Pioneering Places is part of the national Great Place Scheme, an ambitious project that will make East Kent an even better place to live, work and visit by exploring heritage, developing civic pride and connecting artists and communities.
Four projects in Canterbury, Dover, Folkestone and Ramsgate are being led by cultural organisations to encourage local people to get involved and shape the place where they live.
Since 2018, Pioneering Places: Ramsgate has been working with over 70 local children from two Ramsgate primary schools. The children have become Young Arts & Heritage Leaders and have been steering this project from the start, recruiting practitioners to work alongside them.
Staff from Turner Contemporary in Margate and the arts collective Assemble have been supporting them through regular attendance at their schools and the provision of weekly creative workshops.
The Young Arts & Heritage Leaders spent a year researching their town and responding creatively. From this work, they identified a number of themes of interest that formed the basis of a brief and an open call for artists, advertised over the summer of 2019.
Following this, the Young Arts & Heritage Leaders interviewed, and then appointed Conrad Shawcross, a renowned British artist who has exhibited internationally.
The Young Arts & Heritage Leaders and Shawcross have been working on developing the artwork, which following consultation with local groups is planned for installation in autumn 2021 and will be in place for a year.
They are very excited about seeing the culmination of all their work being shared with Ramsgate residents, visitors and the wider public, and celebrating what local children have been able to achieve when actively supported by their community.
Covid has posed a challenge to the project – we had to temporarily stop activities with schools during the lockdown and renegotiate sessions with new Covid safety measures once lockdown was lifted.
It was also necessary to redesign some interactive elements of the artwork to make them Covid secure, and the budget had to be reconsidered to allow for this. As a result, we now have multiple options for engagement with the installation.
One of the key lessons that helped ensure successful delivery was engaging with local groups and sharing information at each stage of the project. The Young Arts & Heritage Leaders took an active role in this, hosting take-over days at the gallery, meeting with stakeholders and shaping digital content.
Giving them a platform and control over key decisions was essential in their ownership of the project.
If we were to repeat the work, we would try to start this engagement with the community even earlier on in the process, so there would be more of an opportunity to shape the outcome at a local level.
Part of the work with the Young Arts & Heritage Leaders culminated in a manual produced by Assemble, which explores the process of facilitating a child-led approach. This is going to be disseminated via a workshop offered to cultural organisations, educators, planners and policymakers, who want to share in the experience we have gained in placing young people at the heart of creative decision-making.
Turner Contemporary is committed to connecting with the local community, driving positive impact and transforming lives through the arts. The gallery is continuing with its innovative engagement through exhibitions curated by local groups and with future child-led projects.
Josephine Martin is the Pioneering Places project manager at Turner Contemporary. The project received external funding from Arts Council England and National Heritage Lottery Funding (£365,000) and Thanet District Council (£16,000)