Sorry that it has been a long silence but I've been busy with a number of projects and have just had a very inspiring few days away - I went to Wakefield for a neon-making course.
Years ago, my final degree show piece at Norwich School of Art & Design was a neon and etched steel sculpture and I always thought I would like to follow that up one day with more work in this vein. So when i saw Neon Workshops in Wakefield advertised, I asked for a birthday present and last Friday saw me learning how to design, plan, cut, melt, bend, join and fill tubes of glass, bombard, electrify and wire up the same - all a bit mind-boggling but realising that the real skill is in bending the glass to the required shape.
I also learnt that all components of neon are recyclable and whilst it is relatively expensive to produce as it is nearly always hand-made, it is very cheap to run and will last for up to 50 years without maintenance if you are lucky but in any case 20-30 years. It uses hardly any electricity and is very unlikely to give you a shock so can be used in a wide range of settings. If you are interested have a look at www.neonworkshops.com. Artists Richard Wheater and Julia Bickerstaff run the only such courses in the country. My favourite neon in Norwich is the Maid's Head Hotel signage in Tombland, it's a classic.
Then we spent a day in York followed by a day at Salts Mill, Saltaire, just near Bradford - fantastic - a homage to David Hockney who must be my favourite artist. Lots of books and artefacts too so all in all a very inspiring time. Only a trip to Wakefield Sculpture Park would have topped it off. Still, next time. Meanwhile, back in Norwich...
Yesterday I spent the day at firstsite, the new contemporary art gallery in Colchester. I was invited to take part in a conference about using empty spaces for arts and other activities whilst they are waiting to be let, developed or otherwise used.
The conference Transforming Spaces was run by SlackSpace, a volunteer-led organisation based in Colchester and 'fostered' by firstsite. This means that although Slackspace is not funded, firstsite looks after them by offering a certain amount of support such as payment of rates and utilities bills on their most recent 'meanwhile' space, an old Co-op bank in the town centre. We had a chance to look around and it has become a real hub of activity, open and accessible to many communities of Colchester and providing much needed communal space.
There was a great range of speakers throughout the day from those who are running art trails in public spaces and shops, an art gallery in an old waterworks and reinvigoratd shops in Bedford. As well as case studies, there was plenty of practical advice about how to deral with landlords, rates, risk assessments and other areas of necessary red tape. Particularly useful was some down to earth info from Eddie Bridgeman of Meanwhile Spaces but in the end, it was the input and experience from everyone in the room that seemed to inspire people who were thinking about getting something going in their own place.
The very full day ended with a resolve to identify key contacts across the eastern region, in both cities and rural communities that are interested in meanwhile use and who could offer support and encouragement to others. And as a bonus, we had a look around the new firstsite gallery - an amazing space so go and have a look yourself if you can. Have a look at www.firstsite.uk.net and for info about Slack Space look at www.slackspace.org.uk
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Marion Catlin, principal creative consultant for The Shift with extensive experience in cultural development and design for the arts, heritage and culture sectors