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Rejuvenating the High Street through Art

It was a rather unusual day of business for Loughborough newsagent, Ashby Square News on Saturday (6 February 2016). The shop’s entire product range was rebranded as part of Loughborough University’s Market Town project, an innovative art programme that invited artists to reimagine the high street.

The Ashby Square News rebranding is part of a series of commissions developed by the University. Inspiration for the project came when Loughborough was selected as a pilot project town following the Mary Portas Review of the UK’s high streets carried out in 2011. The project’s stimulus came from her comment:

“High Streets must be ready to experiment, try new things, take risks and become destinations again. They need to be spaces and places that people want to be in. High streets of the future must be a hub of the community that local people are proud of and want to protect.”

Over the last year six artists have worked with local people, students and staff from the University, schools and a range of community groups from across the local area. 

A day of celebrations, the town’s first ever ‘Market Day’, was hosted by the University on Saturday to celebrate the culmination of three of the projects.

The Ashby Square News project, Brand News, involved well known artist Kathrin Bohm and designers, An Endless Supply, holding a series of hands-on workshops where local people had a go at designing their own ‘Loughborough branded’ items to investigate whether redesigning familiar branded products affects their popularity. On Saturday residents were able to see the full range of products – over hundreds of items - on display. 

On Saturday residents were also invited to see and hear the outcomes from the project Loughborough Records Presents Presence, a pop up recording studio designed by artist Can Altay. Altay’s project has been created to give local musicians the chance to record music, complete with the assistance of a professional sound engineer and instruments. Its theme has been discovering a sense of place through music. A range of artists, from a 14-year old first time singer to a 60-year old folk artist, have been using the studio throughout January.

Europa and illustrator Peter Nencini were also on hand on the day. These artists have been working on creating a visual identity for Loughborough based on research conducted locally. Their work will be presented later this year via a specially designed website and a series of large-scale art works that will be displayed on the town’s billboards. On Market Day they presented an archival wall of research material and shared some of the processes and techniques applied to this commission through a drop-in workshop.

Other commissions, part of Market Town, include:

  • Show Me How by Ania Bas. Ania has lead a series of sessions that focused on the place and value of practical skills, hands-on work, sharing and co-working in the daily life of market towns.  The project created opportunities for local artists to share their skills with the community and included pottery, woodworking and silversmithing workshops. It aimed to create a culture of shared knowledge and resources. 
  • Firing the Generator by Stealth.unlimited.  This project is inspired by the current initiative to revive the University’s former Art Foundation Building on Frederick Street into a site for arts, culture and creative production.  Through a programme of interventions, Stealth.unlimited have sought to explore the building’s function, spatial layout and operation to ensure that the initiative responds to the needs of the community.

An integral part of the project has been the transformation of a vacant shop unit in the town’s Carillion Court Shopping Centre into ‘Market Town Corner’, where many of the project workshops have taken place. Visitors to the unit have been asked to submit ideas for what changes they would like to see to the town centre and what a future for Loughborough could look like. These suggestions will be included within a publication that will be produced on conclusion of the project. The top floor of the unit provides the home to the pop-up recording studio.

Market Town will culminate in April 2016 when Loughborough market and University lectures will trade places. The market will take place on the University campus and teaching will take place in the town’s market place. Something and Son will create a structure that works both as a market stall and a place for teaching and learning, in a project that explores the relationship between the University and the town.

Director of Arts, Nick Slater, said: “Market Day and the Market Town project overall have been a great success. Our commissions have been about rejuvenating and adding a new dimension to our local high street, and all have been extremely well received by the public. I am delighted to say that we achieved what we set out to do and that was to attract many local people into the town centre.

“We would like to thank all the artists, designers, illustrators and members of the public who have taken the time out to really involve themselves in the scheme. It’s been thoroughly enjoyable throughout and we hope it gets people talking about what they would like their future town to look like.”

Market Town has taken place thanks to funding from the Arts Council, Charnwood Borough Council and Love Loughborough. The project has been delivered in partnership with Charnwood Arts.

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