Heading back to the polls- in the name of art

Just three weeks after the EU referendum, one Liverpool community will have the chance to vote once more – but this time, the question is very different.

On Friday 15 July, residents of the Picton ward in will put a cross on a ballot paper  at a colourful, oddly makeshift polling booth . They will then gather to announce the result on Saturday 16th July at 4:00pm, the residents themselves addressing the electorate as returning officers and keynote speakers, calling on the public to attend as they reveal their historic decision.

This time, however, outcome will not be a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but a new name for a patch of unloved land that they are now symbolically reclaiming for themselves as civil action, democracy and urban planning becomes a work of art.

Working with three artists, Marcus Coates, Neville Gabie and Cristina Lina, each undertaking residencies in the area over the last three months, the vote is the next step in Metal’s ‘Meanwhile Space’, a project that encourages artistic collaboration to reanimate the frequently seen, yet lesser used and unloved spaces that sit oddly at the heart of many urban environments. Falling between the cracks of ownership, these ignored patches of land are deemed less favorable for development, remaining without purpose or evident value.

The focus for Meanwhile Space and the renaming ceremony itself is Wellington Road, a well-used thoroughfare to the south of Liverpool city centre. It is an anonymous, grassy corner, close to speeding traffic and dominated by a bus shelter that will adopt its new, soon-to-be-revealed, name, refocusing its current lack of identity as a source for discussion, celebration and more active community ownership.

A deliberately subversive act, the show of democracy will be delivered with artistic expression at its heart, with the public being invited to attend the unconventional announcement of the result.

Director of Metal Liverpool, the cultural producers responsible for the project, Shaun Curtis says: “We and the artists all share the drive to make exciting things happen in public space and if we are able to help reduce any underlying problems that might be linked with those spaces, even better. We selected Wellington Road based on its potential for creating interesting art, having met many interested and interesting people and groups there, such as the Harthill Youth Club and the local residents. The focus of the project is a very visible ‘meanwhile space’, so in changing discussion around it, empowering people to look at its possibilities differently, we might succeed in showing many other people what is possible.”

In keeping with the alternative democratic processes, the artists themselves were also subject to selection by a steering committee of local residents via a dinner at Metal before being allowed to get to work. Marcus Coates, an artist renowned for performances that incorporate animalistic characteristics and shamanism, has previously performed and exhibited as part of the Liverpool Biennial and Neville Gabie was London 2012 Olympic Park Artist-in-Residence. Joined by the vibrant talent of Christina Lina, with her background in graffiti/mural painting, the three artists have already made their mark on Wellington Road’s ‘meanwhile space’, turning it into a field of hand painted signs, each suggesting a different name for the site from the community, all designed by residents.

The recycling of these signs will provide the community with their polling booth as they take the next step in seizing the land from anonymity and occasional fly-tipping.

Marcus Coates, Artist, says: “As artists we have been motivated by re-imagining the public sites around the community that are perceived as neglected, not useful and even off limits. For the anonymous green space at the centre of this community, creating a name feels like the first step to recognising it as a place in its own right, somewhere the residents have said they want to care for and utilise.

“The vote for its name along with the temporary closing of the streets for car-free safe play, are creative actions that have been inspired by talking to people in the area.  We hope that the official sanctioning of these actions will generate and empower further steps to reclaim these spaces as useful and valued parts of the community.”

Based at Edge Hill Station, Metal Liverpool has a long established practice of exploring the impact that artists and their practices can have on civic and civil society, with particular focus on the public realm of the city centre and their neighbouring areas of Edge Hill, Kensington, Toxteth and Wavertree. The area around Wellington Road, incorporating Edge Hill and Kensington, as a specific focus for ‘Meanwhile Space’ activity Metal and its artists hope will become a joyful and inclusive example of what can happen when a community is active in its desire to limit the growth and effects of both the social and physical voids created through the, often accidental, creation of urban spaces without purpose.

Picton Councillor Tim Beaumont said: “This imaginative scheme has brought together the local community and the national art community to create something special in the heart of Liverpool. It’s going to be exciting to see how this project, which we’ve supported from the outset,  continues to develop”

Although voting is encouraged mainly for members of the local community, the Meanwhile Space results announcement is open to all, is FREE to attend and takes place at the green space on Wellington Road, opposite the Royal Mail postal sorting office near the Liverpool Aquatics Centre. For further information www.metalculture.com

This project is supported by Arts Council England and Liverpool City Council.