Earlier in 2022 Rochdale Town Hall ran an open call for artists commissions, this proposal was put forward from Alison Little.
Rochdale Town Hall
Bright Hall Commission
Expression of Interest
Alison Little is a North-West based Arts Practitioner, her work transcends the creative sector. Her initial arts commissions within the public realm bridges with workshop practice accelerated with the 2008 European Capital of Culture program held within Liverpool. During this year she successfully gained four major public art commissions, progressing to more commissions and the project management of Rags Boutique.
Rag Boutique involved the design and regeneration of the disused retail space. In this she was to curate the exhibition pieces and look towards engaging participants from those passing by or on route to other designations. The layout of the interior space was necessitated for workshops and a final catwalk event. The room dynamics were to change for drop in activities at the weekend. Environmentalism was core to the project. All the exhibits were made from reclaimed materials and extended to highlight the sustainability of fashion.
The predecessor to Rags Boutique was a medium term arts project ‘The Trash Army’ ran for a local youth group. ‘The Trash Army’ was established to coincide with the opening of the Gladstone Conservatory in Stanley Park, Anfield. She worked with the group to create a collection of suits embellished with little and highlighting the potential of easy compossible materials. Some little had been collected from the streets of North Liverpool, other items had been saved from the perils of landfill which was the only waste disposal facility of the decade. The highlight of the event accumulated at the opening event for the Conservatory, the youth participants clad in a variety of litter based costumes, a pelicanese teenager taking centre stage.
Rags Boutique, the workshops developed into a mask making activity program, repurposing single-use plastic bags. She regularly holds workshops for the Liverpool Irish Festival held at the Liverpool Museum on the Waterfront. Last year’s event in October was particularly well attended in terms of mask making, the workshop was overwhelmed by little makers after the arts activity droughts imposed by the covid lockdowns. The most recent booking was for the Super Slow Way in Burnley. Floating on the waters of the Leeds Liverpool Canal a range of masks were created around the theme of insects and animals which find habitat around the banks of our canals. Bumble-Bee’s and Badger flourished and the event was a creative triumph.
Commencing in 2016, Alison worked with others to establish the Liverpool Independent School of Art (LIAS). The art school held a range of adult based workshops and short courses. Alison’ initial workshops focused on hand embroidery, one taking place on the remote wilds of Hilbre Island. This led to a regular animal art class which expanded dramatically until the enforced lock-downs of covid.
A significant proportion of Alison’ visual arts practice centres around the theme of sexual violence and mental health. The most recent installation; All the Fun of the Fair, was located opposite the Bombed Out Church in Liverpool City Centre. Each item presented within the installation represents either something which has, or potentially could have taken place. Full details can be found at:
She is interested in developing these art generating processes further, working with groups to create themed collections which can be photographed in assemblage to create an art piece.
Alison was a leading force in Arts Hub, a collective established in Lark Lane, Liverpool then moving to nearby Aigburth Road. Through this she sold various craft ranges, many of which used reclaimed materials, ‘Rubbish Cards’ being a great success. Running the shop through a regular weekly shift helped to establish the collective within Liverpool and the creative community.
Numerous hand painted large scale commissions have been worked on by the artist since the creative apex of the capital of culture year, including a racehorse in Cheltenham. A particular highlight was a medium sized lambanana for an anfield based nursery where the preschoolers were able to stencil on a range of services which fell under the Sure Start umbrella.
Prior to the pandemic Alison ran her own sign making company and frequently worked with large format graphics for vinyl production. She has recently re-trained in 3D computer modelling based around Unity software. High-end digital technique which can be used within the commission.
Credentials with the reclaimed and workshop practice can unite, working with a range of groups to produce high level artwork for the panels of the Brightroom.
Rochdale Town Hall
Bright Hall Commission
The workshops are to be set around a variety of themes of relevance to; Rochdale, the Town Hall and its Citizens. Each concept to be directed towards a youth group or community project who would benefit more from work of that nature. The outcome of the workshop to be determined by the participants but directed by the workshop leader. The use of photography for vinyl production to be commonplace. There are to be 8 themes for 8 panels: the Bright family, Gothic Revival, the Gothic Novel, Rochdale Pioneers, Fire of 1883, Former location of Police and Courts, Rochdale Canal and Local Dialect.
The workshop program and commissions to be accompanied by a printed publication. To be distributed for free from the town hall and other public and cultural venues throughout Rochdale. The publication to expand upon the workshops held and the creative outpourings of the program. An array of images printed alongside printed reproductions of artworks.
The Bright Family
The Bright Family introduced textiles manufacture and weaving to Rochdale on an immense scale. Warf and weft were produced then dispersed to be woven at home on hand looms. Workers were paid by the piece produced, the concept of an hourly rate remiss. Workshops held to identify this with how the pandemic has initialised a shift towards home working and if this is likely to remain a major force within late capitalism.
We would look to work with a textiles based adult group or a cohort simulated by the notion of a weaving project. The workshop leader to introduce the practical aspects of hand weaving, including the anatomy of a loom. Expanding on how modern day technology can be used for weaving on higher demand and how this can be introduced on a grass-routes level. Participants to be introduced to the work of leading UK based weavers: Daniel Harris, Shielagh Tacey and Sophie Roet, in particular. An early highlight being an excursion to either: Art in the Pen, Yarndale or the Great Northern Craft fair, all within 50 miles of Rochdale.
The group would then work towards producing hand woven items to sell at a contemporary craft event, potentially organised at Rochdale town hall to coincide with the re-opening ceremony. Weavers to be introduced to varying techniques: adding cross stitch, incorporating fabric, to produce a variety of; wall hangings, soft furnishings and accessories.
Workshop leeder to work with the participants to enable them to acquire the knowledge to start up in business as crafts people. In this we identify production costs in terms of materials and the greater aspect concerning ‘Handmade’ the time commitment. Participants to be introduced to the cost implications of fairs and various avenues of advertising. The craft fair event allows the participants a taster into the potential to earn money within the craft sector.
The artwork for the panel consists of photography of either all, or some of the goods woven for the fair. Caution to be taken around presentation to ensure that the printed vinyl does not project the image of a commercial selling advertising banner.
Gothic Revival Architecture
In this we look toward the age of Gothic Revival, the chivalry of knighthood and the adoration of Royalty. Identifying with the exciting Coat of Arms for Rochdale, patented in 1857, we look to create a design proposal for a Coat of Arms for 2023. This is to be broken down into a collection of pen and ink workshops, potentially teenage school or community groups, where Coat of Arms designs are produced in large numbers. The workshop leader would then take a number of the designs forward to be put to a public vote. The winning design to be presented on the vinyl panel and various print media for the opening event.
The workshops would revolve around the existing coat of arms. Identifying with the industries of the day: wool, cotton and iron. The Rashdale and the Dearden families and the hierarchy of land ownership ever present in the 19th Century.
Participants would be guided to reject the channel 4, 2011 ranking of 4th worst place in the UK to reside. To look at the presentation of today’s industries of: distribution, manufacturing and digital technologies. To identify modern day figureheads: Anna Friel of acting, music Lisa Stansfield and Sajid Javid of politics (subject to change, due to recent questions being asked by the tax office). Ways of representing the 5 towns of the borough and the little shy of 15% Muslim population. Significant potential to address the towns twinning with Lviv in Ukraine, currently acting as a gateway to those fleeing the war to destinations across Europe. This could lead to designs which identify with modern day displacement.
Visual source of inspiration to be drawn from the Rochdale born contemporary artist, Jack Crabtree. His representations of working men in the colonies and the mills. Contemporary graphic design trends, GeekDad in particular. A major goal for workshop participants would be to identify a colour theme for Rochdale with design logic which can be explained. Black and white, blue, green and yellow all brand the town, we would look to initialise one colour theme.
The Gothic Novel
This theme focuses on the popularity of the Gothic Novel during the Victorian era. The peak of popularity of the genre was prior to this under King George the third during the 1790’s, a time of the Napoleonic wars. These fictional works were massly popular and the genre exemplified by the hack horror stories and the shilling shockers. Although potentially possible to hook-up with near-by Howarth and the gothic heroines of the Bronte’s, we would intend to focus on the most acclaimed, Mary Shelley’ Frankenstein.
The directive would be to work with a youth group and to look at recreating scenes from the novel. The major part, a costume making exercise, centering around the creation of the ‘Monster’. This involves many art disciplines, latex mask making and stage tools to present the act of wounding and death.
Equally, we would be able to adapt the novel to a modern day setting. Discussion to correlate around the bewilderment of the never attempted ‘Brain Transplant,’ would the identity of the person remain with the ‘Brain’. Other confounds to be introduced around virtual reality (VR), automated reality (AR) and the high spec nature of today’s robots (Bots). What limitations should be imposed and the legal ramifications?
The final artwork for the vinyl print to use photography from the scenes created. Potential for a short production to be staged or projected from a recording at the opening ceremony. Items of costume creation, stitched mask wear in particular could be exhibited at the venue. Layed out to allow visitors to try on, mobile phone photography suggested through signage. Caution around the artworking to ensure that it doesn’t appear to be an advertising banner for a new film production of the original novel.
The Rochdale Pioneers is to be a most prominent theme and a sub element of many of the other workshops. Workshop series most suited to mothers with young families who may be struggling to make food budgets stretch. We could potentially start with the screening of the 2012 biographical film, however there are other options of televised media available if somewhat overused within the region. We would them look toward a directed discussion around the concept of co-operatives, poverty of the period, class discrimination and earlier events including the Peterloo masicure. To address how working class men did not have the vote until 1867 and later for rural dwellers and certain sections of society. Blackballed of voting rights for women until 1918 for the upper and middle classes, then, not until the late 1920’s for all adult females. Identifying with the forward thinking aspects of the Rochdale Pioneers where class and land ownership was not a factor and women were allowed equal membership from the offset.
We would then identify with modern day issues, still as pertinent as when the co-op was established. Food poverty and the cost of living crisis which are encroaching across society. How modern day co-operatives are set up, signposting to relevant organisations. The recent surge in the use of community shops and food banks, a solution to the food or fuel dilemma. The environmental credentials of the initial collective in terms of food miles, local employment opportunities and the reduced packaging of the 1850’s. To look at the new refill shops which are emerging across the country and expectantly in Rochdale shortly.
The panel artworking to comprise of a variety of photographed collections. Taking the concept of £28, the budget of 28, £1 shares by all the members of the original co-op and specify this as our spend. Groups could then be sectioned off, some members taking £28 to a large supermarket, others, the same amount to a community shop. The difference in the amount of produce purchased and environmental considerations could be identified and photographed. A development would be to turn the produce into a buffet lunch if kitchen facilities are available. An artist vision which would remove the stigma from using community shops and food banks.
The Great Fire of 1883
This to be a delightful illustrated storytelling workshop directed primarily at the ages of around 7-12. In this we will use the local anecdote (Varying levels of accuracy) of Charlie the Fire House. The participants draw a tale from the night of the town hall fire when Charlie is winding from galloping at full pace until his death when he was then working for a soft drinks supplier. We have an account of how Charlie responds to the ringing of the fire bell, begins to gallop, throwing the lemonade bottles from the cart, then on arrival at the fire bell dropping dead.
Participants to be engaged with details about the fire and restoration work. How fire engines operated in the day, and the actual response from other fire stations on the night of the fire. The life of fire Brigade Horses, daily walking and grooming. Identifying how the horses were to gallop directly to the fire, then to stand quietly and calmly while the fire was being fought, opportunity for role play. Potential for a visit to Greater Manchester Fire Manchester Fire Service Museum where studies of horse drawn fire engines can be outlined.
Participants to be engaged with the storytelling process. What does Charlie look like, what are his characteristics? Is he strong, wise, athletic? What is Charlie’ daily routine? Does he have any friends, are they horses or other animals? Are they any love interests and what are his feelings towards humans? Did he always want to be a fire horse, or would he rather have been a war horse? How does he feel about being retired from the Fire Brigade and assigned to delivering pop? Storyboards to be developed from the night of the fire until his eventual death. A developmental exercise to take one of the frames forward with a larger drawing and a more detailed description.
The final vinyl printed art piece to feature one of the participants illustrations with the input of professional graphic design. Many of the design and storytelling work to be included in the free printed publication to be given out from the town hall. The publication to contain other historical details about the fire, town hall and signposting to the Fire Brigade Museum. Great potential for a storytelling session at the opening event where the winning tale is read to a young audience.
Law and Order
This theme to evolve around the way in which the Police and the Law courts were located at the Town Hall for lengthy periods. Ideally suited to a group of intellectuals, perhaps drawn from philosophy in pubs which meet in near-by Eccles. The first group discussion to generate around crimes which have occurred locally and Nationally, the rights and wrongs of the offences and the sentences passed. The second session to identify contemporary artists and how found objects are used within their works. The final session to create an art piece from items gathered by the group which can be photographed for the vinyl panel.
Discussion to be guided initially towards the Rochdale child abuse scandal, accumilating in 2012. Identifying with sentences being handed down to the offenders, Shabir Ahmed, the ring leader in particular. Then to address the role of the tabloid branded ‘Honey Monster’, the 15 year old girl who was paid to entice younger girls into the sex ring. Debate around the morality of her behaviour and the subject of her never being charged with any crime. Moving towards the recent case of Peter Cordwell, who died from a heart attack after trying to apprehend a gang stealing a large crate of cigarettes from a holding. To highlight the issue of class, race and criminality, should the matter of the cigarettes being counterfeit change the outcome of sentencing. Discussions around the Gary Newlove case, accountability in Grenville Towers tragedy, drawing the conversation toward a topic of altimate relevance the: Manchester Arena Bombing. What sentence should Salman Ramadan Abedi have received if had been detained by the authorities on the way to the Arena? Generating discussion toward the concept of the death penalty.
The following session is to identify with how assemblage of object is used in contemporary arts practice. Tracey Emin’ ‘My Bed’ to be explored in intense detail. Other artists to look at are to be the Chapman Brothers and Eric Gill as a sex offender. The group then to decide on a scenario relating to a criminal act they would like to represent through assemblage of objects to form an installation. A example being: the Rochdale sex scandal could be represented by 9 condoms hung up to depict the 9 convicted sex offenders. In each, a tamagotchi could be placed, representative of the age of the victims. Sentences even in years could be presented on the screens of the tamigotchi’s. Participants to identify the crime and what needs to be assembled. The location of the items to be photographed of great significance.
Sensitivity to be used for the final photography for the vinyl panel, if, for example, condoms were used only the mid region parts could be shown by the print. Potential for the installation to be displayed at the town hall with a sensitive content warning. Full image and information about the art installation to be displayed within the accompanying publication.
The Rochdale Canal
This collection of workshops to be targeted toward Rochdale’s smallest residents: children from the ages of two until ten. A fabulous reclaimed mask making workshop theme around canal wildlife. The intention would be to make masks of: bats, bee’s, the great pollinators, badgers and kingfishers. The presence of bats and kingfishers stated in the 2011 Waterways survey. A positive impression of bats to be created including their work, similar to bee’s, as pollinators. Through the bees we draw attention to how they became a symbol of Manchester after the Arena attack. Identifying with the social nature of badgers and how they live as families in canal side burrows. To highlight the beautiful colours of the kingfisher and how they are in decline in Northern England.
Workshops to be situated during various warmer month school holidays sessions by busy parts of the canal towpath. This could be closer to the other towns within the borough of Rochdale. Areas, such as the Edinburgh Way underpass may be a potential venue, arts workshops often helping to promote positive activities in areas which are often plagued by anti-social behaviour and can become crime hotspots.
The intent is to photograph the participants during the session, but to create a finale event where all the participants are asked to attend mask-adorned. This could be within the heritage re-generation zone in the town centre, preferably the exterior space surrounding the town hall. Instigating a photography session from above, ideally the balcony of the town hall, a birds eye shot of the animal mask wearing young Rochdaleons. The finale event to be developed with additional mask making opportunities and potentially, healthy eating fruit snacks of specific relevance, possibly relating to fruit bats.
The printed vinyl panel to be ideally created from the bird’s eye photography taken on the finale day. The print would encompass a mass of participants, the future adults and leaders of the region. A fun-filled collection of workshops, a delight for the youngest members of society.
Ideally suited to groups for the retired, those who have lived in Rochdale over the course of their lifetimes and identify with how the dialect has modified and changed over the last 80 years. The main workshop to be a discussion group to be taken to different retirement homes and or day centres with groups for elderly residents.
Discussions to evolve around the subject of dialect. Are we in agreement with the Manchester Voice classification as ‘Lancashire’. The exhibition at the central library and the nearly new poetry library. To address some individual colloquialisms: cabbaged, cock and rozzer in particular. Progressing towards sayings:
Do I heck as like
What a load of twod
From this to take one of the terms and to rephrase into a contemporary context. Could ‘Trouble-at-t-mill.’ become ‘Worries at the Warehouse.’
Moving forward to translation dialect verse from the Rochdale poet, Edwin Waugh, Willy’s Grave:
Each village home was dark and still,
And closed was every door;
For gentle sleep had twined her arms
Around both rich and poor,—
Save in one little cot, where, by
A candle’s flickering ray
A childless mother sighing sat,
And combed her locks of grey.
Could this be re-interpreted to a modern day urban setting, should commonplace modern domestic pets replace the agricultural sheep? Introducing electricity and the concept of fertility treatments. Another source of inspiration could be Lord Byron. Potentially identifying with text written around the year without a summer after the eruption of mount Tambora in Indonesia. If this were to happen today would we assume the world was ending due to climate catastrophe.
The group then to identify with the positive and negative connotations involving swearing. In which situation is bad language considered acceptable, when is it inappropriate? To discuss the term ‘Bloody Hard Work’ taken from the Rochdale Pioneers screenplay. Is cussing being used in a positive context? Addressing swearing as a healthy activity to release stress, alternatively as a form of aggression, a predecessor to being struck in a domestic violence situation. Moving towards the Russian invasion of Ukraine and swearing has become a weapon of resistance with the Ukrainian people.
The discussion to finalise around choices between modernising old dialect or to preserve what was once commonplace. Each group proposes a term, saying or interpretation to be printed on the final vinyl panel for the Town Hall. The workshop leader which term to use as a consensus among the mass of participants. Professional graphic design to be applied to the text endorsing other elements of the discussion groups.
Workshop leader to take a covid test if any symptoms of the virus are displayed. Hand wipes and antibacterial soap to be made available. Any equipment for workshops to be cleaned with anti bacterial spray prior to the activity. To endeavour to incorporate the use of outside venues where plausible and relinquishing the use of face masks for workshop leader and participants. In the event of a spike in cases, Nationally of locally, workshops to move online and take place via zoom. Events for the opening of the town hall to be modified, any large group gatherings, for the Rochdale canal workshop to be cancelled.
The workshop leader to arrange to meet with group leaders and school staff to ensure the success of the program. In addition a presence at any relevant events or creative networking opportunities. Through this she would look to engage with more potential workshop participants adding to the success of the program. Equally to maintain a strong social media presence through linkedin and facebook in addition to her blog: https://alisonlittleblog.wordpress.com/
A magnificent selection of workshops enticing all of society to form ranks behind the re-opening of Rochdale Town Hall.
Unfortunately Alison was unsuccessful with her proposal, the successful commissions will be created over the next year.