Popping Up in Penzance

Creating an open studio space for young people in and around Penzance, Cornwall.

“In 2006 I clearly remember watching a short programme on Channel 4 made by, and about, Room 13, an enterprise within a school, which ‘facilitates the work of young artists alongside a professional adult Artist in Residence, providing an exchange of ideas, skills and experience across the ages’. As an artist this model of working made perfect sense to me – if I learn by process, developing ideas, engaging in dialogue with my peers in a creative studio environment then why shouldn’t young people?”

Pop-Up Tate Penzance lead project artist Emma Saffy Wilson.

This February, Circuit at Tate St Ives collaborated with lead project artist Emma Saffy Wilson at Trace Studios, artist Jonty Lees, Youth Worker Emma Robinson, and Pop Up Penzance, to take over a disused tea room on Penzance high-street, creating an “open studio space” for 15-25 year olds.

In Emma’s 15 years of experience with local charity Trelya (recognised with an Artsmark Gold by the Arts Council), working in this “open studio” style had proven powerful. The project posed the question: without a huge marketing campaign, would young people appear? Was there a need for this kind of space and work, and would young people engage?

The walls of the tearoom were covered in Newspaper – to spark debate, to draw and paint on, and for aesthetic appeal.

The walls of the tearoom were covered in newspaper – to spark debate, to draw and paint on, and for aesthetic appeal.

The answer to all of these questions was a resounding “yes”. Over the 8 days the space was open (spread over two weeks), there were 155 visits to the space from 97 different young people in total. This broke down into: 41 who used the space more than once; 26 who were already known to workers; 17 who came in through contact of Facebook; 32 who came in encouraged by a friend/family who’d already been in the space.

Numbers, however, don’t tell the whole story: the Circuit programme emphasises the agency of young people, with the belief that they should be taking the lead in their own artistic experiences. In this regard the project was extremely successful, with young people making the space their own in ways small and large: from the kind of art they were creating and the use of materials and equipment in the space, to inviting their friends in, to the seemingly small act of making cups of tea. In the words of one young person, “here we can just make a cup of tea, I’ve never been anywhere where I’m just allowed to do that”.

“Here we can just make a cup of tea, I’ve never been anywhere where I’m just allowed to do that.” One young person on Pop-Up Tate Penzance.

The shop front in a prominent position on Market Jew Street, Penzance. The large windows upstairs and downstairs in the shop were used in various ways, including covering them in foggy-white windowlene and scraping this off to create images and patterns.

The shop front in a prominent position on Market Jew Street, Penzance. The large windows upstairs and downstairs in the shop were used in various ways, including covering them in foggy-white windowlene and scraping this off to create images and patterns.

Emma believes that the “openness” of the project – in terms of the space and having no specific task, activity or end “result” in mind – was a key factor that allowed young people to take ownership of it:

“The joy of not having any specific outcomes in terms of making was liberating and essential to this project. The pressure this took off us as artists reflected in how we could interact with young people using the space. Nothing was ‘forced’ and I believe the young people noticed this. They really were free to do what they liked in the space creatively.”

Drop circuitstives@tate.org.uk a line if you want to know more about the ins and outs of the project, or to read Emma Wilson’s full report:

“The project has reaffirmed for me that working within this model is a powerful way to be on a level playing field with young people and a way of slowly breaking down any preconceived notions of what an artist is and what art is and can be. It has brought up many questions too, least of all the continuity of such a project and what issues a longer project might face.” Lead project artist Emma Saffy Wilson.

 

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