Back in the Spring I read (on this very blog) a post about an opportunity to be involved in a public art project based in Salisbury. The project sounded perfect for me; it was for an artist in the early stages of a public art career, a recent arts graduate and someone working in Wiltshire. I fitted all of these criteria, but the part I found most exciting was that it was a mentee position, meaning I would get to work alongside an established artist and learn about the entire process, from commissioning through to delivery.
Up until this point I had worked on a few public art projects but it was something I had never specifically been prepared for, and I’d always felt a bit out of my depth, there’s no guidebook!
I was lucky enough to be chosen to participate in the project and my experience has been totally enlightening and productive. At the first meeting I met Emma from Studio Response (the commissioner for Barratt Homes), Kerry Lemon (the lead artist) as well as Meril from Wiltshire Council art service and David and Barry from the local Laverstock and Ford Parish Council. Everyone involved made me feel welcome and involved from the start, and Kerry especially has been hugely helpful, totally open about her process and endlessly patient with my lists of questions!
As well as attending meetings, Kerry invited me on a research trip to Salisbury Museum when we visited potential sites for Kerry’s artworks and entailed a private view of the museum archive. I had no idea, but apparently museums often have more items in storage than on display and (if you know how to ask) they are often happy to arrange a visit. We spent an afternoon sifting through boxes of medieval tiles and it was a real eye opener for me to see Kerry’s approach to her research.
I feel like this project has given me a huge leap forward in my public art career. There is no course you can take or book you can read to prepare for a career in this realm, and working on your own it can often be daunting knowing where to focus your efforts and how to manage the workload. I feel I have learnt in 6 months what would have taken several years to discover on my own. The public art commissioning process is so multifaceted, I have realised that to simply be creative is about 10% of what you need to succeed! You need to be able to handle the admin, attend meetings, be responsible for large amounts of money, manage the expectations of numerous stakeholders as well as having a good knowledge of materials, suppliers and fabricators.
Seeing Kerry in action has shown me how to be efficient and how to be confident in the role of being an artist. I think sometimes people don’t take artists seriously as a trade, yet it is a role that involves a real set of tangible skills.
I will be producing my own sculpture that references the industrial history, geology and architecture of Salisbury and the surrounding area. I have spent the last few months researching and sourcing materials and I am really excited about beginning the making process.
My images from a local research trip to Salisbury documenting the materials I will use.
I would like to thank everyone involved, Kerry, Emma, Meril, David and Barry for their time, patience and knowledge; it has been a real luxury and a rare treat to be involved in a project like this with no expectations or pressure on myself and to be able to ask questions and to learn openly. I would totally recommend the experience.
Editor’s note – view previous blog postings to follow the story of Riverdown Park’s public art project:
Guest blog: Kerry Lemon discusses the community engagement for her public art commission in Laverstock and Ford Parish – a first glimpse of Kerry’s more permanent tile work was seen at First World War Memorial woodland at Castle Hill