It’s A Birdie! 2012
Creating and implementing a community arts-based project was to be one of the Society’s activities for 2012, which was set to be such an exciting year for everyone – we had the Jubilee, the Olympics and the British Open Golf Championship, which was taking place in St Annes on Sea. Which event to choose for our project? We decided to go with the Golf. The Fylde, with its coastline and estuary is an important area for marine and wetland bird life, so it wasn’t too difficult to come up with It’s A Birdie! as the title for our project. Of course, the Open Golf is a vitally important event for the area in terms of revenue and kudos but what does it mean to the ordinary St Annes resident? We wanted to create an arts project that would involve adults and children for whom the golfing event might otherwise pass them by. Our plan was to fill St Annes with birds during the week of the Championship.
A small team was created in order to get the project off the ground. None of us had any experience of funding or organising an arts project of this scale. Securing the necessary finance was a lengthy process and during this anxious time our initial ideas morphed several times into an entirely different project from our original one. With the backing of a £10,000 award from the Arts Council; £2,000 from Fylde Local Strategic Partnership; £1,000 from NADFAS; and £1,000 from Fylde DFAS, we were able to undertake three major projects with professional artists, as well as organise a number of community-based events.
The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) was an obvious partner, and we were delighted to work with NW artist Rebecca Chesney and the local RSPB Ribble Discovery Centre, to create a sound installation. Small groups of volunteers went to various locations to record bird calls and song, which Rebecca then mixed to create a digital soundtrack, overlaid with familiar local sounds, such as a train going by, the noise of a bowls match and sounds of the sea. The resulting soundscape was played at various locations round the town, including Sainsbury’s and the local cinema, surprising customers and bringing the sound of birdsong into unexpected places.
Local artists Chris Culshaw and Boz Phillips worked with Home Start Fylde to deliver an owl project, which saw the children create owl costumers and the whole family getting involved in compiling photographic records of the workshops. Each child created a We Can Fly book, containing images, poems and stories created during the project. A We Can Fly exhibition was mounted in St Annes Library, and the children and their families received their books at a special Library Garden Party, held during the week of the Championship.
For our project with the Friends of St Annes Library (FoSAL), we commissioned mosaic artist Patricia Lee, who has created a number of birds and other exotic creatures for schools, hospitals and community groups across the North West. She designed and created Mandy, the Superlambanana for Liverpool Capital of Culture 2008, which can be seen at the Museum of Liverpool at the Albert Dock. We ran a number of workshops for both children and adults at the Library, where participants were invited to decorate perspex birds, with the aim of providing inspiration for Patricia to create a unique bird for St Annes Library garden. The winning birdie design was ‘Birdsworth’, who is, very appropriately for a library, a literary bird. He is situated by the storyteller’s pergola in the Library garden, and is very popular with the children who visit the library and its garden. Birdsworth was unveiled at a special ceremony during the week of the Open Golf.
As well as these three major projects, we ran a range of different sorts of workshops for St Annes residents of all ages. Rainbows, Brownies and a primary school joined in the fun by decorating lots of birds. A ladies’ gym created lots of glamorous birds from sequins and feathers. Friendly Gym members also made some Olympic birds, which were used to greet the torch bearers as they ran through St Annes very early one morning in July. A number of glass fusion workshops were also held, resulting in some very professional looking pieces of art.
Of course, as well as organising artists, workshops, collecting birds and arranging for them to be displayed, the It’s A Birdie! team needed to attract and maintain the public’s interest in the project. In order to do this we needed to use the media to our best advantage. An It’s A birdie! website was created, our project leader blogged on an almost daily basis, and, naturally, we used Facebook and Twitter. We also compiled items for the local press and free newspapers, and we spoke on Radio Lancashire. A dedicated leaflet was created for residents and visitors, telling them about the project.
Overall, nearly 600 local residents took part in the project and by the time of the Championship, St Annes was displaying birds in all sorts of venues. Our final act was to create a ‘Fly Away Birdie’ exhibition at a local gallery, which displayed a mix of items from the project, together with artworks from schools, colleges and local professional artists (see below).
Birdies migrate after a summer of fun
All too soon the summer-long It’s A Birdie! project came to end in autumn 2012, and to mark the occasion we organised a ‘Fly Away Birdie’ exhibition at the Fylde Gallery, Booths, Lytham.
Not only did the exhibition pull together the It’s A Birdie! community arts projects, which took place during the summer, but it also displayed a range of varied, associated work, which was inspired by the theme. There were pieces from local schools and community groups, as well as artworks from professional artists, some with national reputations, who have exhibited at the V&A, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Mall Galleries in London. Also on show were works from Rebecca Chesney and Patricia Lee, two of the artists who were commissioned by us to work with different groups in St Annes.
The birdie theme continued until well into late autumn as, once again, we were involved with the Friends of St Annes Library (FoSAL), this time with their Owl and the Pussycat project. During the summer, the Friends took the decision to sponsor a mosaic in the Library garden to celebrate the bicentenary of author and poet Edward Lear, who also created the children’s poem. FoSAL, together with Fylde DFAS, commissioned artist Patricia Lee to create a fitting memorial that would appeal to a wide audience, especially children.
In mid-November 2012, members of FoSAL and Fylde DFAS, together with families and other library users, gathered in the Library garden for the unveiling of the mosaic, before quickly returning indoors (it was mid-November remember!), where Patricia Lee ran art workshops in the Library for the children to make Owl & the Pussycat bookmarks and masks.
Unlike Birdsworth, the other mosaic in the garden, the Owl & the Pussycat mosaic is mounted on the ground and is very much in the style of the mosaics to be found in St Annes Square.
All our birdies have now flown away but have left a lasting legacy of community involvement. This ambitious project was hugely enjoyable, as well as a massive learning experience for Fylde DFAS. We are quite rightly proud of our achievement – after all we are only DFAS group to have been awarded such a large Arts Council grant.