Toying between the title options of Bare Creatives and Naked Studios, we decided to go with a project name that sounds local, is eye-catching and on the lines of being provocative, as it is in a way a call to expose the situations artists are in - a kind of initiative protest? Exposing to the public (and planners) everything happening ground-up: unaffordability, the loss of work and living space due to large scale regeneration, and the lack of care. The bareness or nakedness uncovers this vulnerability, making connections to diversity, inclusive creativity, and “the warmth of home, bodies”.
We have colour-coded our blog posts to hopefully ease navigation through them as we continue to update you on our progress. The blog sections are divided according to the colour scheme from the Reside* (IG: @artistledsthelens) exhibition in conjunction with the St Helens Borough of Culture Launch, mapping the creativity in St Helens. These sections include:
The poster combines the Artists’ Mapping and an illustration pack made by Grace (IG: @onethousandprinces) from a previous consultation with local artists about the same raw above-mentioned issues of artists without studios.
Posted 12 Mar 2023 18:21
Hi everyone! I'm Kirstin, a Master of Architecture Student currently based in Atelier Making at Manchester School of Architecture. As an international student abroad, I always find myself finding pieces of “home” in unfamiliar places and strive to do the same in the shoes of the artists in this project.
I am currently writing a dissertation on (un)hidden art scenes in the city, as many of my interests revolve around the mixing of cultures, social contradictions and ground-up approaches to art, architecture...and everything in between! Having been part of SSOA Live Projects and worked in Progress in Practice, I hope to be able to bring the same collaborative and sustainable ethos to the table.
Looking ahead, I am incredibly excited to be engaging with all the artists and our MSA Live dream team to make real changes in St Helens, and cannot wait to collaborate with everyone who will be involved!
Posted 12 Mar 2023 18:39
Meet our collaborators! Artists Rebecca Ainsworth, Claire Weetman and Grace Collins are Platform Arts, based in Platform Studios – the space above St Mary's Market in St Helens. Platform Arts is exploring the idea of a live/work space for the local artists as the town centre undergoes redevelopment.
The artists have seen demand for space in Platform Studios and have recently worked with over 50 local artists for the Art in Empty Shops project. This lived experience has shown Platform Arts the real need for workspaces for artists in the local area.
They reckon there's not a lot of suitable living spaces in St Helens for single professionals either, with most dwellings being family homes. So, Platform Arts is looking into how it can tackle both of these issues with a live/work space for artists. Plus, it's exploring the potential of a community land trust model which could counteract the power that landlords have over the sustainability of art spaces.
Check them + their ongoing projects out on Instagram @artistledsthelens!
Posted 12 Mar 2023 22:17
1st Collaborative Meeting (07/12/2022)
Our first time meeting the collaborators Claire and Grace.
Not knowing anything about each other at all, us students and the collaborators had many interesting conversations to get to know each other and already found relatable quirks/patterns between art and architecture: ideas galore, mixed media madness, the struggles of subjectivity and the like!
While we forgot to get a group photo of the session, the illustrations made and gifted by Grace in themselves depict the entire ethos of their drive for this project – hand-made pieces of art showing the raw emotions and helplessness of artists having their studios and (only) everyday spaces potentially taken away in the blindsided push for regeneration.
Contrary to the heavy issues mentioned, all of us left with light hearts and cannot wait to see where this real world project takes us.
Posted 12 Mar 2023 22:38
1st Site Visit to St Helens (04/02/2023)
We took the morning train to St Helens – a first time there for the most of us. The train ride there with Grace was enjoyable as we reminisced about going on field trips in back in school, and were given a road-crossing tour of sunny Wigan en route to our destination.
Arriving in St Helens, we were greeted by St Helens’ pride for glassblowing along the walls of the train station in beautiful graffiti. Claire brought us to through the town centre and into St Mary's Market, through the maze of stalls and up some spiral stairs into Platform Studios overlooking the glass façade of the building enveloping the maker's market.
Gathering thoughts and first impressions, we spent some time talking to Claire and Grace in and about their studios, admiring the sprawled artworks of different artists who occupied the studios at different times. Everything was as they'd described: their admin/office, work studio, pantry, and exhibition space all contained in one transient floorspace in a shopping mall no longer valued. Creativity overspilling onto the floors, the walls, through the windows, the ceilings. So much potential!
We were then invited to St Helens World of Glass which also housed the library and community event space, where we were given the opportunity to speak to the local artists in conjunction with one of their residency events organised by Claire. Moving from the almost-abandoned shopping mall to the contemporary landmark of the town was truly eye-opening, as we were shown the irony of the situation everyone was in – the needs and wants for comfortable spaces but the unattainability of gentrified regeneration.
The key takeaway from the visit was an observation made by Claire, that it was great to have fresh new takes on a place they were all too familiar with, and it relit a fire of hope that their studios could potentially be saved.
Prior to contacting the artists for the next meeting, we came together as a group in MTC to merge ideas and establish a timeline and potential outputs for the project.
Armed with the bounty of past MSA Live project booklets and tokens from our site visit, we collectively brainstormed our next steps with special consideration for the BA students who will be joining us in a few months. Using the given deadlines as anchor points, we had to consider the timings and schedules of the busy local and full-time artists in St Helens as well as our university hand-in dates before proposing our plan and workload.
At the end of the day, we decided that – in the spirit of artists and the joy in finding creativity in all things, we will keep our Action Week outputs simple and open to adaptation and changes following the collaboration between students and artists; but with the end goal of pushing the project beyond just consultations and towards making it real (ie to gear up for future planning proposals).
Posted 12 Mar 2023 23:49
3rd Collaborative Meeting (06/03/2023)
With our rough timelines and output ideas on the table, we had an online meeting with Claire to refresh our agendas and mark our calendars.
The meeting was very productive and, like all our meets so far, ended up with exchanges of creativity – this time with Claire showing us about 5 canvases of artwork from the studio on video call while we were discussing further artistic connections and local ideas.
We absolutely can't wait to show you what we have in store for you!
Posted 12 Mar 2023 23:56
Day 6: Final Touches
Today the students worked tirelessly to add finishing touches their models and illustrations, to get them presentation-ready. We worked together to come up with pointers and ran through proposal tagline headers and descriptions, linking them to case studies and design precedents in preparation for consultant discussions. The students also benefited from some ad-hoc Enscape rendering tips, Photoshopping shortcuts and "Sketchup life hacks" for exporting to enhance their digital workflows for future projects.
Posted 16 May 2023 20:42
Following the design finalisations, the students worked hard throughout the day producing both physical and digital visuals and drawings ready to be printed and mounted on the consultation boards organised for Thursday. Guided by varying individual styles and creative skills, the boards coming together celebrated the merging of their work and collaboration in reorganising tiny details - final touches and realised outputs.
Posted 16 May 2023 20:45
Working towards the presentation outputs, both the digital and physical models of the existing spaces (Platform Studios in St Mary's Market, St Helen's) and the student proposals were refined following useful peer-to-peer feedback. These models, both realistic as well as conceptual, will be used to visually communicate the proposed ideas to the artists and the public during the consultation, alongside the graphic-heavy presentation boards made to showcase the processes and outcomes from start to finish.
Posted 16 May 2023 21:05
Kirstin's Thoughts - MA1
It’s so fulfilling sharing tips and tricks in our everyday workflow, having had more experience to share as MA students as compared to the BAs; with little things like Landa ecstatically showing off photoshop texture layering effects he just learned today absolutely making my day.
The entire live project has really been eye opening in terms of working with different ideas flying at each other from all directions - together as a team. It’s been rewardingly fun and we’re nervous but excited for consultation day to showcase these different spatial perspectives to the artists and the public!
Posted 16 May 2023 21:07
Day 8: Consultation Day
Thursday, 18th May 2023, 11:30am-4pm in St Mary’s Market. The big day! Energy levels were high as we kicked off the long-awaited community consultation, of which the local planning authority and creatives were invited to, to form new connections between different parties and encourage conversations about the regeneration of St Helens in relation to the resident artists and people who have made the market their homes.
The consultation also served as a precursor event running up to the Artist-Led Reside* artist residency program and city regeneration consultation scheduled for the coming weekend.
Posted 19 May 2023 17:18
Art x Architecture
Taking the train from Oxford Road to St Helens Central, the students arrived in St Mary’s Market at 10:45am to help set up the consultation boards and models on easels brought by the artists - and utilised the existing market tables and pathways. The grand glass atrium of the market served as the backdrop to the display, set up to attract inquisitive members of the public towards our displays and invite fruitful discussions. The proposal boards were curated and organised according to the level of change made on the existing scheme: from feasible and practical to radical and utopian - inviting a wide range of ideas to comment on.
Posted 19 May 2023 17:19
The students showed amazing initiative when it came to engaging with the artists, planners, each other, the public, and curious passers-by who were interested in our display - conversing their way through the layers upon layers of ideas each proposal stood for. We quickly realised the benefits of being part of these intimate discussions, where you find out easily overlookable things like “oh, I wish that ceiling could be lowered so shorter people like me could reach equipment there” that would have never been thought to be prioritised amongst our architectural plans and technical approaches.
Looking to the future, these enjoyable conversations revealed the crucial need for more collaboration and exchanges of information between designers, their clients, and everyone involved in between - no matter how “unimportant” some of the aspects might perceive to be. Every little change truly does go a long way.
Posted 19 May 2023 17:20
We unveiled the proposal visualisation boards, printed student-made postcards and two 1:100 proposal models to the artists and the public, made to communicate our ideas through different means and perceptions - visual, spatial, creative arts and conversational.
“It’s very fulfilling to be able to see our student work showcased in public, printed and out in the open…as we haven’t gotten to the chance to do pin-ups in studio so this is nice.” - Letitia, BA1
Posted 19 May 2023 17:21
Proposal 1: Glass & Canvas (by Finbar and Letitia)
When looking to expand upon the art studio space in St Mary’s market, we planned to preserve the culture of the space through using architectural elements synonymous with British markets. We intend to pay homage to the heritage of the market, while complementing the contemporary setting, by combining the sleek, angular forms of modern architecture with the materiality and ornate motifs of a traditional marketplace.
The prominent use of glass and wrought iron in this design is reminiscent of Victorian-era architecture, with decorative motifs and ornamentation present throughout the design. The traditional metal frameworks hold large glass panes that create a pleasant light-filled studio and multi-use space below. The extension will provide a comfortable amount of space for the artists of St Helen’s and the outdoor multi-use space will draw in a wider audience, creating a bustling scene and restoring the buzz to the market. At the rear of the building, we have introduced a set of stairs and a ramp, making the building accessible for all.
This proposal re-imagines St Mary’s Market as a vibrant center of creative thought for all, with a flexibility of outdoor use that caters to a wide variety of users, whether they are an artist themselves, or curious about the arts and looking to learn more.
Posted 19 May 2023 17:22
Proposal 2: Cosy Cove (by Mohammed, Landa and Remon)
The aim of this proposal is to connect the growing art community with the wider community by transforming St Helens marketplace into a cosy home for art, culture and the community.
Our modular approach aims to create a flexible work/live environment where artists can live, create and exhibit their art by having hybrid spaces where art can be created collectively or individually in personal pods on the ground floor, along with plenty of space for exhibiting and showcasing art.
Through our proposal we have very carefully considered the wider community where we have designated exhibition spaces for displaying glass installations from the World of Glass museums to make St Helens market place a cultural and creative hotspot.
To achieve a sustainable project we have used recycled industrial material for the construction of the pods to complement the industrial theme of the existing site while creating a cosy space and neighbourhood for the community to make it their own.
Posted 19 May 2023 17:24
Proposal 3: Atrium Artspace (by Amani and Kiki)
For the initial design ideas, we decided to add an artistic element to the space to encourage more young artists to the area. We wanted to utilise the large empty space on the ground floor by adding more open studios to make the space more collaborative and engaging and adding life back to area.
This scheme can be seen as transient or temporary, with the flexibility to be converted into spaces for external events which could potentially also generate income for the stakeholders involved. At the same time, it acts as a traditional gallery space in the cloak of the old marketplace and contemporary potential - a simple makeover that provides unexpected change and rejuvenation, perhaps?
Posted 19 May 2023 17:26
Proposal 4: Studio Re-Openings (MA1 pilot project)
This scheme features flexible and adaptable elements to a multifunctional artist studio/work space with movable panels to form different rooms when needed. These panels serve as versatile partitions, allowing artists to customise and reconfigure their workspace according to their tailored spatial needs or methods. Whether it’s creating separated private studios, open collaborative workshop spaces, or temporary exhibition galleries; our design provides the flexibility to accommodate a whole range of artistic practices.
We approached this concept thinking it would be the “most practical” and efficient way of spatial allocations, easy for the artists to adapt to themselves. Ironically, this piece sparked deeper conversations about the cyclic norm of artists giving spaces new life before having them taken away by regeneration (investment opportunities and affordability), the practicalities and habits of artists at work “with their stuff along one wall…where do they go if the wall moves?”, and the multifaceted world of costs and a need for change in existing business models.
Posted 19 May 2023 17:26
Reside* Artist Workshop Space
Throughout the day, as the students manned the stands in shifts to attend to curious members of the public, we also had the opportunity to mingle with local resident/collective artists. The workspace set up by Claire consisted of a simple tables, stools, a homely rug, and freshly made refreshments; where we all gathered to listen to artists working on their exhibition preparations, learned about the behind-the-scenes of the art world through newfound critical lenses, and participated in an ad-hoc mirror-drawing illustrative session instigated by Grace.
Posted 19 May 2023 17:28
“St Helens is tired…and desperately needs art.”
“The city council shouldn’t take down the market and build another one, which is such an waste, we could have used existing place, refine it and make it better.”
“It’s clear to see that the artists of St Helens are underrepresented and need this space. The city council should make more of an effort to listen to their needs and should aim to encourage more young artists in the area.”
“They like the intention to pay homage to the culture of the site while creating a new, more modern concept, since the development in town is not so sensitive.”
“I feel like the artist scene in St Helens needs a lot more development and care due to the lack of representation in that area. The lack of space is also a very crucial aspect because it doesn’t enable enough space to carry more artists even if they were.”
These were some of the thoughts we gathered from picking the brains of those who had opinions to share about the future of the space.
Posted 19 May 2023 17:28
Thank you to all who came and were involved - especially and invaluably Claire, Grace and Rebecca who opened up this opportunity and precious insight to work with the art scene of St Helen’s.
“This project helped me experience working on a team project and through group discussions I was able to communicate and develop ideas alongside others.” - Finbar
“I’ve learnt how to develop ideas collaboratively, in that we all created a balance between different concepts. I can appreciate the communication needed between the client and the designers, since we referenced their needs throughout the whole process to make sure we responded effectively.” - Letitia
“This project has helped me understand the importance of understanding what your client wants, also understanding their limitation and aspiration for that project will aid in developing ideas and sketches.” - Kiki
Our round-up at the pub celebrated the end of our rewarding MSA Live Project and blog posts, but the beginning of future collaborations with the artists involved and friendships made throughout our different year groups (dream team!) - who we hope we’ll see in studio, around Manchester, and wherever we all end up.