The Arc Stockton project helps shape the future of the site

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A recently completed “listening” project will help shape the future of a popular art venue in Teesside.

ARC Stockton launched the What’s On Your Mind project earlier this year to explore the hopes and concerns of people living locally.

The project’s Creative Director, Paula Clark, spoke to a wide range of community groups who regularly use ARC Stockton, including children and youth with disabilities already in care, LGBTQIA + people, refugees and asylum seekers. ‘asylum.

From these conversations, Paula identified a range of themes that came up regularly. These included change, alcohol, anger, future, money, kindness, care, climate, and escape.

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Paula then tasked 14 artists to each respond to an individual theme that emerged from the conversations. Two artists per week had their work uploaded to the CRA website from mid-October to early this month.

She said: “We didn’t give the artist long to interpret her theme – or her provocation – and I think that helped her response. Everyone agreed that the quick response needed helped their creativity – it gave them freedom. Although the art forms used and the artists’ responses to their themes are very different, there is an urgency, a dynamism, about them all.

“The project was about giving people who wouldn’t normally have a platform the opportunity to make their voices heard – to be heard. The artists gave them a voice, and in many cases, a very powerful voice.

“Each consultation was completely different. To some, I just listened, to others there was a real dialogue and an exchange of views and ideas. Some were formally structured, others less, and each group included people from different backgrounds and experiences.

“There were so many topics and themes that came up, but there were several that came up regularly – the main one being money. My role was to creatively shape these discussions into provocations to give to artists. ”

While the venue has been in dialogue with the majority of community groups, Paula has also spoken to groups that do not have a close relationship with the CRA.

She said: “It was important for us, to make sure we didn’t miss any point of view.

“ARC already knew their audience, but CEO Annabel Turpin saw What’s On Your Mind as an opportunity to deepen the relationship and find out what they were talking about and what they were concerned about.”

Artists commissioned for the project included: punk poet Henry Raby; photographer and director Saya Rose Naruse; sound artist Dermot Daly; Syrian photographer and filmmaker Khalid Aljawad; writer and director Leo Skillbeck; artist Paula Varjack; writer, activist, poet and actress Lisette Auton; non-binary digital artist Ben Freeth, Sunderland-born musician Ross Millard, and Geordie author and playwright Sarah Watson.

Paula said: “The immense diversity of the 14 artists has led to a different approach and very different content. Much of the project for Annabel and ARC was to provide commissions to independent artists at a very difficult time. The Covid has decimated the opportunities for independent creatives and Annabel wanted to offer work to as many people as possible through this project.

“What they have produced is exceptional. I love Saya Rose’s film based on her “care” theme, for which she took a sparkling ball into the woods to create a touching and uplifting piece. Dermot Daly produced one of our first pieces – its theme was ‘before’ and he uses old Ceefax screens to ask if things really are as good as they were?

“Leo Skilbeck’s short is quite beautiful and explores the theme of escape, while Ben Freeth responded to his theme of kindness with a stunning digital installation.

“While each of our 14 artists has produced something very different, what unites them is that their pieces are so relevant to the here and now. They are saying something important, especially to the people of Stockton.

Annabel said: “We set out to make sure our program is relevant to our local communities, and what better way than to ask them what they think? The themes and aspects of life that emerged from the consultations are fascinating, and we recently agreed that they will form the basis of our program going forward.

“Over the next few years, we will be actively researching performances, exhibitions and other events related to these themes. It’s great that our communities can influence our program in this way.

Now Paula and Annabel are planning a celebratory event to share the What’s On Your Mind articles with stakeholders and the wider Stockton community.

At the event on January 18, guests will have the opportunity to talk to Paula and Annabel, meet some of the artists and learn about their work, and watch a film that records the project from start to finish.

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