A Newington Story: May – August 2015
Themes that run through my work relate to issues regarding trust, truth and fiction and identity, all of which are issues that are representational to the younger generation as they seek clarity in their role within society and friendship groups.
Searching for their unique identity, exploring worlds of fantasy and lies, manipulating truths with desires. These blurred and experimental boundaries provide an exciting footing for exchange and discussion. (Leandro Stafford, commissioned artist)
Turner Contemporary’s aspiration was to use Generation ART as the catalyst for a new commission giving young people a voice and presence in a high profile way at Turner Contemporary.
They also wanted the commission to build on previous outreach work with young people from Newington Youth Centre, Ramsgate; an under-resourced service working with young people who are often described as ‘disengaged’ and ‘hard to reach’.
As this was an ambitious brief for a short term commission, Turner Contemporary joined forces with People United, an initiative based at Canterbury Innovation Centre, whose vision is to create a more kind and caring society through the arts.
People United were already engaged in The Best of Us; a two year, large-scale participatory arts project in Newington collecting and celebrating good news stories in area challenged with high unemployment, low incomes and a negative press.
Working with their artist-in-residence, Nova Marshall, the project engaged local residents to form an intergenerational community group called ‘Creative Champions’, to make work, curate exhibitions and events, and programme a high quality arts festival.
The commission aimed to build on this, and create a new, positive narrative for Newington, a local area often the subject of more negative press, by encouraging local people to contribute responses based on their own views and experiences of Newington, from thoughts and feelings to everything in between.
The artist selected for the Turner Contemporary commission was 23 year old Leandro Stafford, an MA student studying Visual Communication at the Royal College of Art; also originally from the Newington area. As well as running workshops in the youth centre, Stafford also ran sessions with the ‘Creative Champions’, a group that included some of the young people amongst its members.
Various workshop activities were devised in response to previous sessions, such as flag making and seed bombing. The group was curious about the idea of taking a destructive object such as a ‘bomb’ and subverting it to do positive things with, like growing seeds. Through these activities conversations developed around their own personal narratives.
From the outset participants responded well to Stafford and quickly felt a kinship towards him as he had grown up in the area.
Young participants adopted the identity of the ‘Newington Army’ and began to explore ways in which they could use these personal narratives to create ‘peaceful protests’.
These ideas were developed through two strands of Stafford’s commission; an interactive website collecting a new, local, open source narrative, and large scale lightbox installation sited for a week on the terrace at Turner Contemporary. Extracts of Newington messages were installed by hand on the Perspex façade facing out towards Margate, utilising an aesthetic and method similar to old-style cinema signs with attachable and adjustable letters.
For International Youth Day, young people from Newington were actively involved in posting their messages together, and were also introduced to the Generation ART and Grayson Perry’s ‘Provincial Punk’ exhibitions. None of the young people involved had ever visited despite living only 5 miles away.
What is the value of exhibiting work by children and young people in a gallery setting, and alongside established artists’ work? It’s crazy important. The atmosphere on the International Youth Day just showed how important it was. Leandro (Stafford, commissioned artist) took the kids around the Grayson Perry and they were hanging on his every word… It felt like a celebration. (Poppy Andrews, Communications Assistant)
This was an ambitious project, with some challenges, but overall A Newington Story enabled young people from Newington Youth Club to:
- Enjoy taking part in a creative activity
- Learn something new or gain confidence, whether that be with a skill, experience or knowledge
- Get positive experiences from working with artists and art organisations
- Show the value of the young people through the public art commission
- Involve the young people as much as possible in the process
- Promote and encourage an interest in the arts
- Facilitate the young people to visit Turner Contemporary and the Generation ART exhibition
Interestingly, during the week of the Generation ART art commission installation on the terrace, Turner Contemporary had their highest weekly visitor figures for the year – 13,679 visits – up 44% up on the same week the previous year.
The highest visitor numbers of the week were on the Wednesday, International Youth Day, with 2810 visits, thanks particularly to the efforts of Evaluation Champion Lydia Laitung, who oversaw many aspects of Generation ART at Turner Contemporary.
After meeting Leandro (Stafford) and doing this project I want to do Art for my GCSE, I really liked being at the Turner and seeing the artwork, even if some of it was a bit weird! (Chanese, young participant, Generation ART commission, Turner Contemporary)