Oh Hi, Jasmine Simpson

Sean Dissington || July 24th

I meet Jasmine Simpson in Tsp on Piccadilly, she is looking particularly pleased with the mug of tea and Portuguese tart that she's snacking on as we start to talk Staffordshire, the 80s, London and many things in between.

Jasmine, one of the many artists operating from Middleport, has an energy about her that’s authentic and betrays her passions for her art. As we discuss her varied artistic output the subject gets back to education. Like many young artists and ceramicists locally she is a Staffordshire University graduate, yet as opposed to many she didn’t graduate in fine art; Jasmine studied 3D material design – and I think this is apparent in much of her creative output. Much of her work has a look about it of something made to be used rather than simply appreciated for what it is. I’m not going to ruminate over the value of something purely from an artistic form compared with something that has an intended function – that’s for critics (and ultimately Jasmine’s customers to do).

The truth is though with much of her creative output, Jasmine captures the familiar in a way that's comforting, her Staffordshire Dogs are at first glance Staffordshire Dogs – it's an artistic style that's challenging to reinvent after all, but the fact that she's making them now in 2017 is what matters. Kitsch? perhaps, marvellous? Definitely.

A passion of Jasmine's is nature, and it shines through much of her portfolio, her Bovine series is charming and honest (i'm not sure a ceramic cow can be anything but) and her flying swans echo the flying ducks of the 1970s in a new way that is again comfortingly familiar. Her flatware seems to come alive with the designs that she has chosen, the 2D canvas allowing for broad strokes with an energy you can almost see.

As we lament the passing of the Portuguese tarts I ask Jasmine about London, surely it's where all new creatives go to ply their trade and make connections? Jasmine shrugs and tells me that she's working part time for renowned ceramicist Reiko Kaneko at the moment and sees Stoke as as good a base to sell to a global marketplace as anywhere else – after all Reiko moved her studio up here to be near to ceramic technical expertise, so why leave that?

It's not a point I can argue, and if this is the start of a generation of artists and makers seeing Stoke as a city from which they can launch their careers then we can all benefit. In the meantime, check out Jasmine's work at www.jasminesimpson.com

Nicola Winstanley

Sean Dissington || 6th April

I read a book once (not a huge achievement granted) called “Insanely Great” It charts the story of Apple computer, from the late seventies to their near collapse in the mid­nineties. ­ Those who are interested in corporate history or didn’t know that the world's’ favourite phone company didn’t always vomit money might find it a good read. Anyway, one quote that has always stuck with me is one attributed to Steve Jobs, which reads “we’re here to put a dent in the universe”

I like that as a concept. As a human, and daresay it a creative one, I like the idea that something I’ve done might have changed the way someone perceives the world,­ that it’s made them think or act differently. I think in many ways that’s what a lot of artists are trying to do, not that I’m saying that artists are all narcissists,­ but you want to know that the work you put out has meaning to people and is accessible in some way. Stoke is lucky to have as many artists as it does, and I’ve recently seen some of the creative work of Nicola Winstanley. Nicola, part of creative partnership Winstanley­Nadin, and an artist in her own right has done a lot of work on place perception, and the exploration of what art means to society as a whole and to the city specifically.

One of her latest projects has been her artist residency at the Acava studios at Spode, exploring the impact that those in the creative sector have. I attended the exhibition of her residency work and found it utterly fascinating. The main feature on entering was the social media wall, the representation of the input of @SOTAAW, the hashtag day that Nicola held encouraging local artists to document their work hour by hour. It was intriguing, viewing artists boarding planes, doing taxes, washing up, feeding the kids, taking the cat out of where it had got stuck this time, and even doing art. It illustrated the fact that artists spend less time thinking about the state of the work on a velvet chaise longue whilst in a laudanum induced haze than you might think (more’s the pity) ­and that most of us do surprisingly normal things.

Walking around the exhibition there were screen prints, plans of the site and Stoke town, etchings and some stunning photographic experiments taken on a holga, playing with double exposure and cross­processing. They made for a playful view of the site, with vibrant colours and perspectives that we seldom experience. Yet in some there was almost a melancholy as you look at the site of such productivity as a derelict, almost abstract site.

One of the questions that was asked as “What would happen if all the creatives and artists suddenly left Stoke tomorrow?” ­ this question wasn’t answered unfortunately, at least not explicitly. Certainly there would not be the ‘ghost town’ that I remember as a child growing up in the city when all the pot bank workers would take their holidays over two weeks in the summer. Perhaps there wouldn’t be a difference at all for a day or two? Perhaps there would be a little less colour, less energy, less hope? Creativity is like an engine for this city, creativity and bottomless resilience¬ and much of that comes from our creative sector who look around them and say “let’s just get on with it.”

The exhibition of her residency was a fine demonstration of talent, but it’s not all that Nicola Winstanley is bringing to the city. I recently attended one of her “Matchmaker” sessions at the Wedgwood institute, Burslem. The purpose of matchmaker is to connect artists and those interested in the sector with those who can help them. Need a photographer? Business advice? There’s likely to be someone there who can help, sponsored by Wavemaker ­ the Hanley based maker space and digital creativity hub, Matchmaker is seeking to created a maker map of the city. This will be a free, searchable online resource that will connect makers and enablers together, allowing creative people to keep their money in the city and to help each other grow as professionals.

Many in the city will be familiar with a project that she worked on with Sarah Nadin, Unearthed. Commissioned by the council to remember Lidice and the role that the miners of Stoke­-on-­Trent played in its rebuilding it sits outside the bus station on Lidice way, behind the Victoria Hall. It’s a fascinating piece, so I won’t give any spoilers here, but if you’re on a trip to town it’s worth spending some time with.

In summary, ­ Nicola Winstanley is an artist to watch, she has the passion and talent to create excellent work, and the humility that makes you warm to the content she puts out ­ that and her efforts to contribute to, and document the story of Stoke’s creative sector mean that there is bound to be a lot of interesting work from her yet to come.


Sean Dissington || February 4th

When I was little my dad used to walk me to school and back. Twice a day we’d stroll from Hanford to St. Theresa’s in Trent Vale. Thousands of times I walked across the bridge that carries the A34 over the Trent and I can’t say I spend much time thinking about the river. I’m sure I noticed it, but it didn’t talk to me in any particular way. Even then I was paying more attention to where I was going than where I was - but that’s what we all do isn’t it? We write in our planner “Go to the dentist”, “See Mark in London”, “Buy cereal”. We define our time in terms of goals, in terms of destinations. We don’t stop, we don’t look.

Daniel Lyttleton and Chris Neophytou want to make us think about that. Or rather, they want us to think. Their ‘zine “Trent” is about the River that gives our city its name, but as they say - the name is so often abbreviated to “Stoke” from “Stoke-on-Trent”, is this an exercise in brevity? Perhaps, but then “Kardashian” is ten letters long, and plenty of people seem to be willing to type that into Google - presumably to find out what they are for.

Their hypothesis is that we are so far removed from our surroundings that the Trent, the very namesake of our city has lost meaning. We are so detached from our surroundings that we don’t know anything about it or where to find it. It’s somehow fitting that we describe our city using words that describe what we do (or did) “The Potteries”, rather than where we are, “the Trent”. As much as this zine presents itself as a message about a river, it has more to say about who we are, and what we think matters to us. By presenting photography as a means to engage with our surroundings Lyttleton and Neophytou are telling us that we should disengage from the need to always be doing something, always be going somewhere and just be somewhere, and look and see what’s there.

As someone who is passionate about photography that’s a message I can certainly agree with, I’m as guilty as anyone else of rushing about with my eyes fixed on a smartphone, or my mind on a meeting - but to do that is to rob yourself of the variety of that surrounds us. Stoke-on-Trent is a city that can surprise us all.

As a photographer I am very much on board with their message, looking at the world through a lens forces you to think about what you’re looking at and where it sits in context. We could all learn more about our home town, and ourselves by focussing more on where we are now. Trent is a beautifully presented Zine which takes the reader on a journey through its high resolution printed images. Use of negative space and full pages give the impression that the viewer is literally peeking through the lens, or stepping back to take in a full view. Trent represents the struggle to find the river, and the various ways in which it manifests and it has certainly inspired me to look for the river myself, to see what I might find.

Trent is available now from Out of Place books, it’s an inspiring conversation starter, a selection of beautiful images and for many residents of the city, will take you back to memories long forgotten. Priced as it is, you really can’t defend not owning a copy.

Get it here: http://outofplacebooks.bigcartel.com/product/trent

On Trading Love, and what will become of us

Sean Dissington || January 22nd

Nothing but love gives the world some meaning,

Nothing but love is the drug of Healing.
What is love?  What does it mean? What does it mean to feel love? Is the love that you feel for a person different the love that you feel for an object, or a place? Love has inspired humans for millennia - but is it more than the interaction of oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine?  
Trading Love is an art / theatre / performance / improv event that’s happening in the Tonitine Building in Hanley on the 28th of this month. It’s about love, in all its forms. It’s about when you first have butterflies in your stomach, it’s about the moment when you press the shutter button of your favourite camera, it’s about the door slam of the last screaming row.  
But if your view is of golden valleys,

But the sense of regret paralyzes, 

Then you’ll never know how it feels,
And if you never challenge what you see, 

Then the beacons of light will stop flashing,

And you’ll never know how it feels
To have hope,

To have hope,

To have hope

To have hope
Trading Love features performances that are bound to amaze - with music from some of the most respected local musicians, photography from Dan Wiggins, spoken word from Average Joe, MURDOK as The Man Who Woke Up and countless more.  
Love begets love.  
Siobhan McAleer has a lot of love, for people, for art, and community - and from her mind has come an artistic exploration of love and what it means. Inspired by the EP name of Blackwater Trading Company, and working closely with Ryan Ball and Rich Brown she has curated a day which will bring some of the most talented people in the city together to explore their thoughts, their experiences and hopes of love. Ryan and Rich will be managing the day supporting Siobhan in the huge task of coordinating the logistics of the event which lasts for twelve hours and occupies two floors of the Tontine Building.
Siobhan’s approach to Trading Love has itself been a work of love, from the call for artists, to the collaboration with local artists and the maker-space WaveMaker. Tears have fallen over it, laughter has rained in meetings, emotions have not been in short supply.
Trading Love is indeed what love looks like. When it happens on the 28th expect emotion, expect music, expect cocktails, expect poetry, expect to laugh - and most likely to cry.  
Trading Love has been made with love, from the work to secure the venue to a determination that artists receive payment (something that is shockingly rare). Whilst there is an acceptance that skilled professionals should receive payment for their work, many people assume that artists don’t require or deserve payment for what they do. Whilst artists (in the widest sense of the word) do what they do for the love of it, that doesn’t help them make the rent. If you buy a ticket from an artist then they will keep the money, so if you know any of the artists listed in the flyer then try them first for a ticket before you go to see tickets.  
This is the story of the angel

Who played poker with the devil

In the Garden of Eden

Before it all went pear shaped
They said

"I'll see your heart and I'll raise you mine"

Trading Love will be beautiful, authentic and fun. And it will be even better with you.  
See you there. 

Tickets are available to purchase at: http://www.seetickets.com/event/trading-love-one-day-arts-and-culture-festival-/tontine-building/1055461

Song lyric excerpts are taken from:
James, Nothing but Love Barbarossa, S.H.IF.F.Y Bell X1, I’ll see your heart and I’ll raise you mine

Selective Outrage

 Sean Dissington || January 19th

On the 13th, The Upstairs Gallery, (51-53 Piccadilly) held their latest exhibition - Selective Outrage by Toby Curtis.  
Toby is a painter who was heavily involved in, and informed by graffiti painting - both as an artistic expression and as a sub-culture and the work that is in this show certainly shows this. Whilst each piece has its own palette and story, there is a common theme running through the show of drama, energy and fast motion. It is possible to almost follow the motion of the painters hands in some pieces as a rogue drop of pigment succumbs to physics to land away from the line of paint being laid.  
Some pieces are very accessible, pleasing colours and rhythmic patterns that don’t immediately challenge the viewer, yet upon closer inspection have more to reveal sit next to pieces that are more audacious, demanding our attention; colours that we think should clash shout and scream for our attention until we study the piece and see what it truly has to tell us. 

The use of various media also adds a further layer of intrigue, these works aren’t “just” graffiti on a canvas; they are the work of a man who understands colour, physics and layering - who wants a piece to draw you in, and draw they do.  
The Upstairs Gallery, which sits above 51-53 Store (formerly Entrepreneurs) has hosted a small but growing number of art projects - many of which have local significance. Andy Cooke and Joyce Iwasko’s DUST launch which celebrated the manufacturing heritage of the city through the lens of colour, Bricks by BILOS used graffiti and recovered red brick to make the material itself as much the focus of the art as much as the paint and Goblyn Crew’s exhibition earlier this year was the first skate art show the city has seen. The Upstairs Gallery has always shown work that has an urban feel but with a local relevance, this exhibition breaks that, with an artist who uses abstract forms in a way that employs spray paint as just one of the media he works in.  The result is that this exhibition is urban, yes, but it's abstract first. It's of the city,  but not about the city.  
Upstairs lacks the pretense that you may expect from a gallery. Sitting above 51-53 it is open the same hours as the store,  and visitors are welcome. Following a launch evening attended by the artist(s) exhibitions usually run for a month and are promoted on the Facebook page of the store.
The gallery itself is the project of Robert Fenton, one of three friends behind the Entrepreneurs group responsible for 51-53 and Presents workshop at Spode. The Upstairs Gallery is a jewel,  it's a small,  friendly venue hosting art that's often the first of its kind in the city.  
Selective Outrage has three weeks to run, please try and see it -  it will repay your effort many times over.  
Some content adapted from 51-53 Gallery’s post of the event.

The Man Who Woke Up


Sean Dissington || January 15th

We live in a strange world, events that we know are complex are presented to us as a Disney-like struggle between good and evil, yet at the same time we are told issues we feel are black-and-white are very nuanced. We may not get the Internet speed we pay for but we can have #bantz with their twitter customer service team, who of course will do nothing. Ethical consumerism, which tried to raise a green shoot in the nineties has been replaced by hash-tags and triggered rants on Reddit, and every night we can be anesthetised by teenage kids with the back story of limited talent and painful mediocrity trying to sing their way into our wallets.

Modern life is increasingly detached, virtual and inauthentic Amazon, Google and Visa know us inside and out, mining our searches, location and movements for new ways to sell to us, they know our dreams and our darkest desires, whilst at the same time trying to tell us that they are our friends.

We are sleepwalking into the worst of dystopian visions. Our privacy is now a concept used against us, as if a desire to keep our thoughts to ourselves implies an intention of wrongdoing. Our banks, having bankrupted themselves now present themselves as a friend to the family, whilst at the same time home ownership amongst the under 30s is at such a low level it is almost an abstract concept.

With a world like this, how have we become so passive? We can all see what's going on, we sign a car payment agreement and agree to pay interest on a loan for the depreciation of an asset that we don’t own, but this seems to be how life has become.

The man who woke up is different. He tells a story of when people worked to buy things when the needed them, not when they were fashionable. He challenges us to think about BREXIT, taxes and immigration. He tells young people that they will never own a house. He's not lying. He has an ability to see through the fog that surrounds us, he can devine the truth from an MPs speech, and he knows that we can all go to hell for all Natwest care.

This is more remarkable because skeletons don't even have eyes. The man who woke up is Ben MacDonald-Evans, and he knows what's happening. He knows the clutch of Apple gadgets in your rucksack worth £5,000 don't make you a good person (but may make you an indebted one), he knows that loud populism seems to be winning in the fight against truth.

I’ve seen Ben performing as the man who woke up, and he is clever, sharp and insightful. He makes us laugh, at the world, at people and at ourselves. He doesn’t sugar coat the truth, but he's no more brutal than he needs to be. His act is a pure abstract of what you might expect, and it’s a beautiful example of improv.

You can see Ben in a day-long performance at the Trading Love festival, on the 28th of this month at the Tontine Building in Hanley.

You can find out about Trading Love here:


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It's Time We Spoke About Mike


Sean Dissington || December 13th

On the 25th of November local artist Mike Holcroft held an exhibition. A stressful time for any artist, but as this entire project was in itself a therapy, then it was certainly a very unusual experience. I caught up with Mike for a chat today about the show, mental health and what’s next.

Panic Pins was born of two things, Mike’s love of pins, and a disabling pursuit of perfection that threatened to destroy his artistic output and lead to a breakdown, resulting in his hospitalisation and him having to confront that the very thing he loved was making him sick.

Mike’s openness about the mental health challenges he has faced is a little disabling. As much as I myself try to speak frankly about issues I’ve faced Mike is calm and relaxed as he talks about the pursuit of ‘perfection’ and the self-criticism that ensued when he did something that he felt wasn’t just right. As anyone who has been in a similar situation knows, this then lead to him being unable to output any work, as he was too anxious that it wasn’t good enough.


The ultimate therapy for Mike therefore was to do something that was a line in the sand, a commitment that couldn’t be broken. Once advertised, the launch evening was happening, whether there was an empty room with the lights off, a fully decked out gallery or something in between. The opening was attended by Mike’s friends and family with some by-passers popping in to see what the show was about, as it turned out the exhibition wasn’t completed, but as Mike explained, the whole point was to not stress. Instead Mike spoke to attendees and they took to drawing on the walls as well as admiring the pins that were on show.

The great news is that Panic! pins are now available to buy, the money raised will not only support a local artist, but Mike has said that he wants to support the local Mind group, as they were able to get him to help far more quickly than his GP was. This is something that really makes a difference in any health complaint – but where mental health is concerned, where you’re literally at the end of your tether, a fast route to treatment cannot be underestimated.

I love Panic! pins, I like the playful design – and I love the story behind them. I like that the artist is very open about his mental health, yet isn’t defined by it. Panic! pins for me are a story of one man looking forward, and sharing his talent with us all.

If you’ve read this and you need urgent help call Samaritans on 116 123; The mental health access team on 0300 123 0907 or contact your GP for support.


The Long Read - Wavemaker Part I

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Sean DIssington || November 30th

What makes a maker? It’s an easy enough question, no? I write and take photographs – am I a maker? I tend to think not. I’ve never pored over a design book, sweated over Illustrator, got my hands covered in grease and oil (I did once do an oil change on a Fiat Panda in 1997 – but I’m not convinced that counts). In short, I’m not a maker. I’m envious of people who are; as like many people, I’m convinced that it’s something that other people do.

Wavemaker want to change that. Their slogan “Making making work” is easy to dismiss as a cute marketing play on their name, but once you meet the team you understand that the passion and determination mean that it’s a matter of when rather than if, they will meet their goal of enabling ‘maker culture’ in Stoke-on-Trent. They want to get people in the city to feel that they have the talent to make things, and they want to be the ones to facilitate it.

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One question you might want to ask is “why bother?” and that’s understandable. The truth is that community art projects, making spaces and community spaces have a proven role in regeneration. By proven I mean the likes of Joseph Rowntree Foundation, The Arts Council and The Scottish Government have all found links between community empowerment, art/creative activities and the regeneration of communities and urban spaces.

I met with Alex – Wavemaker’s Operations Manager on one of the open maker nights; a free event where attendees can meet the team and see the equipment that’s on offer, as well as ask all the questions that they want to. There really are no stupid questions here: The range of equipment they have is bewildering; from sewing machines to Raspberry Pi computers and countless other tools. A laser cutter named Major Laser sits in one corner opposite an Apple Macintosh connected to a mixing deck and reference speakers, and computers with Adobe software running into thousands of pounds are waiting to be used.

“Joseph Rowntree Foundation, The Arts Council and The Scottish Government have all found links between community empowerment, art/creative activities and the regeneration of communities and urban spaces”

One commitment that Wavemaker insist that all space users make is that they respect the intellectual property of others. That way as users of the space you as a maker of a new object can ask me as a photographer what I think of your idea, safe in the knowledge that I’ve committed not to steal your invention. This not only promotes a culture of open idea sharing, but allows makers to forge meaningful, trusting connections that they might not have been able to in a different kind of space. The value of feedback and connections that can come about from ad-hoc conversations is immense and allows new space users to get involved with their project, and get to know new people, and learn new skills quickly.

A couple of days later I caught up with Ben McManus – CEO at Wavemaker. We all know people with a big personality, and some of us know people with huge personalities – Ben’s enthusiasm for Wavemaker is beyond huge. No sooner had I started to sip my dry cappuccino than he was talking to me about the importance of STEAM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Art, Maths) both at a curricular level – and from the point of view of an education system producing talented, skilled and “capability resilient” young people, those who have the skills and confidence to take on a challenge or cope with an increase or drop in demand for a particular skill in the labour market. As someone who attended school in the 1980s, the closest I came to making was a woodwork shop and an Apple Macintosh so I needed a run down on everything that the team do.

A key element is outreach, Ben advised me. Team member Emma will work with a school, college or community group to either help them make the best use of equipment that they have, but aren’t using in every way that they could – or will help to engage them in new projects. Some of these tie together real world demands with learning new skills so that learners feel engaged and that they are working toward something that’s real.

The second of their offers is to support makers – both current and budding, professionals, students and the generally curious through their Open Maker nights, and themed sessions. Here attendees can get support on a project, valuable feedback and advice on production methods and their product or idea as well as help with the tools to use. Whilst it’s not a manufacturing space, a budding designer could certainly turn an idea into a concept and start some small-scale manufacturing here to get themselves into a position where they could see the Bank Manager for a start-up loan. That these facilities are on offer to 12 year olds as well as 52 year olds speaks volumes. The ability to get something to a proof of concept stage with a much lower cash outlay means that Wavemaker can help people who have no way of funding their own idea.


I’ve written a lot of articles for REBEL, and I think every one has the word passion in it. It’s palpable at Wavemaker, it’s almost visible in the air. There’s a burning desire amongst Ben, Alex and Emma to get people involved, to motivate young people, adults, everyone to have a go at making something. It’s impossible not to feel inspired. I’m very good at being apathetic, but after two hours in Alex’s company I was doodling an idea of something to make myself. And why not? Of all the places that there should be makers surely it should be Stoke-on-Trent? Our forebears took clay and made it beautiful, they made bricks, steel, iron – there’s a history of making in Stoke-on-Trent. Wavemaker want there to be a future.

Many of us have been in a situation when learning where we’ve had to produce some work for an assignment, but the project and the end use are fabricated. You go through the assignment because you must – but it feels arbitrary, and frankly pointless. Wavemakers’ approach is to work with a local business or organisation who have an actual need, and then to tie that in to the brief for the learners. From the outset they know that what they are doing is not only a real need, but will be used and visible in the world; to get your stuff out there is the dream for anyone who is creative. These commercial links not only assure makers and learners that they are doing things that matter in the real world, but they put makers in touch with some of the creatives and entrepreneurs who are driving the resurgence of our home city – and as any Rebel reader knows, there are some big names out there.

“Of all the places that there should be makers surely it should be Stoke-on-Trent? Our forebears took clay and made it beautiful”

For me then, Wavemaker is a gem. It’s where ideas meet determination, where inspiration meets skill and where there’s a laser cutter with a daft name. To be able to talk to people who don’t know you about an idea is valuable. You won’t get the dismissive “You can’t do that” or the blindly approving “You’ll be amazing” that friends or family might give you. You’ll get the truth, you’ll get support and with your determination as well as Wavemaker behind you, you’ll get there. I am off on a journey that involves a T-Rex that swears a lot, for no reason other than I’ve never made anything before, so why the hell not?


Panic Pins Exhibition


Lee Barber || November 25th

Today marks the launch of the first exhibition from artist and designer Mike Holdcroft, who braves his first show on the back of discovering his anxiety disorder earlier in the year. Mike, who found he was always setting himself up to fail with his extreme perfectionist tendencies, is now channeling his creativeness by presenting his first ever solo exhibition, Panic Pins.

The show will involve a range of specially designed pins, none of which will be perfect, but each one being unique, displaying a realness that lingers in us all. Mike's idea aim behind the concept is to encourage people to face mental health head on, and talk about it freely instead of caging ourselves up.

The exhibition opens this evening at 7pm at the OneOneSix Gallery in Stoke, and will be on until Sunday 2nd December, with the limited edition collection of Panic Pins all designed and created by Mike Holdcroft himself.

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Crossing Frontiers


Sean Dissington || November 25th

Local artist collaboration Sherlock & Freeman are working with community groups in and around Newcastle Under Lyme to create two interactive light sculptures for Midwinter Wakes. Crossing Frontiers has been created in part with skills learned and tools made available at Hanley-based Wavermaker Stoke. Starting on Saturday 3 December, this tandem installation will be live during the twilight and dusk hours of the days leading up to the Community Lantern Parade on Saturday 10 December. Connecting to this year's Lantern Parade theme of FLIGHT, this new artwork is based on virtual birds, whose flocking will be visible as patterns of light in a pair of overhead structures – one in Newcastle town centre, the other in Hartshill. At each location the simulated birds will react to the motion of people going past.

Samuel Freeman is a Yorkshire-born programmer and music technologist who has lived in Stoke-on-Trent for the last four years. Using his skills as a programmer he is using an Arduino platform with IP connectivity to allow his custom written code to co-ordinate lighting patterns over the two installations and to allow them to interact in context with each-other and the surrounding environment.

Oliver Sherlock is a Stoke-on-Trent designer and artist who explores community through art. He is involved in a variety of community projects, such as Potters’ Soup, B-Arts and Pilgrims Pit.

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The Day The Riot Ended

Sean Dissington || October 21st

ADP Riot was glorious. Jimmy Cauty’s exhibit gave people from Stoke the chance to look at a world famous piece of art, and they loved it. From a packed opening night to passers-by stealing a peek as they head into town ADP puzzled, challenged and delighted residents for over a week.  

To see it off local artist Martin Gooding worked with Airspace’s Glenn Stoker to curate a local artists’ response to Jimmy’s work, inspired by the Pottery Riots of 1842 and also taking a more contemporary view of politics and fairness within society.  

It’s rare that you see a nihilist skeleton (Ben Mc Donald-Evans) shouting one liners to the tune of one note, or cardboard boxes speaking about their experiences of mental health and employment – not to mention real-life politicians such as Christian Wright (Richard Redwin) taking the time to ask the people what they want, and then offer them exactly that – or not, they may have changed their minds. 

There are people making names for themselves in our art scene by doing what they love, and it’s great to witnessThe last hurrah of the riot was light-hearted but poignant, shining a light on things we wish weren’t true, but are. People riot or express civil disobedience for real reasons, injustice, oppression, unfairness. These things are as pervasive in our society today as they were in 1842. We have the tools to challenge them without taking up arms but we can’t become immune to them. To do so is to become immune to the suffering of people just like us, and there is no forgiving that.


Chloe Evans || Sean DIssington || October 20th

Friday was the opening night at The Upstairs Gallery at Entrepreneurs where the colourful collaboration of Joyce Iwaszko and Andy Cooke was ready for all to see. There are some people that you clear your diary for, an old friend coming to town, an artist whose work you admire, a speaker on a subject that you’re interested in, DUST was exactly one of those times.

Cooke, one of the three Hustlers Of Culture behind Entrepreneurs, and Iwaszko, one of Airspace’s Artists have joined forces to bring us a contemporary mixed media touring exhibition inspired by Stoke-On-Trents City of Culture 2021 Bid. One of the pieces being exhibited was featured in the Airspace Gallery’s Misaligned exhibition and the work surrounding it followed the high-set bar that Iwaszko had put for herself and Cooke, the colour scheme ranging from a deep Russet through to Aquatic Blue and Green have meaning to the artists, reminiscent of Jasper ware and the waterways of the city and is followed through onto the rest of the work.

One of the unique parts of this exhibition had to be the collaboration, Cooke’s expert knowledge in street culture and Iwaszko’s contemporary fine art twists came together to create something extraordinary that had the whole gallery buzzing. The works success really came from the uniting of two artists and their difference in specialisms and how you can see the influence each has had on the work. One that stood out the most to me was a large card drop with splashes of coloured dust thrown onto the cream canvas that they had set for themselves, a small lip at the bottom curved delicately onto the floor and gathered the excess that hadn’t clung to the hanging and formed an exquisite runway of colour, forming a pattern similar to that of what you’d find on the edging of a riverbank that has slowly been dried by the summers sun. This piece reminded me of the work of Cy Twombly’s four piece painting collection ‘Quattro Stagioni’, but instead of capturing the seasons they are capturing the regeneration of our city, using dust to represent the old and the colour scheme to represent the new.

The centrepiece of the exhibition was enclosed in a glass case, four piles of coloured dust standing on small white square platforms and one platform with two small vials placed carefully on top. When examining this piece I felt that there was a deep meaning behind the arrangement. Vials are usually the containers for a substance that needs to be carefully stored and kept intact; I feel that the use of these containers is a metaphor for how our city has been confined to a way of working and thinking that we are now breaking free from. The coloured dust again is a symbol for our history, and how we are rewriting a more colourful and prosperous future, with the dust being out of the vials and placed separately on their own platform it almost gives you the idea that they could be monuments of the art and culture of our city and how breaking away from the vial, or the restrains that we have placed on our city, we will become more vibrant and proud of what we have and can achieve.

Looking over the glass case display is an arrangement of canvasses that really gave us the street twist that the Upstairs Gallery never fails to deliver with a bolder black background and even bolder stencil style letters that really gave the whole exhibition a real edge. The response from those who came to visit the show was extraordinary and broke the norm of quiet galleries and made the whole room feel electric, the engagement with the art and the ideas that rose from the people that I spoke to showed how exhibitions like DUST are making such a difference in our community and making people see what we can do when we team together. 

ADP Riot Comes To Stoke-on-Trent

Sean Dissington || October 13th

It’s not every Monday that I get the bus into Hanley to look at a shipping container – but that’s exactly what happened this week. Jimmy Cauty’s Aftermath Dislocation Principle was in town, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.  

As I got onto Broad street, the sun was just starting to set, and Ash Wall could be heard calling the attendees to arms with his stunning guitar work and voice as he sang riot themed songs (and there were many attendees – on a Monday evening people in Stoke came out to look at art... It’s happening people, it's happening). The opening was attended by the artist himself – Liverpudlian Jimmy Cauty, the Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent Councillor Anthony Munday as well as a great deal of intrigued passers-by.   

ADP is a 40-foot shipping container containing a model that shows the aftermath of a ‘happening’, as Jimmy explained on Monday to the crowd, perhaps a riot, perhaps not. The point of the piece isn’t specifically to show the aftermath of rioting, but also to consider the role of disobedience and the structure of society. ADP contains a stunningly detailed 1:87 scale model depicting a post-apocalyptic scene showing the police standing around, unable to do anything, ostensibly having arrived too late.  

At the opening event there was a fascinating talk by Fred Hughes, local historian about the Pottery Riot. He cautioned against romanticising the riots, but to appreciate the unity and civil disobedience that can stem from ordinary people taking back their power. His was a fascinating talk (you can read more about Fred and Stoke’s history here https://fredhughesblog.wordpress.com/). 

Next up was Martin Gooding, delivering a spoken word piece that was partly a call to arms – partly a lament and partly a plea to people to take the power they have and use it. It was beautiful, and delivered with Martin’s unique skills as an orator, and with genuine emotion it was utterly captivating. If anything else happened while Martin was speaking I’ve no idea what it was.

As the event wound up, it felt like the end of a perfect summer party – (you know, when the loud people have gone and there are just a few best friends and lots of wine?) Ash Wall was singing, people were peeping into ADP to see what was going on, and another art event had gone brilliantly.  

On Sunday there is more culture happening as Martin Gooding, MURDOK, Average Joe, Richard Redwin and Becky Cramer present two pieces as a response to ADP. As Martin told me “1842 was originally performed by B Arts in the early 90s, in celebration of the ADP Riot tour in Stoke-on-Trent we thought it was only fitting to give it a new airing, I've taken inspiration from the original script and added my own take on the events, expect flying furniture, drunken mobs and plenty of Chartism 

So give the television a break on Sunday, and get to the top of Broad Street (by the museum) to learn, to be inspired and perhaps to disobey.



Stephanie Rushton: Part Two

Anna Francis

Anna Francis

Chloe Evans || October 10th

Back in July I met with Stephanie Rushton at Tsp. in the Cultural Quarter as she was starting her residency. We discussed ideas that she was exploring and recently met again to see how they had developed now that the exhibition is up for all to view.

“The work for this show comes from my environmental portraiture work, the work that I have been commissioned to create by magazines and advertising agencies for the last 25 years. At the beginning of the residency I was unsure of the form that the project would take as at that stage I hadn’t yet spent any time with the museum archive. Once I had done that the ideas began to formulate in 2 different directions. Firstly I wanted to create a body of environmental portraits of contemporary creative women in Stoke, looking specifically at the genres and mediums that they were engaging with and also their physical working environments. What were they making/doing and where? How have things changed for women now that there is greater gender equality in the workplace? The backstory to this is the lack of industry in the potteries. The photographs are a focus and the beginning of a discourse around these issues”.

Charis Jones

Charis Jones

Stephanie will also be producing a second body of work that has a January deadline. “The second body of work was looking at Potteries working women more generally and responding to the idea that much of the work traditionally done by women in general is overlooked, like housework and childcare etc.; and alongside that, the museum's photographic archive, which has some fascinating imagery by local photographers from the last century. This has created a slideshow type juxtaposition of 20th and 21st century imagery of working women, one image from the archive followed by my contemporary response. All the images are in black and white, which disorientates slightly so sometimes it's hard to work out the past from the present.”

Denise O'Sullivan

Denise O'Sullivan

Residencies have become quite a prominent process locally and I was interested to see what Stephanie thinks of the matter, with so many different opinions and ideas I wanted to know first-hand what it has been like for her. “Residencies I believe can be varied but fundamentally a residency usually offers an artist a physical space (a studio), a set period of time, funding and a deadline from which to create a body of work. For me the residency offered a chance to say no to all the other obligations on my time, providing a justification for the creative work which can sometimes get side-lined by seemingly more important demands.”

Jo Ayre

Jo Ayre

When meeting with Stephanie we discussed that she would be meeting with women to photograph them, she explained that she ‘looked at a variety of female artists in the area but decided to select practitioners whose work looked contextually more ambiguous, rather than conceptual artists whose work is more difficult to depict’ and added that they were taken at the sites in which the artists normally worked. Stephanie’s work is exceedingly empowering, the women that she has photographed are strong mentally and physically, all within different areas of work and the arts. Each image is so individual, and the environment seems to almost match the artist in and out and the second part of her project will be long waited.

Jean Milton

Jean Milton

Reiko Kaneko

Reiko Kaneko

Susan Clarke

Susan Clarke

Live Age At B-Arts

B-Arts Coloured With Live Age Festival

Sean Dissington || October 3rd

Live Age is a festival dedicated to understanding how age is represented through artists, and how it changes artists, both personally and in the work that they produce.

B-Arts, is located in Stoke, on Hartshill road, and is a fantastic space. It’s the home of Bread in Common, and Potters Soup, as well as a flexible working space and two massive performance spaces. On entering, there was a large selection of artwork on display, all produced by artists who had taken part in the project, or who had been involved in the documentary, going through to the main performance space there was a huge intimately lit dining and performance area – and very important for the press – the bar! Staffed by Bottle Craft’s very own Chris Wilson there was a great range of craft beverages, including one cider with apples grown upon the slopes of the Himalayas, the efficacy of which I can vouch for!

Spoken word started the evening with Alan B and Marney Dainty providing poignant, wry and outright hilarious viewpoints on life, age and how we perceive ourselves. With the audience suitably warmed, the food started coming out – and I must call out Susan – the Head Chef at B-Arts and her team for praise here. The food was incredible! Fresh veggies, bread and homemade hummus followed by vegan chilli (for me) carnivores could have a stew if they wished and brought to conclusion by stewed fruits and short biscuits made with orange and cardamom.

As we ate, the next act – a trio of ladies calling themselves the Sweethearts - performed a selection of Julie Andrews and other 40’s songs. This genre of music is as far removed from my taste as it’s possible to be, but they were impossible to dislike. Their enthusiasm poured from them, and the harmonies! These ladies can sing well, with genuine delight they sang in close harmony through five or six songs (the cider was taking particular effect by this time), getting much love from the audience.

Alan returned for more spoken word wisdom, and then it was over to Terry Earl Taylor, who took us on a bit of a journey with exquisite banjo playing and wonderful singing.  A singer named Melanie then performed several sixties hits to the delight of the audience, and understandably so since the talent of this lady was undeniable, as was hers and the audiences genuine pleasure of the event.

For me though, the high point was the band at the end – Fine and Dandy. As someone who can only play guitar very badly, I confess to being a little envious of musicians who are adept at playing, especially strings players. And these gents were simply brilliant.

The musical set list was brilliantly curated, the art was wonderful and the food was utterly fantastic. Live Age cabaret was a credit to its organisers, and more proof that we have the spaces and the talent in the city to arrange fantastic nights of entertainment when we want to.


Pilgrim's Pit Host Another Outstanding Evening

Sean Dissington || October 2nd

Sean Dissington || Photography

There are only a few things in life that are certain, one of them is that an event at Pilgrims Pit will be fantastic. Joe, Ash, Siobhan and the volunteers that run the venue have managed to create a space where everything is just better once you step inside.

Thursday night was Lapse: An event by Carl Fedarb, with a set list as varied as it was sublime. Taking us on a musical journey from soft acoustic singer songwriter, to hard industrial synth.

The night started with a wonderful acoustic set from The Belle Jar, who's soft lyrics and silken voice hushed the room. Her guitar work was passionate and skilled and her lyrics enchanting. A wonderful introduction to the evening.

Following on were Joseph Martin and Noonie Baig. I'm not going to hide my bias here, I love these two. Noonie’s voice drips with home whilst Joe has a raw, visceral edge to his singing. The juxtaposition works perfectly along with haunting harmonies and truly talented guitar work. Ever humble the love of what they do shines through their music, with a self-effacing smile from them both as they received rapturous applause.

Things switched up a bit as One Bent Devil brought us industrial synth performed live. I love live electronic music, and think it's a genre that suffers from unfair criticism as many under estimate the talent required. The set was a sonic journey, starting with an increasing tempo and rhythm and then taking on a completely industrial feel. The set was captivating and completely contrasting to the rest of the acts.

Finally Thomas House rounded things up, his vocal talent is jaw dropping, his smooth voice and raw passion consistent through every song. If there could be a perfect ending to a set, Tom’s was the high note the evening hoped for.

Like any other Pit event the audience were friendly, inquisitive and supportive. There was a lot of love in the room on Thursday night, and if Carl carries on planning gigs then there will be much more.

Entrepreneurs Launch Kickstarter Campaign

Hustlers Of Culture Look To Launch Spode Based Printing Workshops

Sean Dissington || September 30th

Stories are funny things. They aren't history, they're not a dry legal recounting of facts, but neither are they necessarily fiction. Stories are where hope lives, where joy waits to be found and where truth reigns; for stories tell us what we want rather than what is. Stories hold a mirror to the world and they force us to look. So this is a story, about passion, about ink and about pride.

Many of you will know that I've arrived late to the “falling in love with Stoke” party, as someone who's not a businessman, and doesn't consider himself to be particularly creative the business led growth of some parts of the city has delighted me, and inspired me – but it was not by me, or even for me – as great as it has been.

2016 has been the year I feel Stoke-on-Trent stepped out of its own shadow, it's the year that the city that took clay and gave the world beauty has started to bang its own drum for the world to hear; and its wonderful that art and creativity have been driving that. We have a city centre that's finally feeling like the centre of this federation of towns, we have new buildings, projects restarting and art and music are wherever you wish to look. It's one of those that I'm writing about today.

The world is not made of atoms. It is made of stories.
— Muriel Ruykeser

Asking for help is a beautiful thing, there are few more ways that a person or group of people can show trust in you, than by asking for your help. When I saw the Kickstarter from Entrepreneurs this morning I backed it immediately, because I've had the privilege of meeting the guys and having some understanding of what they are passionate about, but here I'm going to tell you why I think you should help them, no matter how much money you can, or can't spare.

Rob Fenton is an unassuming guy, he's friendly and chatty. When he's working it the shop that he co-owns with Tom Edwards and Andy Cooke he’s genuinely interested in every person who walks through the doors. He will talk about sneakers and graffiti and photography with a passion that's rarely seen, until you start to talk to him about Stoke-on-Trent.

I spent a few hours in his company this morning talking about the plans that the boys have for the kickstarter funds. Essentially they are planning a massive expansion of their printing workshops to inspire, educate and facilitate a creative growth in the city in the realm of printing and craft arts. The new printing workshop is to be based in the Acava studios in Spode at Stoke, and will see the coming together of the creative resurgence of Stoke town, and the business regeneration that's happening at Piccadilly right now.

Stoke town with Pilgrims Pit, Gallery 116 and Valentines’ is a hotbed of creativity right now. There are ideas pouring out of Stoke, and with the provision of a properly equipped print room there will be classes for beginners, access to equipment for other creatives and facilities that outdo those offered by the university. All of this located on the Spode site. I don't want to say that this is some kind of spiritual homecoming for art, but that.

There's something special about print, the feel of the paper, the sound it makes as you move it, and the smell of the ink. Who hasn't received a glossy brochure and revelled in the smell of the inks? Print is a sensory experience, it's the first experience we have of making ourselves and in an increasingly digital word it carries an authenticity that other media simply cannot rival.

The workshops will be based in Spode, where the Rose Gardens were recently opened

The workshops will be based in Spode, where the Rose Gardens were recently opened

If this project goes ahead students will get access to the talent of Tom Edwards, a passionate illustrator and Jay, a print artist with so much passion for the project he’s relocated to Stoke from London to be part of it.

If this project goes ahead businesses will be able to keep their money local, grow local talent and watch with pride as a new generation of artists express themselves in colour, in text and illustration.

If this project goes ahead it will be another success for this city, another thing to shout about, the city that paid for its own print studio; that let business and art students and curious creatives keen to learn be part of it.

Best of all, if this project goes ahead, we can say “We did that”.

Andy, Rob and Tom have been behind some of the most daring and successful expressions of creativity in the city. From murals to lectures in design, from the Stoke 2020 bid design to idea sharing and networking; there are benefits we all enjoy that simply wouldn't exist without them. As someone who is passionate about Stoke, but ill equipped to partake creatively I feel supporting this project is a way of redressing the debt owed.

Stoke Art Map Weekend

Part IV: Things Are Changing

Chloe Evans || September 25th


So, the big day finally arrived. The ribbons have been cut and Stoke is thriving with energy. I headed over to the old Spode factory to see the transformation first hand and speak to everyone involved! I started at the ACAVA Studios where the halls were packed with visitors eagerly awaiting the grand reveal. I was fortunate enough to meet with Ben Eastop before the launch to discuss all things Spode and ACAVA. Ben is the Regeneration and Development Manager for ACAVA, with the ‘responsibility for developing new studio opportunities – helping negotiate leases with landlords or developers, discussing regeneration projects with local authorities and regeneration agencies, then seeing through the conversion process to build new studios’, he also gets involved with the art projects and programming for new studio buildings, as he has done with Spode. He explained that this ‘helps to ensure that the studios are embedded in the locality and become part of a community of other arts organisations and local people – most projects involved community engagement of one kind or another, and normally artist-led (residencies, workshops, and other activities defined by artists’ practice)’.

The first question I thought of when learning about Ben and his background was how different it must have been for him coming from London and being involved with work there, compared to what the work has been like in Stoke. He explained how it is quite different in several ways; ACAVA started in London and has most of their studios based there, branching out to Essex around 6 years ago. The opportunity at Stoke arose 3 or 4 years ago when Duncan Smith was asked to do the consultancy for the feasibility of artists’ studios on the Spode site, and the ball started rolling from there.

“[Stoke is] Very different to London, my impression of coming up here over the last two years is that there’s a real warmth here and enthusiasm. I’ve only been here once before so that’s been very refreshing right from the word go and it’s a real genuine characteristic, you don’t really get that in the same way in London. There’s a constant pressure in London, it feels crowded out and the opportunities that were there in the last 10 or 20 years aren’t there as much now and it’s harder to make things happen. Property is more expensive and every scrap of land has been developed, which really limits what ACAVA can do. The character of the city has changed, I’ve been there a long time and I’ve seen it change over the years, it used to be a place where you could be much freer, with a much freer energy. Coming to Stoke reminds me of what London was like about 20 years ago; there are buildings that are unused or underused so there is huge potential, particularly at the Spode site. The other thing that I have noticed is that there is people around that want to do stuff, they have ideas and energy, they’re making things happen and hopefully that’s what Saturday is about, putting those people together with the different initiative that is already flowering”.

I can’t disagree with Ben at all; Stoke’s cultural progression is happening and there is definitely people out there who want change and are taking steps to make it happen. The studios are just the beginning of the art culture developing, and after seeing today what the spaces can be turned into I’m completely overwhelmed. Entering one, you’d think that it had always been an art studio, then entering another that has completely different characteristics, functions and uses is utterly amazing. One of the rooms that I went into held workshops, on the tables were the reminisces of a drawing workshop, light pours beautifully from the original buildings windows, paintings and canvases lined the walls and for a second I could of sworn I was in a building solely dedicated to art workshops, I moved just a few spaces down the hall and there was a room filled with robotics, down another a printing studio. The opportunities are very much endless, with one artist even expressing how she would like to use part of her space to create installations that large she could only dream about it in the past; she then showed me portfolio work that she had created before she had her space and how she digitally mimicked her small scale work into large scale, something she no longer has to do.

I asked Ben what he thought of the site originally, enthusiastically he replied “I thought the site was fantastic, I have a background in architecture and I love old factory buildings, I can just see that it’s going to be fantastic”. After the response from the public today I think that the general view is that the studios are fantastic and the site is on its way to be just that too! The studios are pod-like structures; almost a building within a building keeping many of the original features such as the factory floor, wall surfaces and features of the factory are also the same. The contrast of the new to old is eye-catching and totally surreal, standing in a modern, minimalistic room that’s bright and airy, through an old window and into another part of the factory and seeing a room preserved perfectly from when the site stopped production.

“In London the contemporary art world is much bigger, we’ve had no problem letting out studios to just artists. Here we had a slightly more open policy; we opened it up to more practitioners. Stoke is a city of makers, we had to build on that tradition and not bring something from the outside”.

I asked Ben if there was anything that he could envision for Stoke, what would it be? His answer couldn’t have been clearer. Do things differently. “London is a classic example of how artists move in to an area, take it over, occupy buildings, they get established and that makes the area attractive and that pushes up the prices of property, more people want to come in. Now because the whole city has become so valuable it’s almost impossible to find places to do that in London. If there’s a message at all for here it’s to try and do something differently. Arts can’t replace a whole economy but it can help to bring places to life.” On the whole, the opening of the studios is extremely positive, but as a city we have a duty to do things better than the others and ensure that our growth doesn’t become our downfall. Ben hit the nail on the head, so let’s hope that everybody takes the wisdom he’s shared and uses it to make Stoke great again.

Things are changing”

Start Art Map Weekend

Part III: Fun & Frolics At Pilgrim's Pit

Lee Barber || September 24th

'The Art Map as a collaborative project is a brilliant way for us all to come together, and celebrate the growth of Stoke's art scene. It's a long lasting document that will be beneficial to the artists and their spaces, long past this Saturday.'

Siobhan Mcaleer doesn't mince her words when I ask her to sum up what the Art Map has the potential to do for the city of Stoke-on-Trent. And anyone who knows Siobhan will know that she will be doing all she can to make sure the Art Map is as beneficial as it says on the tin.

Pilgrim's Pit, the 'community arts hub, a space for creation, collaboration, production, discussion and imagination. A mechanism for regeneration and direct public engagement', as the guys put it perfectly themselves, has played no small part in the broadcasting of Stoke's art scene and community this year. With Stoke's art map launching today and celebrations being held all over, visitors can enjoy areas that they might not have gone to on a regular day. Having opportunities like this raises awareness and helps build areas like that of around Spode Factory and also the cultural quarter. With masses of change happening locally, Pilgrim's Pit are doing there bit and will open their doors from 11 until 6, and will be offering up dashes of music, poetry and performance.

'As artists we need to collaborate as much as we can, all of the time; to be able to make sure that we continue to grow the culture of understanding that art has a worth within our lives and is useful for Stoke-on-Trent on a whole. There seems to be a deep comprehension that music has its place and is widely supported throughout the city. Throughout events like this where there is a mergence of both music and visual creativity we can grow the understanding that there is a need for both of these to make our city the place it has potential to be. Due to the current nature of receiving information through social media and much of it being lost without ever being acknowledged, to have something tangible and available, is beneficial to growing the visibility of the town.'

Martin Gooding, who will be performing at Pilgrim's Pit, was also at The Lost Gardens last weekend, where he recited a piece he wrote about the city.

'After performing my piece "At War With Our History" at the Lost Garden Festival, I was approached by Shiv from Pilgrim's Pit about performing the piece for the launch of the Art Map. She offered me a fifteen minute slot, I snapped it up, and then it dawned on me, I'm not a poet, I don't have a load of pre-prepared material. So I panicked for a while and then decided to write some stuff. I wrote two poems about being broke and a little piece about Stoke, hopefully they'll go down well, I'm guessing at an arts cafe in Stoke a few people may relate.

The Lost Garden Festival was a great opportunity to try out some new ideas in front of a new audience. It's easy to get caught on the circuit playing to the same people. Hopefully I sparked some debate and sent some people home with something to think about, even if it was an image of me half naked and covered in paint etched into their brains.'

The following is the piece that Martin will be reciting at Pilgrim's Pit tomorrow, in a no doubt splendidly theatrical performance.

1346 years ago missionaries left their home on Holy island, after traversing half the country they rested, not far from the banks of the Trent. With their bare hands they built a wooden church. A meeting point that drew worshippers from miles around.

That single act of creation would forever forge this city's reputation as a settlement of builders, makers and craftsmen.

Stoke Minster still stands today, although the wooden panels have long since been replaced by stones. A testament to Stoke-upon-Trent, the seed that sprouted a great oak of a city.

240 years ago Josiah Spode stood at the Church Street gates. The signature he scrawled across those deeds served as a reminder, this town will always create.

While the mills of Lancashire exported delicate cotton and the mines of Corwall bled tin ,this town set about creating the most beautiful pottery ever witnessed by humanity.

As those who came before us did, we must guide the way to our art through maps, each mark on this page a possible epicentre for another earthquake that could change the face of this city forever.

To achieve this we must evolve, as well as beautiful pottery we must export ideas, ideas that will shape generations, hopefully this map will channel Virgil, guiding each of Stoke's residents deeper into this beautiful inferno of ideas. This unstoppable machine of creation.

Stoke Art Map Weekend

Part II: Meeting Nicola Winstanley

Chloe Evans || September 23rd

I met with Nicola Winstanley prior to the launch of the Art Map and her residency this weekend. It’s such an exciting time at Spode right now and obviously very stressful as the event is drawing closer and the finishing touches are being made. We met at the Spode Factory; little signs are now spray-painted on the floor outside the Elenora Street entrance all ready for the big weekend ahead. We sat down with a cup of tea and discussed Nicola’s work, above our heads were a collection of photography taken in the factory showing the progression that has taken place on the site over along with a collection of maps and floor plans from old to new, it seemed very fitting to hold our meeting there after we found ourselves locked out of the new studio spaces!

This Saturday Nicola’s 3 month residency at Spode will begin, the residency has required her to look into not only the value of creative work but the impact that creative work has in Stoke; something that we discussed can be quite a complex matter. The residency itself will lead on to future residencies and create a record overtime of the progression of Stoke and Spode from the perspective of the different artists involved. With Spode having such a well preserved history it’s no surprise that this is something that they are hoping to achieve, writing the new history of Spode and being able to see perfectly how it has changed and developed is an extremely interesting and exciting concept for all involved.

Nicola describes herself as a social artist. The general understanding of a ‘social artist’ is someone who uses creative techniques to recognise a certain social issue, using these skills to work with people, communities and organisations in a way that would impact a change. It involves the ability to create new ideas and thought processes that will help bring together communities, something that Nicola has proven to be extremely good at. We went on to discuss some of her projects, one of which was created with Sarah Nadin, a sculpture that can be found near Hanley bus station, commemorating the efforts of the minors who help rebuild a Czech village that was destroyed at the word of Adolf Hitler’s orders. The sculpture features 3,000 tags each holding the initial of people who promise to share the story of the 1942 Lidice Shall Live movement. Nicola explained that this kind of work is not only a sculpture, but a community action project and how she wanted to work with people to create art that would be useful in their daily lives and for it to mean something to everyone rather than just being placed somewhere with no specific need.

‘Counterplay’ is a project that Nicola and Sarah worked on in the Cultural Quarter; they went into the streets to animate the space in an aid to make people think more creatively about what happens in city streets. They decided that they would keep their budget to a minimum and instead of creating a ‘big shiny sculpture’ they realised that all you need is a good idea, this also got them thinking about the social and community value. This led on to Nicola showing me the work that she and Sarah have done for the ‘Looky Bag’, a project that has originated from ‘Counterplay’. The ‘Looky Bag’ is a ‘bagazine’ that ‘celebrates the cultural scene in Stoke-On-Trent’, beginning as just a 200 piece pilot that was all created by Nicola and Sarah, now the ‘Looky Bag’ is on a much larger scale and has been created by Nicola, Sarah and a variety of contributors that they have brought in to help. Having picked up one of the pilots myself as a student, I realised that I was unsure of a lot of the content as my knowledge of the ‘Cultural Quarter’ they were talking about was at a bare minimum. This was something that both Nicola and Sarah had also identified and they soon realised that with so many students just minutes down the road and a Cultural Quarter that was currently being under exhausted they needed to make this connection and link with the two.

This then led on to a project in Stoke that Nicola is still doing, thinking about the impact of artist’s activity in the city. Stoke-On-Trent is currently underway in a bid to have our city named the ‘UK’s City of Culture’, with our city slowly progressing this seems like it could be quite a manageable idea if people work together to make our city great. An issue that Nicola discussed with me is one that she tells me has happened in different parts of the country; an area becomes quite trendy and has a large artistic culture, this makes it a sought after area for businesses and creatives which initially can seem like a really good progression, but with this comes a negative impact, becoming popular rises business, housing and accommodation prices and can almost force people out of the area who can’t afford the inflation; which makes you question who the artistic activities benefit. Nicola explained that the whole cycle is extremely distressing, but of course interesting. From this Nicola has been gathering groups of artists to discuss what their responsibilities are as artists and in terms of regenerating an area, who are they specifically doing it for, does it work best for the developers or community, and how can they as artists ensure that their work benefits the right people?

Nicola is a freelance artist and doesn’t have another job alongside like many other artists who struggle to afford to live solely off their art. She told me how being an artist is her fulltime job, and that it’s unusual to be a fulltime working artist because it’s not easy, she works a lot and doesn’t get a lot of money for it, but went on to add that Stoke-On-Trent is a perfect place to be as a lot of cities are too expensive to live in when you get little money, whereas here she is free to indulge in what she wants. She explained that this way of living for her is something that has concerned her when looking into her projects as if and when a big boom hits and Stoke becomes the new place to be, will this in turn price out artists like herself?

Something that Nicola is looking forward to delving into whilst at Spode is the lives of the ex-workers at the Spode factory. Nicola will be setting out to talk to people who took a creative path in an industrial setting; she described the interest in knowing what the pay was like for the employees who worked on the creative side of the factory process and with the decorative side of the pottery industry requiring extremely talented artists, she wonders if they would even have consider themselves to be artists? Nicola also wants to make a record of what is happening in the shops and buildings around the town and how the change impacts them.

Nicola has lived in leek, Manchester and Burslem but is originally from Meir. Over the past few years all of her work has been in Stoke and she explained that something really interests her about the point that the city is at. She felt that in the larger cities that she has lived in she didn’t feel that her work added much to the scene as it was already ‘there’ but in Stoke her work feels important and is a part of something much larger. Nicola feels that there is so much potential and Space at Spode that the transformation seems so doable, whereas compared to a larger city, this kind of opportunity could go missed because the plans my never land in the hands of the right people. From talking to other artists that have been working in the city for 30+ years Nicola has learned that there have been creative highs and lows but this time ‘something has shifted’. This could possibly be due to graduate retention and students feeling like they want to stay in Stoke-On-Trent instead of moving to the larger cities and wanting to be innovative people here. A large opinion from people that I have spoken to myself is that there seems to have been a large change in attitude towards our local areas, and that people are more willing and motivated to make a difference instead of fleeing for areas that have a larger collection of artistic jobs.

If people stay, they will demand that it gets better. It’s very open in Stoke that things are possible”