Kurt Schwitters ESIR. 1947
The on-going Alley Greening Project by the grass roots organisation, Upping It, in Moss Side’s Terrace Square, Manchester, has demonstrated positive effects to residents’ individual and collective well-being. The cobbled alleys once they are greened, become like walled gardens: shared spaces behind neighbours’ back-to-back terrace houses. In many cases they have been cleaned up and transformed by building planters, planting and growing fruit, vegetables and flowers. Water butts have been installed to collect rainwater and leaves are swept and stored to turn into leaf-mould, all for the plants. Greened alleys characteristically display decorative and practical inventiveness by those investing time in their shared and useful recreational spaces.
The Upping It project has been driven by grass roots activism in response to Manchester City Council’s lack in implementing effective recycling of refuse and waste in these neighbourhoods, exacerbated by communal bins which are also placed in the alleys. A creative affirmative inquiry approach has broadly resulted in improved recycling habits in neighbourhoods where care and creativity of the greened alleys are evident.
Terrace Square Artist Project (TSAP) seeks to build outwards from Upping It’s Alley Greening Project. TSAP is currently in its early stages. It began with three visual artists living in Terrace Square, myself (long-term resident of St. Ives Rd), Claudia Alonso and Carlos Vicente (Heald Place). We have recognised and are motivated by the potential for expanding upon the collective creativity of those living in our neighbourhood. We aim to locate and map out artists living in the Terrace Square of Moss Side. This has already begun, with the help of Upping It and will be carried out through word of mouth with the intention of being inclusive. This method highlights the benefit of direct and neighbourly communication. A preliminary search has revealed a range of artistic practices in the area, such as performance, book art, jewellery, illustration, painting and installation.
Insects made from ‘rubbish’
Artists of any discipline would ideally be residents of Terrace Square with access to an alley. The terms ‘artist’ and ‘art practice’ will be self-defined along the lines of Joseph Beuys’ belief that ‘Everyone is an artist’. The quality distinction of work will be peer-led and find its own level organically, rather that by top-down judgement. Artists will be encouraged to re-use and recycle materials rather than buying new, in the grass roots spirit of sustainability and climate breakdown accountability, demonstrated by Upping It. The project aspires to become a way of coping with the overwhelming powerlessness climate emergency can cause, through collective neighbourliness and generative art-based actions.
Also relevant here is Kurt Schwitters’ Merz art practice, the subject of my current art practice-based PhD study at University of Cumbria, which supports the idea of making art from ‘rubbish.’ By coincidence, the image above is a Schwitters collage, ESIR. 1947 which includes the lettering TSAP, and it also seems to be made from ‘rubbish’.
Collage made from ‘rubbish’
Aims and Actions
An ongoing artist collective will grow as the network spreads and people move into the area. Collaborative initiatives focussing on the alleys will develop over time according to the interests of those generating the work. A similar model which I have experience of is the peer-led collective, Islington Mill Art Academy, now in its 10th year. Our collective would also be peer-led and connected to The Whitworth and hopefully to Platt Hall, which is currently being redeveloped. Ideally TSAP would find a good fit into the new development of the future public use of Platt Hall. The purpose of these connections would be to ground the TSAP project with local organisations to have the public-facing potential for events, residencies, workshops and exhibitions etc.
Paper made from ‘rubbish’
As the project develops, collaborative as well as individual art activity would ideally develop between artists. This could involve artists from the same or multiple alleys in the Terrace Square. Projects which are self-determined and tailored to individual and multiple alleys will focus on interests particular to the neighbourhood. Suitable ways of communicating the various projects throughout TSAP will form as the project progresses. This is currently a Whatapp group and word of mouth. This sets up the possibility of interests and issues being addressed and developed for the enjoyment and participatory activity amongst neighbours. Supportive networks of artists and their neighbours, families, friends, colleagues and other interested parties in and beyond the area will develop over time. Artists, for instance, might have individual ideas to further their own studies and practices to generate income, raise their profile and carry out socially engaged work. This could be developed within the Terrace Square Artist network by organising, for example, crit groups, workshops, group exhibitions and sales of work. Along with the work carried out in the neighbourhood, the merits of this project could be shared. Events, particularly at The Whitworth and Platt Hall as well as other venues in and outside of the area could inspire and be inspired by other allied projects.
The weather was ‘rubbish’, so we sat round the table indoors
Terrace Square is well-established as a neighbourhood with a diverse and in some areas, a transient population, punctuated by more permanent long-term residents. The project would contribute, promote and invest in the idea of better balanced and stable neighbourhoods. This is for the well-being of those living there, for any amount of time both long and short term. It would also aim to contribute to the upturn in neighbourhoods being made more attractive from resident-led grass roots actions, such as Upping It. Their 2018 FEAST event, funded by The Whitworth, celebrated the success of the Alley Greening Project with a turn-out of approximately 100 Terrace Square residents, all keen to meet to talk about their greened allies and experiences throughout the afternoon. This differs from promotion of the area by house letting and estate agents, who benefit from greened alleys, but, with a few exceptions, do not significantly contribute to the efforts involved. Current indications show a decline in popularity in the area for traditional short term student lets due to competition for purpose-built student accommodation. Houses remain to be let well into term-time. This may lead to deflating prices and therefore more affordable rentals and house purchases. The Terrace Square Artist Project would work towards the idea of attracting community-minded people to the area, to stay and settle for longer and to become involved in its organic activist-led growth.
Filing through the houses from one alley to the next
To date, we have had an initial meeting at the Whitworth of approximately 15 artists, followed by a Spring Gathering BBQ (see below). We each brought along an object with which to introduce ourselves and our art practices to each other, to learn of each others’ interests. We discussed how best to organise, present and proceed with the project. As a result of this, we had our first Alley Tour in June. This involved an art activity and refreshments hosted by four residents from different alleys. The next Alley Tour is 7th September, featuring three more alleys, art activities and refreshments. While the first one was a huge success creatively and socially, the second one will also aim to use the opportunity to arrange four dates for future activities for the following year. We will build on existing ideas, such as a collective request to see works from the Whitworth Collection.
Contact with Ed Watts (Whitworth Engagement Manager) will be maintained to summarise, indicate direction and progress of project and to scope out possibilities for future engagement and funding. We also look forward to building a productive working relationship with the new curator and archivist at Platt Hall.
Post-Whitworth Art Gallery meeting event. Flyer by Claudia Alonso.
2nd Alley Tour
A second Alley Tour is planned for Saturday 7th September, 2019.
Flyer by Joe Tenner.
All images taken on the first Alley Tour.