Public spaces, meeting places… and privatisation

April 12, 2010 by  

At the end of March I  headed up to draw Coventry indoor Market to spend a few days on the next leg of the artistsandmakers.com Empty Shops Network Tour created by artist Dan Thompson (and involving Jan Williams (Caravan Gallery)Steve Bomford Natasha Middleton and podcaster Richard Vobes.) I’ve been commissioned to draw some of the spaces (and their occupants) the tour is visiting and Coventry Market follows from my drawings in Granville Arcade in Brixton.

Coventry Market

An ancient city, Coventry’s medieval buildings were almost all destroyed during the second world war blitz that devastated the city. Its rich history is crossed by stories of King Canute and Lady Godiva. Today Coventry now has a maze of traffic free precincts and modern buildings built in the postwar period and it is far from what the medieval city must have been.

These precincts are watched over by many surveillance cameras and again on this project I to the issue of private and public space that has come up so often for Proboscis in the last 2 years as we find ourselves prevented from taking photos in shopping malls and public squares. PD Smith writes about this issue in an interesting blog post about Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the 21st-century City, Anna Mintons Book looking at control, fear and the city.

Coventry’s indoor market is a circular space in which you can get lost, dizzy and a bit confused about which door you came in but in the process find everything from a cup of tea to 5 kinds of sweet potato, dog biscuits, birthday cards,  fake flowers, fresh rolls, loose cake mix, baking tins and graph paper. Its got a real sense or people mingling from different communities and backgrounds and ages using it to meet, chat and hang out, not just shop. They once celebrated it in a musical.

In many of our recent projects people tell us its less regulated more informal spaces that draw their communities together, Watford Market, Coventry Market, Brixton Market…But these more informal spaces are on the decline it seems and everywhere we see what Paul Kingsnorth wrote in In “Cities for Sale” : From parks to pedestrian streets, squares to market places, public spaces are being bought up and closed down, often with little consultation or publicity. In towns and cities all over England, what was once public is now private. It is effectively owned by corporations, which set the standards of behaviour. These standards are the standards that are most congenial to their aim – getting you to buy things. … There will be no busking, and often there will be no sitting either, except in designated areas. You will eat and drink where you are told to. You will not skateboard or cycle or behave “inappropriately”.

The Empty Shops Network is aiming to celebrate the kind of local distinctiveness that gets lost in these developments and it is working with communities to use empty shops for projects in the spaces and times inbetween other uses. The Network’s projects involve public meetings, informal training for local artists, and showcase the tools needed to run empty shops projects. See artistandmakers.com for details.

You can see more images from Coventry here.

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments