Tag Archives: Plymouth

Ideas for Council House Building

In the last few years, there seems to be a surge in arts’ activities and developments throughout Plymouth and the local Council appears to be encouraging a growth in arts and culture in the city.

Although Plymouth lost in its bid to become the City of Culture for 2017, one of the organizations Plymouth2017 who were involved in the bid stated that:

Plymouth is ready now to be a cultural hub (BBC, 2013, online)

Plymouth City Council were part of Plymouth2017 and pledged £20,000 to the bid, proving how dedicated the local government have been in trying to make Plymouth a City of Culture.

Further evidence of the Council’s support of the arts was seen in July 2013 when they gave the go ahead for a new “arts hub” (Plymouth Herald, 2013, online) Ocean Studios in Royal William Yard

The following month news of plans for the Civic Centre were released:

If a funding bid succeeds, a new home for Plymouth Arts Centre will be built between the Civic Centre and the Theatre Royal, creating a new cultural quarter for the city (Rossiter, 2013, online)

Also, September 2013 saw the opening of Plymouth School of Creative Arts for 4-16year olds in Millbay, with their purpose being

personal, professional and cultural transformation through creativity, the arts and high quality education (Plymouth School of Creative Arts, 2013, online).

With these examples in mind – one word kept springing to mind – namely “hub” i.e. “cultural hub”, “arts hub” etc.  Although I knew that hub meant a centre of activity, I looked up the definition on oxforddictionaries.com:


  • the central part of a wheel, rotating on or with the axle, and from which the spokes radiate.
  • the effective centre of an activity, region, or network:the city has always been the financial hub of the country the kitchen was the hub of family life
  • central airport or other transport facility from which many services operate:the airport authority’s policy promotes Manchester as an international hub; the city’s major transportation hub for bus and rail[as modifier]:major hub airports have grown up all over the world (Oxford Dictionaries, 2014, online)

The first part of the definition interested me and I thought this could be incorporated into an exhibition.

The Council House comes across as a very traditional space and I felt that some motorized, mobile or kinetic installation work surrounding the idea of the wheel or axle could create a more fun and dynamic atmosphere.

Examples of artworks which inspiration could be gained from could include Charles and Ray Eames Do Nothing Machine, 1957 and several decades later Edgar Olaineta’s, Solar Do-(It-Yourself) Nothing Toy. After Charles Eames in 2012:

Charles & Ray Eames, Do Nothing Machine, 1957, Image available from: http://architoys.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/charles-e-ray-eames-das-casas-aos-pioes.html
Edgar Olaineta’s, Solar Do-(It-Yourself) Nothing Toy. After Charles Eames, 2012. Image available from: http://www.carnegiemuseums.org/cmag/feature.php?id=318

Also, Alexander Calder’s work could be of interest and Marcel Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel, 1913 or Rotary Demisphere, 1925:

Mobile circa 1932 by Alexander Calder 1898-1976
Alexander Calder, Mobile, 1932, Image available from: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/calder-mobile-l01686
Click Image to view: Marcel Duchamp, Rotary Demisphere, 1925, Image taken from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MpcOWSoFOc

I will present my idea to my fellow students tomorrow to discuss.


BBC (2013) Plymouth City of Culture bid failure ‘disappointing’ [online] London: BBC. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-devon-22969022

Plymouth School of Creative Art (2013) Vision [online] Plymouth: Plymouth Colleg of Art. Available from: http://plymouthschoolofcreativearts.co.uk/vision/

Oxford Dictionaries (2014) Hub [online] Oxford: Oxford University Press. Available from: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/hub?q=hub

Rossiter, K. (2013) Civic Centre to Become Four Star Hotel [online] Plymouth: Local World. Available from: http://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/Plymouth-Civic-Centre-star-hotel/story-19681415-detail/story.html



Ideas for Saltram’s Orangery

The trip to Saltram was a very enjoyable experience and a great break from the city.  This made me think about how Saltram House and its grounds affect the people who visit and how this could be incorporated into an exhibition.

With this in mind I looked on tripadvisor.co.uk to see the comments people had made.  Here are two recent examples:

  • One of my favourite places to explore ,relax and enjoy. Views are beautiful and walks around to take at your leisure. Great to go as a family or to walk your dog’s. I personally like the bird life and cows close by . Well kept grounds grounds to see all for free. I like to end the day with a visit in the shop then a nice hot chocolate and cake in the cafe (Tripadvisor, 2013, online).
  • Beautiful gardens and a walkers paradise. We took our 5 year old twin grandchildren who thought it wonderful even though a little overwhelmed by the size of this magnificent house, that is part of the national trust. Home to the Parker family for nearly 300 years, the house with its original contents provides a fascinating insight into country-estate life throughout the centuries. Could not believe how many people visited this fine venue on a Tuesday afternoon but it seemed that all enjoyed themselves. Will recommend to everyone. (Tripadvisor, 2013, online).

I also thought that Saltram House would probably have a visitor book full of positive comments from visitors over the years.

This led me to think about an exhibition using text based pieces that would share people’s experiences of Saltram over the years and possibly centuries – as Saltram is, after all, a historic building with connections to literature – novelist Jane Austen no less and was also used in the filming of the 1995 period drama film Sense and Sensibility.  I thought there would possibility be a wide and varied selection of text from visitors, novelists and actors about Saltram House.

As mentioned in a previous post, as the property is a listed building, picture fixings cannot be drilled into the walls of the orangery.  An answer to this could be the use of large canvases which could lean against the walls around the room or vinyl lettering which could be removed following the end of the exhibition.  Examples of this, that sprang to mind were Bob & Roberta Smith’s recent pieces at the art centre:

Bob & Roberta Smith, Letter to Michael Gove and
Bob & Roberta Smith, Letter to Michael Gove (left) using vinyl letters and Cuts to the Arts (right) large ‘canvas’ made from wood, used to paint on text, displayed at Plymouth Arts Centre, 2013

To make the exhibition more participatory, a visitor book, wipe board or blank canvas could also be displayed to allow visitors to add their own comments of Saltram to the exhibition. If this were to be the case, then a student would need to be present to prevent anyone from drawing anywhere other that the designated books/boards etc.

Another idea, would be to interview and record members of the public – young and old about their experience of Saltram, which could then be used as a sound piece.  Several interviews could be played at the same time around the room to create a sense of ‘conversation’.  As I am unsure of how the acoustics would travel in the building, students may have to experiment with acoustic boards – perhaps text could be incorporated into these boards.

This made me think of sound and video installation artist Imogen Stidworthy and her 2003 piece The Whisper Heard where she used curtains and a parabolic dish to control the acoustics:

Imogen Stidworthy, 2003, The Whisper Heard
Imogen Stidworthy, 2003, The Whisper Heard, Image taken from: http://www.mattsgallery.org/artists/stidworthy/exhibition-1.php

I’m not sure how curtains or material could be hung without the use of screws but portable screens could be a possibility – similar to the ones used in our Studio 11 work space.

The window panes could also be potentially part of the exhibition as a way of advertising that there was an exhibition in that building, which would encourage people walking through the grounds to take a look.

This instantly made me think of Low Profile’s recent exhibition Against All Odds in 2013 at Exeter Phoenix where vinyl letters were placed on the window panes of the Phoenix:

Low Profile, 2013, Never Give Up at Exeter Phoenix, Image available from:https://www.exeterphoenix.org.uk/never-give-up/

I experimented with this idea briefly using the text “Dear Saltram, we love you” – which I felt would be an appropriate text to the exhibition idea:

Edited photo of Saltram’s orangery with text on windows

I thought that the text would work better horizontally because the windows can be moved up and down, whereas if they were placed vertically, the letters may overlap as the windows move down in front of the fixed windows.  I’m not sure how well this example would work, as it doesn’t seem very clear from a distance.

I will present and discuss my ideas with my fellow students tomorrow.


Tripadvisor (2013) Saltram Gardens (National Trust) [online]. Tripadvisor LLC. Available from: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g186258-d215032-Reviews-Saltram_Gardens_National_Trust-Plymouth_Devon_England.html

Visit to Plymouth City Council House Building: 15 November 2013

As part of our CURA300 project, we have been asked to submit a curatorial proposal for an exhibition.  One opportunity we have been offered, is the possibility of creating an exhibition of artwork in the City Council House’s members’ lobby which we, as a student group visited on Friday 15 November 2013.

The Council House has recently started a new scheme called Open Art which gives local artists the opportunity to display their work, as the Council website highlights:

This is a new scheme designed to demonstrate the breadth of contemporary visual art and craft currently being produced in Plymouth. It also aims to highlight the commitment of the Council to creativity and to Plymouth’s aspirations to be a City of Culture in the future (Plymouth City Council, 2014)

The Council House blog further emphasizes that this is a free opportunity and sets out its objectives:

By opening up a Council building, it aims to provide a free opportunity for Plymouth visual artists to raise their profile and showcase their work in an inspiring and iconic city centre location.


In devising a new Open Art Display, we hope to:

  • establish a transparent and representative open call and selection process

  • establish a selection committee made up of key Council Members from both parties

  • develop a series of programme of changing displays of original artworks by local artists for display in the main hall on the ground floor

  • provide an opportunity for artists to raise their profile amongst Council Members and the wider public, through display, promotion and events held in the Council House and Council Chamber

  • further develop display cases to allow 3D works / craft to be displayed (Council House Art, 2014)

The first thing that struck me as soon as I entered the lobby was the wooden paneled walls, chequered marble floor and artificial light.  The space did not strike me as a typical gallery space for displaying work and although there is a sense of authority and a stereotypical official environment, it does seem a little antiquated for my taste.

At present, artworks selected by Plymouth Councillors of 26 graduates of Plymouth College of Art, Plymouth University and the University of St Mark and St John are being displayed in the lobby.


The works on display are inoffensive and fairly ‘safe’ which I presume is because, after all it is a serious, governmental building.  There is one work which is a cast of a woman’s vulva in white and although this may seem shocking to some, I did not find it shocking at all, especially when you think of ancient greek sculptures of nude men and women, Da Vinci or Michaelangelo sculptures or the multitude of paintings of nude women over the centuries.  However, it seemed, that as a compromise for anyone who was offended by the piece, a portable display text was placed near the work and could be wheeled in front of it at any time.


From what I gather, there would perhaps be a limit on what mediums could be used i.e. sound pieces may be a problem when Councillors are holding meetings.  Furthermore, as mentioned above, there will probably be some restriction on what can be displayed in terms of how offensive a work may deem to be.

There are several tables and chairs in the area that could be rearranged if necessary, but with fixed warning wall signs and equipment i.e. fire extinguishers, toilet signs etc, these cannot be removed due to health and safety and will need to be considered when curating an exhibition.

Click here to view Council house wall measurements


Council House Art (2014) About [online] WordPress. Available from: http://councilhouseart.wordpress.com/

Plymouth City Council (2014) Council Buildings [online]. Plymouth: Plymouth City Council. Available from: http://www.plymouth.gov.uk/homepage/councilanddemocracy/aboutus/lordmayoralty/councilbuilding.htm

Plymouth City Council (2014) Council House – Open Art Display [online] Plymouth: Plymouth City Council. Available from: http://www.plymouth.gov.uk/homepage/creativityandculture/museums/artdevelopment/artsprojects/artscouncilhousedisplay.htm

Visit to Saltram House, Plymouth: 21 November 2013

On Thursday 21st November 2013, the CURA300 students visited Saltram, Plymouth with a view to potentially putting forward a curatorial proposal in the forthcoming months for an exhibition during Summer 2014 in the orangery.

Saltram House is an Georgian mansion owned by the National Trust, formerly the home to the Parker family for 300yrs.  The picturesque grounds consist of the house, an orangery, gardens and a chapel.

As mentioned in the first paragraph, the orangery was the focus of our visit and we met with Saltram gardener Antony Cockell to discuss the building.

The orangery (designed in 1773) is a large rectangular building with three large bay front windows in the centre and two either side, totaling 240 individual glass window panes (48 per bay window).  The windows allow for maximum sunlight exposure during the summer months, which is ideal for a summer exhibition considering there are no fixed artificial lighting facilities in the building.  Furthermore, the building is open to the public from 11am to 4pm, so visitors should be able to view the exhibition easily during these hours without the need for extra lighting.

The Orangery, Saltram, Plymouth
The Orangery, Saltram, Plymouth

At present, the orangery (as the name suggests) is home to the citrus trees during the winter months.  The trees will naturally be moved outside over the summer, however the plants in the corners and along the back wall will remain.



The other physical obstacles to consider when curating an exhibition here, are the fixed statues and a corner sink in back left corner.


Also, the property is a listed building and therefore no fixings that could damage the walls can be used i.e. drilling screws into the walls for hanging work is a big no-no.  Similarly, the walls and floors etc cannot be painted.

There is the potential to use electrical equipment i.e. audio or projector equipment, as there is a power supply in the building.  However, with regard to audio pieces, there may be a problem with how sound travels due to the large open space and high ceiling.  If audio were to be used, sound/acoustic boards would probably be required.

With this in mind however, there may be an issue with using electrical equipment because the central bay windows are kept open, therefore allowing the natural elements to a

ffect the environment within the building i.e. heat, wind, rain etc.  Also, there would possibly be a need for a student to be present during the opening hours because of the lack of security over additional equipment used.

Antony also advised that there would be no money to fund the exhibition but he could look into the possibility of sponsorship.

There is no doubt, that the beautiful property and grounds are breathtaking and the possibility of curating an exhibition here is a fantastic opportunity for work to be shown in a popular and stunning environment.  However, the limits on what can be achieved could prove challenging.  Hopefully, through our student collaboration, we will be able to brainstorm ideas and use our imaginations to create something worthy of this striking, stately property.


National Trust (2014) Saltram [online] Swindon: National Trust. Available from: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/saltram/

Plymouth Arts Centre Internship: Exhibition Install

Although the install of Bob & Roberta Smith and Luke Fowler’s work took place on days I was not interning at the Arts Centre, I did however help with tidying up the walls and assisting with the lighting.

This involved walking around the gallery space with Caroline Mawdsley, Curator of Programmes and Vickie Fear, Programme Assistant and taking a note of any marks on the walls and skirting, that looked untidy and may distract from the work on display.

I then had to go around the space and paint over all the marks on the walls and mask off the floor to skirting  join, to make sure the painted skirting had a clean, sharp finish.  I also painted the posts used to rope off a section in the gallery (placed in front of Bob & Roberta Smith’s The Brown Report, 2012).

Although this may seem quite a simple task, it is nonetheless an important factor, as the artworks have to be displayed in the best possible way in the gallery space and any minor distractions can prevent the audience from getting the best experience of the work.  Furthermore,  the artists put their trust in the curator (Caroline Mawdsley in this instance) to display the work in a professional gallery environment and therefore, a ‘shoddy’ appearance would be unacceptable and would probably lead to the artist being less than enthusiastic about displaying their work in the gallery in the future.

I also briefly assisted Caroline and Vickie with the lighting for The Browne Report which involved making sure no shadow was cast when audience members stood in front of the piece.  As the piece is approximately 2m x 2m and was displayed on the ground floor wall and reaching up toward the first floor, extra lighting had to be placed from the 1st floor adjacent wall and shone toward the work.

Image of Bob & Roberta Smith’s Browne Report, 2012 installed at Plymouth ArtsCentre


Image of an example of the additional lighting on the adjacent upper wall to Bob & Roberta Smith’s Browne Report, 2012

Again, the lighting is also an important element of curating, as any shadow could distract from the work and the audience needs to be able to see/read the work clearly – particularly as it is such a large, text-based piece and in the Arts Centre the work could be seen from the ground floor as well as the first floor and therefore needed to be well lit.

Although I would have liked to have been more involved in the installation of the artworks, I am happy that I had the opportunity to help with some of the finishing touches.

Plymouth Arts Centre Internship: Bob & Roberta Smith – resourcing materials

Bob & Roberta Smith’s exhibition at Plymouth Arts Centre (5 October-1 December 2013) was particularly focused on the arts in education.

With this in mind, I was asked to source children’s activity materials to complement the exhibition.

As Bob & Roberta Smith’s work is text based, the materials were to be in a similar vein and   something that would encourage a creative way of learning.

The materials I sourced from the local Plymouth toy shops were colourful magnetic letters, magnetic words and a magnetic board, as well as a red box to hold all the materials.  Bright colours are known to stimulate a young child’s development and therefore the colourful activities gave a sense of fun to learning, as well as complementing the artist’s work.

Children's activity box
Children’s activity box

On the opening night of the exhibition, I was pleased to see a young child with their parent playing with the magnetic letters etc and was later asked where I had sourced them from.

I felt that including children’s activities within the exhibition was extremely well thought out – particularly as Smith’s work, has a very strong message that children should be encouraged within the arts – particularly in an educational environment.

Image of Plymouth Arts Centre displaying Bob & Roberta Smith's Art Makes Children Powerful, 2012 banner
Image of Plymouth Arts Centre displaying Bob & Roberta Smith’s Art Makes Children Powerful, 2012 banner

Letters and posters were also sent out to the local Plymouth schools to advise them of the exhibition and I feel this is a positive way of getting the younger generation to become more involved in attending art exhibitions, as well as sending out a powerful message that art is an important factor in a child’s development.

Plymouth Arts Centre Internship: Bob & Roberta Smith/ Luke Fowler – Resource List

From Wednesday 21 August 2013, I started my 3 month internship at Plymouth Arts Centre as a Education and Visual Arts Intern.

One of my first tasks was to create a ‘Reading Resource List’ for the next exhibitions which were to take place – namely Luke Fowler’s The Poor Stockinger, the Luddite Cropper and the Deluded Followers of Joanna Southcott, 2012 (film) and Bob & Roberta Smith’s The Brown Report, 2012 and Letter to Michael Gove, 2011.  Both of the artists’ exhibitions were opening on 5 October and running until 1 December 2013.

After reading about the exhibitions in the Plymouth Arts Centre September-October 2013 brochure, I highlighted the information which I felt would be relevant for the reading list as follows:

Luke Fowler is an artist who works with film, sound, installation and photography. He explores the limits of documentary filmmaking, producing densely layered portraits of marginal or countercultural figures. Assembled from new and archival film footage, interviews and photography, these cinematic collages reveal conflicting accounts and retell history.

This film focuses on the work of Marxist historian Edward Palmer Thompson who was employed by the WEA (Workers’ Educational Association) in Yorkshire. He taught literature and history to adults who, historically, had been unable to access higher education, including miners, factory workers and the unemployed. Thompson was committed to the WEA values of delivering a ‘socially purposeful’ education and to the cause of adult education as an engine for cultural democracy.

Luke Fowler’s film explores the issues that were at stake for post war progressive educationalists and exposes an historical struggle that resonates within education today. The film’s title is a quotation from E.P Thompson’s book, The Making of the English Working Class. (Plymouth Arts Centre, 2013)

Bob and Roberta Smith is recognised for his trademark, text-based paintings. These colourful signs are hand painted onto scraps of wood and roughly nailed together.  The shapes and misshapes of letters are as important as the message they spell out. These fields of colour ask questions, make statements and instigate debate. Letters swim before your eyes as you attempt to decipher a text, which could be an announcement of an event or provocative call for action. Bob and Roberta Smith’s work explores the relationship between humour, politics and society and questions established values and authorities. Many works take the form of succinct witty slogans whilst others, such as the Cuts to the Arts and Letter to Michael Gove, are longer diatribes that expose a frustration with political decision-making.  The messages almost always advocate for creativity, culture and freedom.

These paintings use the visual language of folk and punk; the use of drop shadow text and a mixture of different fonts and letter sizes evokes the aesthetics of protest and is reminiscent of makeshift public notices and temporary shop signs from an era before the computer.

The process of producing these musings on art, politics and culture seems to be cathartic one for Bob and Roberta Smith, which is perhaps why the artist advises ‘Make Your Own Damn Art. (Plymouth Arts Centre, 2013) 

Using these keywords, I went on to resource books and online reading resources which would relate to the artists and their work and create a simple list as follows:

Recommended Reading List for Luke Fowler’s The Poor Stockinger, the Luddite Cropper and the Deluded Followers of Joanna Southcott

  • Luke Fowler, 2013, The Poor Stockinger, the Luddite Cropper and the Deluded Followers of Joanna Southcott
  • E. P. Thompson, 1964, The Making of the English Working Class
  • Albert Mansbridge, 1920, An Adventure in Working-Class Education
  • Brian Jackson 1932-2012, Education and the working class
  • Kevin Ward & Richard Taylor, 1986, Adult Education and the Working Class: Education for the Missing Millions
  • Colin Kirkwood; Sally Griffiths; Workers’ Educational Association, 1984, Adult Education and the unemployed: practical approaches to investigation, curriculum development, method and organization
  • R. D. Laing, 1967 The Politics of Experience
  • R.D. Laing, 1960 The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness
  • A Brief History of the Worker’s Educational Association: http://issuu.com/weasheffieldwea/docs/history_booklet?e=1305752/1634711
  • WEA Research Report: Mental Health and Community Learning – “You become a person again”: http://www.wea.org.uk/resources/research
  • Mental Health Foundation, World Mental Health Day: http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/our-work/world-mental-health-day/

Recommended Reading List for Bob and Roberta Smith:

  • Bob & Roberta Smith, 2007 Art U Need: My Part in the Public Art Revolution
  • Bob & Roberta Smith, 2005 Make Your Own Damn Art
  • Bob & Roberta Smith, 2011, Bob and Roberta Smith: I Should Be in Charge
  • Anna Harding, 2005 Magic Moments: Collaboration Between Artists and Young People
  • Aimee Selby, 2009 Art and Text
  • Ralph A. Smith, 2006 Culture and the Arts in Education: Critical Essays on Shaping Human Experience
  • Make Your Own Damn Art, A documentary about Bob and Roberta Smith by John Rogers: http://makeyourowndamnfilm.com
  • Bob & Roberta Smith, The artist’s website including Letter to Michael Gove MP – 25th July 2011 which can be copied, and posted or emailed to Michael Gove.: http://bobandrobertasmith.zxq.net/
  • Why Art Education Matters: 13 December 2012 – Tate Director Nicholas Serota and artist Jeremy Deller on why arts should be part of the Ebacc: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/why-art-education-matters

After I had compiled the list,  I was asked to check if Charles-Searle Library, Plymouth University had these books by using their online search engine http://www1.plymouth.ac.uk/library/Pages/default.aspx.  For any books that were not available at the library, I checked amazon.co.uk and forwarded Vickie Fear, Programme Assistant the prices.

A few weeks prior to the exhibitions opening, I took a note of the library reference numbers and collected the books from Charles-Searle Library.  These were then displayed in the cafe gallery space, along with a computer which displayed the online reading resources for PAC guests to peruse.

Image of Plymouth Arts Centre's Resource Wall, 2013
Image of Plymouth Arts Centre’s Resource Wall, 2013


Plymouth Arts Centre (2013) September-October 2013 (brochure) Totnes: Kingfisher Publishing.