- Date: 15 March 2010
- Artform: Visual arts
- Area: South East
There are few places like Milton Keynes in England. Only 40 years old, the city is predicted to be the 10th biggest city in the UK by 2025 and is currently undergoing government housing development.
Amidst this urban city, with its 1960s design and shopping centres, art might not seem high on the public's agenda. So the idea of using the shopping mall and other public spaces to bring art to the community makes sense, and this is exactly what FringeMK did during their annual Fringe Festival with their public art commission project called Translation.
'It couldn't have been possible without the partnership with the shopping centres,' explained Sally Annett, Artistic Director and Curator for Fringe MK. 'They have fantastic huge indoor spaces which see just under half a million people come through every week.'
Starting in August 2009, five major public art commissions began to emerge across the town centre. Hand-made pom poms mysteriously appeared in the railway station, the shopping and theatre districts and retail quarter The Hub. Over in the thecentre:mk shopping mall, a jungle (actually two site specific paintings) spread across the walls, and a 74-foot tall site specific installation stretched across the vast atrium in the mall like a spider's web.
What people didn't realise that this was all part of the festival, which ran in September and October, and included a major art prize, the centre:mk annual painting prize (£8,000). Throughout the festival the public also unwittingly had their sense of smell manipulated during a public art experiment; across the mall, different monitors screened deconstructed films by Serbian artists Isidora Ilić and Boško Prostran.
'In Milton Keynes, there's a perception of being a cultural desert, despite having the Turner prize nomination twice in the past three years,' said Sally. 'And the Milton Keynes 40 Tower, which beat Wembley Stadium for a National Architecture Prize in 2008 and was then rebuilt at the Tate Modern.'
As a nod to younger audiences, the festival ran schools art prizes in painting and poetry and the Celebr8 parade. Visitors could text in their comments about the festival using a special number, and AI backed evaluation software noted who stopped at what art work and for how long.
Fringe MK received £43,769 from Grants for the arts to commission national and international artists Andy Harper, Mrs Smith, Pink and Freeman (Dr Ryan Pink and Julie Freeman), Sabine Jeanne Bieli, and Doplgenger (Isidora Ilić and Boško Prostran). Translation funding effectively boosted the festival's artistic ambitions.
'I had just come back from Edinburgh and was suddenly daunted by the challenge of what we have to do,' explained Sally. 'Milton Keynes is a new town. We're still going for city status. It's all brand new and corporate. The support from ACE has brough investment into the town and its people. Arts Council funding also helps businesses feel more secure in investing in the arts.'
Projects like the Fringe Festival and the Translation strand are all part of a larger investment strategy in Milton Keynes, which aims to build up the local art infrastructure and kick start opportunities on the horizon. This includes support for regular funded organisations The Stables and MK Gallery and projects such as Rendezvous, but also for new projects and organisations.
'It's a commuter city, with a young, transient population. The city is still very much finding its way to engage with its residents, and the Arts Council believe that arts is a good way of doing this,' said James McVeigh, Head of Resource Development.
'The Arts Council recognise that arts organisations on the ground are the experts and know their populations - they know what works and what doesn't,' he added.
This longer term development means that the young city will have a healthy arts ecology and will be better equipped to meet the demands of its increasing population in the future.
FringeMK is currently finalising their 2010 programme, with four new commissions and registration now open for the 2010 Annual Painting Prize and the 2010 Pavement Art Prize. For further information, visit their site: http://www.fringemk.com