Counterplay was a 3-month pilot project I made alongside artist Sarah Nadin in 2015, based on Piccadilly in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent. Sarah and I took up residence on the street and in the shops and businesses to create a series of site-specific mini projects, happenings and artistic interventions. Our aim was to apply our practice to a set of problems faced by the Cultural Quarter today:
Its peripheral location means that there is low footfall, exacerbated by a loss of trade to online shopping and off-putting public realm works. Despite having several high-quality cultural destinations, the CQ lacks a strong cultural identity and isn’t particularly seen as a cultural destination.
As non-studio based artists, we saw an opportunity for people working in the creative industries to inject some energy and excitement into the area. With this project, we made it our job to identify ways that this can happen for the benefit of practitioners, businesses, the public and the CQ as a whole.
Over the course of the residency we developed 10 new mini-projects: Peregrine Watch, Piccadilly Picnic, Panasonic Photography Exhibition (left), Looky Bag, ‘Artist at Work’ Hi Vis, CQ Tourist Information window, Fatter Quarter Fabric Sale, New Street Signage and 3 artists commissions to produce visual work for the CQ.
During the project notable successes have included:
As a response to businesses’ comments about how people rarely engage with Piccadilly, preferring to use it as a thoroughfare, we decided to create several attention-grabbing street-based installations to challenge people’s expectations and encourage them to stop and look around. Peregrine Watch utilised a heras fence on a vacant plot on Piccadilly to point out roosting Peregrine falcons on a nearby building and provided binoculars we bought from a charity shop on Piccadilly to view them with. This installation was incredibly popular with passers-by and inspired BBC Radio Stoke to make a daily feature on their Breakfast Show. When the original binoculars were stolen a local business owner replaced them and breakfast show listeners donated a further 4 pairs to the project. Passers-by also began to donate to the project by leaving money at the site. There were at least two radio call-ins about the project, including a broadcast live from the building the peregrines roosted on. We have conservatively estimated this intervention alone reached around 4800 people.
“If they give someone some pleasure for a day it’s worth it” – BBC radio Stoke listener/Binocular donator
This event was a collaboration between Counterplay, artist Chris Reader’s ‘Art Lunch’ project and charities St Vincent’s and Shelter. We utilised the large square stone benches along Piccadilly as picnic tables, which were laid using stock from the charity shops (which were for sale). Food was provided by Piccadilly cafes Zest and Tsp and 20 free tickets were made available online for local arts practitioners to attend. Over 30 people attended in total, including those who reserved spaces, chancing visitors and passers-by who stopped to join (See header image). The aim of this activity was to demonstrate how easy it was for artists to collaborate with businesses in the CQ and vice-versa, to introduce a creative crowd to the area and to animate the street. We provided a post-event report for the businesses on Piccadilly and a more detailed one for Chris Reader with suggestions for repeating the event in the future.
The event caught the attention of hundreds of pedestrians and was highly regarded by participants.
“You’ve [turned] Hanley’s Piccadilly into a European city pavement society.” -attending artist
“As I work on my own most of the time this feels really important.”- attending artist
“What a lovely way to get the public involved [in art]”- passerby
“I’ve been done here a number of times and seen what you’ve been doing – I love it, it makes me feel that something exciting is happening” – passerby
During the project we received comments from the public about how little they hear about cultural activity in the city. In response to this, we produced ‘Looky Bag’.
Looky bag is a small paper bag containing information about local cultural happenings alongside original creative content. The first issue of the bag was hand printed using a Piccadilly based clothing/print studio. It also included content about Counterplay and CQ businesses to help draw people to the area; a CQ treasure hunt and ‘Looky Post’ (a postbox located in the CQ were people can post their own contributions to the next issue). 200 bags were distributed to cultural outlets and cafes in Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme and the Staffordshire Moorlands. It was quickly apparent that we underestimated its popularity as several establishments asked to stock them. Looky Bag has been published ever 4 months, with a run off 3000 copies distributed over 60 stockists in North Staffordshire and South Cheshire. Click the Looky Bag image on the portfolio page for more information about Looky Bag.