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Bearpit Saturdays puts a new spin on old bikes in North Kent

  • Date: 26 July 2011
  • Area: South East
man and bike

Bike donation, Bike Amnesty, Bearpit Saturdays, Artlands, 2011. Credit: Photo courtesy of Artlands

An exciting public art commission in North Kent is helping local people get involved in a new cycling and sport facility by running free events this summer.

Artist Anna Best's Bearpit Saturdays is a five-week summer project that uses bicycles to explore the themes of circus, entertainment, leisure; protest and rallies; and tattoos, accidents, scars. Bearpit Saturdays is part of a one-year public art commission, whose focus is Cyclopark, a new multisport centre situated on 43 hectares in Gravesend currently in development.
Every Saturday since July, Anna and team have run free Bike Fleet workshops, where people have been able to build and design bespoke bikes. Other events include pedal powered cinema and mass rides activating potential cycle routes to Cyclopark. Anna is also researching the local area and its communities during these activities, which will feed into future events and the creation of a film and publication. The project runs from May 2011 to May 2012.
Anna's Cyclopark art commission is one of three commissions produced by Artlands North Kent. The project combines economic development, audience development, and the natural environment and is supported with a £97,000 Arts Council England Grants for the arts award.
Bearpit Saturdays' Bike Fleet workshops invite local residents to make almost nearly any kind of bike imaginable - from tandem bike and double-deckers to trailer for two and reclining seat for one - or to bring their own bike to do up. The project provides bikes, tools and adornments, such as tattoos, flags, transfers, and upholstery material. The next Bike Fleet workshop is on Saturday 30 July at Unit 31 (formerly Evans) at St George's Shopping Centre.
On 6 August, they're inviting as many people as possible to bring their newly decorated bikes, bells and whistles to a Mass Ride to Cyclopark, along the proposed route for a dreamed-of traffic free cycle path. They'll be leaving from St George's Shopping Centre at 11.30 am.
Anna's commission runs in tandem with the development and opening of Cyclopark. When complete, it will offer cycling, running and extreme sports facilities, as well as walking and other sports games. Located just south of Gravesend, the park aims to be a hub for the local community and will bring regional and national events to the area.
Earlier this year, Anna screened Vittorio De Sica's 1948 Italian classic The Bicycle Thieves and Werner Herzog's 1992 Kuwaiti oil field documentary Lessons of Darkness - powered entirely by cyclists. The project's dramatic open in April featured James Bentley performing his "ring of fire" on the Cyclopark's earth works site.
This autumn and winter, Anna will be creating a series of events including a pedal-powered cinema in September in the Cyclopark, as well as working on the legacy of her commission.
Anna says, 'Bearpit Saturdays has been an amazing success. People are full of suggestions about the park, which I've signposted to Kent County Council and Cyclopark, who are really supportive of the project. We've got the Bike Fleet ride on 6 August, and I'm planning more for the year. People who've been involved with the Bike Fleet see it as almost a club, so I will be in contact with them whenever we have an event.
'In terms of the legacy of the project, I'm planning to make a pedal-powered cinema in a yurt, which will be airbrush painted by an artist I've met from Gravesend who does stockcar painting. I'm also proposing that Cyclopark have fixed pedal power bikes for parents to sit in while watching their children play. Over the summer, we've made this entire Bike Fleet, which will hopefully be staying in Gravesend permanently.'

Emma Wilcox, Regioinal Planning Relationship Manager, Arts Council England, says, 'There is a recognised lack of arts infrastructure in North Kent and a history of limited opportunities for artists to make and show their work, or for audiences to engage with excellent arts experiences. Artlands and their commissions articulate the ambition and potential in the area and is delivered by an innovative partnership supporting delivery of Achieving great art for everyone.'