Contemporary Heritage: A new way of seeing is an ambitious programme of site-responsive artist commissions in historic sites across Lancashire. The commissions, inspired by Lancashire’s heritage and by the distinctive characteristics of each location, animate each site and offer visitors a rare chance to experience works of art by artists of national and international standing outside an urban centre.
Title Contemporary Heritage: A new way of seeing Historical Sites Towneley Hall and Park, Clitheroe Castle Museum and Park, Helmshore Mills Textile Museum, Turton Tower, Gawthorpe Hall Lead Artists Geraldine Pilgrim, Ailís Ní Ríain, Claire Morgan, Ultimate Holding Company, Owl Project, Catherine Bertola Artwork Sculptural Installation, Sound Installation, Residencies & Events Partners / Stakeholders Towneley Hall and Park, Clitheroe Castle Museum and Park, Helmshore Mills Textile Museum, Turton Tower, Gawthorpe Hall, Burnley Borough Council, Lancashire Arts Development Service, Lancashire County Museums Service, Arts Council England, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council Budget 127000 approx Development Summer 2009 onwards Dates 11 September 2010- 31 Oct 2013 continuing into 2014/15
Contemporary Heritage: A new way of seeing was developed by Mid Pennine Arts as a partnership programme. Their projects had previously drawn inspiration from distinctive local contexts (the natural and built environment, industrial and social heritage) and they were inspired to explore Lancashire’s heritage venues, identifying the vast potential for engagement by marrying contemporary arts with these remarkable historic locations.
The aims established for the series were to commission a diverse programme of ambitious new work to highlight the unique context of each venue, and to build successful sustainable partnerships between Mid Pennine Arts, heritage venues, project partners and commissioned artists. It was felt that this series could deliver a learning programme in partnership with artists, venue learning teams and the learning team at Mid Pennine Arts - sharing and developing skills across the sector. There was a drive to attract and engage new audiences from within Lancashire and beyond, as well as actively engaging current heritage audiences, and to make a contribution to raising the profile of Lancashire as a cultural destination for outstanding contemporary art and historic treasures.
Three years in to this series, Contemporary Heritage: A new way of seeing has included five commissions and two artist residencies, and the series is being further developed for 2014 and beyond, scaling up Contemporary Heritage to become a strategically significant event for Lancashire.
Each unique location has presented a different set of conditions but in identifying and selecting artists for the series, Mid Pennine Arts sought to:
- Commission artists of national or international standing.
- Work with artists who have a track record of making work responding to heritage settings or distinctive locales.
- Commission work that is contemporary and challenging, but capable of speaking to a non-urban, non-arts audience.
- Include work of a depth and resonance that will invite repeat visits and sustain interest over a lengthy exhibition period of six to twelve months.
- Stimulate interest and further exploration through a supporting programme of engagement and creative learning.
- For Mid Pennine Arts- to build a wider audience of local residents and visitors for contemporary exhibitions.
- For heritage partners- to encourage repeat visits and to introduce a wider public, and specifically a younger audience, to their venues.
- For all concerned- to build awareness of Lancashire as a cultural destination with distinctive assets and a rich variety of locations to discover and explore.
The first partnership was created with Townley Hall and Park in Burnley, this was followed up with a networking event Be Inspired. This event presented examples of contemporary art commissions and artist-led interventions in heritage sites, to inspire and attract new venues into the programme. Funded by Renaissance North West Be Inspired proved to be a huge success; four further heritage venues joined the Contemporary Heritage partnership programme; Clitheroe Castle Museum, Helmshore Mills Textile Museum, Gawthorpe Hall and Turton Tower.
Throughout the programme, there have consistently been two commissions running concurrently either for the whole duration or for a period of time to maximise the opportunity for audiences to visit more than one site and to benefit from the shared publicity and promotion of each exhibition. A rapport has also been built over time with the key contacts and front of house staff at each venue, which has assisted in the smooth running of the programme. Issues have arisen however, when the key contact has left, and new relationships have had to be forged; an important issue for this programme has been the time required to develop sustainable and genuine partnerships.
Numerous site visits have been required to gain a clear understanding and knowledge of each unique site, the diverse challenges each venue faces and the related impact this has on the commissions.
The selection panel for each commission or residency consisted of venue staff, Mid Pennine Arts Contemporary Heritage Curator and Mid Pennine Arts Creative Director. It was contractually agreed with each partner that a front of house staff member would be key part of the selection panel- their role as an ambassador for Contemporary Heritage and liaising with other colleagues at the site was considered invaluable.
The methods used to approach and select artists for Contemporary Heritage: A new way of seeing changed as the programme developed. For the first two commissions at Towneley Hall and Clitheroe Castle Museum they included an open and targeted approach; an artist brief was distributed alongside identified artists being invited to submit an expression of interest. For the following 3 commissions at Helmshore Mills Textile Museum, Turton Tower and Gawthorpe Hall it was targeted artists only. A funding award agreed during the development of the programme enabled Mid Pennine Arts to invite two of those artists to undertake a research residency at Helmshore Mills Textile Museum and Turton Tower respectively, during which they were invited to develop a proposal for one of the main commissions.
The heritage sites provided a rich history and environment from which the artists were able to draw- but this created its own challenges; Helmshore Mills Textile Museum was already a curated space; there was an array of fascinating sites in the mill but all were filled with large-scale machinery. The challenge for artist Claire Morgan was to find a way of competing and adapting to an already vast amount of visual stimulus in each space.
The relatively small scale of rooms at Turton Tower meant that there were tight limits on the number of visitors allowed within the building and within any one room at one time. Encouraged by Mid Pennine Arts and the venue partners, Owl Project made the decision to counterpoint this with the installation of speaker horns with audio soundtrack at three locations outside in the grounds- creating greater access to the work.
The principal challenge at Gawthrope Hall was the artist’s decision to involve local people in staging the historic re-enactments from the past life of the house. The shoot had to be timetabled to fit in with the winter refurbishment schedule at the site, and logistically carefully managed to accommodate all parties.
Not Forgotten a sculptural installation, and supporting commission Memory Garden by Geraldine Pilgrim, Towneley Hall and Park.
Geraldine Pilgrim was inspired by a family portrait of John and Mary Towneley and their fourteen children, painted in 1601. The painting, which hangs in the Towneley Room, acknowledges the lives of their seven daughters and seven sons as if they had all survived to adulthood.
In Not Forgotten a four poster bed was set within the grounds of the house with a mature tree, meticulously constructed from turkey oak branches, emerging from its centre, and for Memory Garden seven wooden cots were filled with lavender and seven with rosemary. The family tree installation and the lavender and rosemary memory cots were living memorials to each child and presented a compelling meditation on remembrance and loss.
TAKEN a sound installation by Ailís Ní Ríain, Clitheroe Castle Museum and Park.
Ailís Ní Ríain’s composition was inspired by the story of the Lancashire Witches and the 400th anniversary of the Witch trials in 2012. Ní Ríain spent time imagining how they might have spent their final four months in captivity whilst awaiting trial. She imagined the accused humming to themselves and each other to comfort, entertain, mourn, motivate or simply to kill the silence. 12 Lancashire men and women who had responded to a call out were individually recorded humming a tune of personal poignancy. The recordings were then interwoven with an acoustic harp to create the composition.
Two audio speakers were already in situ in The Keep for visitor announcements, which was exceptionally fortuitous for the straightforward installation of the piece and two additional speakers were installed in the tower. A practical benefit of commissioning a sound work in this outdoor site was that it required minimal maintenance and no invigilation.
No Match a sculptural installation and research residency by Claire Morgan, Helmshore Mills Textile Museum.
During the research residency Morgan spent time meeting ex-mill workers, reading accounts of their experiences and listening to recordings, and found the mill workers held fond memories of the mill despite the daily hazards they had faced. The installation was suspended in the Devil Hole, where danger arose from mans’ attempt to harness natures power, through intense heat, noise, smoke and frequently blood. No Match acknowledged the connection between man and machine, mill and environment, and the fragility of man, woman and child as they struggled to control nature.
Artist Residency by Ultimate Holding Company, Turton Tower.
The Ultimate Holding Company is a multi-disciplinary studio that draws on a wide range of traditional and contemporary fine art practices including digital art, public performance and sculpture. During the residency UHC created a new interactive 3D digital sculpture representing the beauty, history and complexity of Turton Tower. The work gave visitors an insight into Turton Tower's hidden architectural narrative, staircases that disappeared and doorways for rooms that led to nowhere.
A number of artist-led tours and interactive workshops also took place, which included the opportunity for visitors to create their own 3D digital sculptures using Google Sketchup. The proposal that UHC developed for the main commission did not meet the criteria so a further group of artists and architects were invited to submit proposals.
K-Scope a sculptural installation by Owl Project, Turton Tower.
Owl Project were intrigued by elements of the tower’s history that remain absent, in particular, rumours of secret tunnels and the work and the inventions of former resident James Kay.
Through K-Scope, Owl Project invite the viewer to enter an imaginary space where fact and fiction combine, and where technology develops on a tangential path to the one we see around us. For this commission Owl Project have created two elements that link the tower and the garden; inside is a wooden analogue computer that weaves light, and outside three listening horns are exhibited in the tower’s gardens.
In the garden the speaker horns invite the audience to listen in, and imagine what unseen activity might be going on underground. Inside the tower, inspired by James Kay’s inventions, Owl Project draw an analogy with current technological developments; the path from weaving and early machine programming to modern computers, fibre optic communication, and even optical computing. The K-Scope is manually operated and visitors are invited to try it out for themselves.
Flicker a sculptural installation by Catherine Bertola, Gawthorpe Hall.
Flicker was inspired by a family photograph album from the early 20th Century which highlighted to the artist the difference between the rooms as they currently appear and the photographic images. Ideas then developed that explored ways of recreating a sense of how the spaces in the hall may have looked at different moments in time. Bertola was interested in how the space could be seen from diverse perspectives, and through the eyes of different people who have occupied the space over the course of its history.
Camera obscura devices were created and are located in the Great Hall, the Drawing Room and the Long Gallery, with each lens capturing an image of the interior space in which it stands. Into these static images, scenes from the past flicker into view, allowing glimpses of events and people who have previously occupied the building- from meetings during the Civil War period, to Victorian dinner parties and children playing in the 1950’s.
Alongside each camera obscura is a pamphlet, written by Bertola, with contributions from the Pennine Ink Writers' Workshop, offering a further glimpse of the past in the present.
Broadly, for each of the main commissions, proposals were invited based on a budget of 12k to include artist fees and fabrication. With the additional costs, excluding the creative engagement programme but including marketing, staff costs and general overheads, each commission has reached a total cost in the region of £25k.
Funders have included: Arts Council England: Gfta and Strategic funds, Lancashire Museum Service, Lancashire Arts Development Service, Burnley Borough Council, Stocks Massey Bequest Fund, Foyle Foundation, Granada Foundation, Modern History, Food & Culture Festival and visitor donations.
During the development process and the run of each commission, in-kind assistance, in the form of considerable staff time was provided by Mid Pennine Arts, venues and strategic partners.
It has been important for Contemporary Heritage: A new way of seeing to maintain and introduce new audiences as well as partner organisations to high quality visual arts, in order to raise the profile of the programme.
For each commission a flier, poster, exhibition guide, postcard and a documentary film have been produced and further publicity has been generated in partnership with each venue including; advertising, press releases, local publications and online initiatives. As the programme has progressed, online communications using social media have become increasingly important to the overall communications strategy expanding the capacity of a limited marketing budget.
There has been a public launch event for each commission and a private view was organised for Not Forgotten, however it has been a challenge, outside major conurbations, to attract substantial audiences to such events.
The absence of a dedicated Marketing Officer due to funding cuts, has impacted on Contemporary Heritage: A new way of seeing and the programme has struggled to achieve the level of press coverage that would be of significant benefit; regional coverage has been moderate, but national coverage with the exception of a-n magazine and subsequently their web-based service, has been limited.
In 2013 a retrospective publication of the first three commissions, is being produced and a second volume covering the 2013 commissions is planned.
A programme of engagement and creative learning was built around each of the main commissions that has included local school children’s visits to Not Forgotten followed up by workshops in schools, visits, reading groups and discussion platforms for older people in response to TAKEN and a programme for young people that has explored the story of the Pendle Witches.
For No Match, two parallel programmes were developed to introduce schools and a children’s centre to the venue. An extensive engagement programme entitled Portraits of the Past is being delivered at Gawthorpe Hall drawing inspiration from Flicker, and will build an archive resource from local people’s own experiences of the Hall. The aim of this programme is to strengthen community ties to the venue, which can seem remote from local community life.
A formal evaluation document outlining the programme for the first three commissions is being produced by The Audience Agency.
Qualitative feedback was collected from each of the commissions and included vox pops interviews at a public launch event and onsite self-completion surveys.
Visitor numbers have increased at each of the sites during the exhibitions, and the majority of feedback has been extremely positive.
Marketing - A key area identified for the future development of the programme is a more substantial investment in a marketing specialist and in the promotion of each project in order to achieve wider coverage that includes national attention.
Audience Numbers - One of the prime challenges for the Contemporary Heritage: A new way of seeing programme as it moves forward will be to achieve greater audience figures for each event, this is a particular challenge given the somewhat fragmented, small scale infrastructure of Lancashire.
Reputation - Building the reputation of the programme, which takes time, is key for future development- encouraging artists of high calibre to apply, and creating greater links with press and local communities.
Learning - A major advantage of developing a series of projects, has been the ability to gain new understanding and experience from each exhibition, with this knowledge feeding into each new project and strengthening the programme as it develops.
A programme of Contemporary Heritage: A new way of seeing commissions are currently in development for 2014 and beyond.
Arts Council England have made £65k of strategic funds available to help realise the potential of the programme, enabling two commissions to run concurrently in 2013 and the further development of the series. The ambition is to work towards Contemporary Heritage: A new way of seeing becoming a flagship cultural event for Lancashire.
The exhibition guides are available to download and the documentary films can be viewed from the relevant exhibition pages on the Mid Pennine Arts website.
Mid Pennine Arts is a commissioning agency, working through collaboration to create high quality art in response to the rich and diverse contexts of North West England. Based in the Pennines, they have a long and powerful track record, working with artists to rise to the exciting challenges posed by dramatic and beautiful rural and post-industrial landscapes, hand in hand with their diverse and resilient communities.
They believe in the transformative power of contemporary art. Working in some of the poorest communities in the UK, delivering ambitious, challenging work that has won national and international awards and achieves profound and lasting social and economic outcomes.
Mid Pennine Arts is a social enterprise, a not for profit company limited by guarantee and a registered charity governed by a volunteer Trustee Board. This new structure was adopted on April 1st 2012.
Rebecca Alexander, Contemporary Heritage Curator, Mid Pennine Arts
01282 421986 ext 207
Nick Hunt, Creative Director, Mid Pennine Arts
01282 421986 ext 201
Geraldine Pilgrim - www.geraldinepilgrim.com
Ailís Ní Ríain - www.ailis.info
Claire Morgan - www.claire-morgan.co.uk
Ultimate Holding Company - www.uhc.org.uk
Owl Project - www.owlproject.com
Catherine Bertola - www.workplacegallery.co.uk