Longbridge Public Art Project 2012-2017 / by Claire Farrell

Longbridge Public Art Project (LPAP)

Longbridge, Birmingham, 2012-2017

How do you make sense of a place that has been transformed beyond almost all recognition in physical, economic, social and emotional terms?

And what if it is still transforming before your eyes? How might a place move forward towards its future while holding sight of its past?

These are the questions that the Longbridge Public Art Project (LPAP), conceived by Claire Farrell Director & Curator of WERK, explored over a five year period (2012 - 2017) working closely with St. Modwen. Following the closure and demolition of the Longbridge car plant (1905-2005) and after a long fallow period, Longbridge underwent a massive (468-acre) and unique suburban regeneration scheme. 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 are bringing jobs and footfall to the area – LPAP was a durational project that took place and responded to a place that was in flux, and a community that was coming to terms with an entirely new identity.

No single artist could hope to encapsulate one hundred years of history, let alone Longbridge’s current changes. Claire Farrell's commissioning approach was the creation of a long term artist in residence programme that provided openings for artists to embed themselves within the community over a much longer period of time than other public art projects might typically allow. Placing the public of Longbridge at the heart of the programme, and extended time for artists research and making work in Longbridge

Sculpture, collage, photography, drawing, and more performative walks and interventions were presented in public spaces, gallery exhibitions and as part of the Longbridge Light Festival a key platform for temporary work during LPAP (2014 & 2016) and opportunity for WERK to explore tactical urbanism within a large, live and rapid changing physical development.

Workshops, talks, events and discussions allowed for participation and the expansion of ideas. Collaborations between the WERK team, artists, community groups and Longbridge residents, including several key former plant employees who are involved with LPAP’s work on many levels, were nurtured. It was in this exchange that the huge value of Longbridge’s heritage was uncovered. LPAP influenced Longbridge’s future narrative too. In some cases this was taken in the form of artistic solutions to practical problems such as illuminating public walkways but as Longbridge is a place to which people have strong political and emotional connections, sensitivity was required at every step. This was living history.

The LPAP short and long term residency programme guided and shaped the development of 40 artist projects generating 97 individual works by long term artists-in-residence including 10 permanent public artworks. The public programme including two light and art festivals combined attracted over 11,000 visitors.

Funded by Arts Council West Midlands, Birmingham City University, Bournville College, St. Modwen and Birmingham City Council.