Alloa greets unique brief with open arms

11th December 2009 at 00:00
Town regeneration takes on massive proportions as students are invited to create public works of art

Imagine standing at a bus stop which is not just a metal pole with timetable attached or the usual shoogly Perspex shelter, but a work of art which incorporates stained-glass images of faces of people from across the world.

Imagine the street lamp above you is adorned with glass spikes which radiate a kaleidoscopic pattern of light reflected in the glass shapes which have been embedded in the pavement beneath your feet and the wall behind you.

Imagine the bus is five minutes late. You take a seat on a nearby bench adorned with vibrant, hard-wearing and weather-resistant textiles to admire the ceramic signposts and stainless steel sculptures of human figures (one resembling a weill-kent local worthy) which populate the street.

If you can, then you are imagining Alloa town centre as it could be by April 2010; and what you are admiring will be the work not only of professional artists but of more than 100 FE and HE art and design and architecture students.

The pound;2.4 million town centre regeneration project they are involved in, Imagine Alloa, is unique, allowing students (from HNC foundation through to PhD) to work in a live context on a project, to respond to a professional brief, work with established artists and create artworks that will become part of its heritage.

The participating students are from art colleges across Scotland, from Strathclyde University, the Royal College of Art in London, the Reykjavik School of Art in Iceland, and from North Glasgow College and Forth Valley College.

In fact, 48 of the 109 students are from Forth Valley, because of their knowledge of the local area. As with the other students, part of their brief is to work with materials used in local, traditional industries: metal, textiles, ceramics and glass.

"The students are involved in real-world, live practice," says Maureen Michael, Imagine Alloa's academic link programme manager. "A combined culture-led project on this scale is rare and it provides a unique opportunity for students, lecturers and institutions. Colleges get to profile the work of their students in a large and prestigious government- funded project, while lecturers have an opportunity to contextualise their course work because the project has close geographical relevance.

"It gives them practical examples for studio teaching and what they teach is directly relevant to what is happening outside in the real world around them. For everyone - and especially the students - it's about engaging with professional practice," she says.

The project also allows locally-based FE students to work alongside graduate and postgraduate students in what is essentially an international student body. The Forth Valley foundation student who is working on the stained-glass bus stop, Izabella Birinowicz, hails from the Baltic port of Gdansk; and this makes her quite local, given that some students are from India, China and South America.

"There has never been an opportunity like this for students at different levels to meet and be involved in a real project," says Kathleen O'Neill, cultural planner for Clackmannanshire Council. "Their involvement is meaningful and important, relating their studio practice to the local environment and connecting them with businesses and community groups. The cultural-led regeneration will help make Alloa an arts and crafts town which we hope will have a huge effect on tourism."

The project has received pound;2m from the Scottish Government's regeneration fund, with additional money from Fairer Scotland, a condition being that the money is spent by the end of March 2010.

"This is a unique project which will have a big impact," says Mike Press, associate dean of design at Duncan of Jordanstone College, Dundee University. "With a truly significant student input, local and international, it will show how creative practice can engage communities in a way nothing else can.

"Design changes people's worlds."

Jennifer Donnachie - First-year art and design student, Forth Valley College

"I'm looking at lighting for a public seating area, and what I have in mind is a street lamp with spikes of glass that will move in the wind, creating patterns and shapes on the pavement. It's a dark area and I want to make it as welcoming as possible.

"Glass is one of Alloa's traditional industries and we have one of the biggest glass factories in Europe. I'm hoping to share what is my imagination's take on local heritage.

"It is scary because it's like I'm being commissioned professionally and I'm only in my first year. Then there's the timescale. That's a bit daunting too. Am I confident? Yes and no!

"Nowhere else is giving students this kind of opportunity and it's a responsibility all the students feel. We hope the people of Alloa like our ideas as they will be our final judges.

"I've always wanted to be an artist. I hope to go on to do an HND and take my degree, then maybe teach art for a bit, but I'm not sure yet.

"The great challenge of Imagine Alloa is to create something people can enjoy, people who are not necessarily interested in art. That excites me. Art is for everyone and everyone should get involved. Art should be part of our daily lives."

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