Highlighting the value of specific buildings, individuals and groups of people (social capital) through high quality contemporary art activity that was at the forefront of LPAP’s place-making aim to re-invigorate the social and cultural value of Longbridge in this new chapter of its life.
LPAP provided the potential for Longbridge to retain and remember its industrial past, while creating positive opportunities and new markers or gateways for the town. These highlighted the value of Longbridge at a time of change and uncertainty. LPAP was about the history, transformation and (re)creation of Longbridge. It was also a project, perhaps most importantly, for Longbridge.
To find out more about LPAP artists-in-residence, research and work-in-progress please click here. Keep up to date with the project by signing up to our newsletter here.