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Plymouth College of Art students get creative outside the classroom

Students at the college have been making their mark on public art across the city, in collaboration with local art organisations

Plymouth prides itself on being the cultural epicentre of Devon and Cornwall, boasting a number of independent art organisations such as MIRROR and KARST, regular touring exhibitions and events, as well as prestigious festivals such as the British Art Show and a regularly changing programme of events and exhibitions at The Box, Plymouth’s multi million pound art and cultural venue.

Commissioned by local organisations, artwork has been installed in Plymouth over the last few years by artists such as the world-renowned Antony Gormley with his LOOK II sculpture on West Hoe, local sculptor Joseph Hillier’s Messenger situated outside the doors of the Theatre Royal and in 2019, the Elmer the Elephant trail saw brightly coloured Elmer’s designed by local artists placed across Plymouth. Following in the footsteps of these projects, communities across the city have started to embrace public art on their streets.

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Random Art Corner on Union Street. Photo credit: Mike Vosper Plymouth Artists Together

The Random Art Corner was the idea of community group Plymouth Artists Together who invited Plymouth artists of all ages to paint pictures or write poems to be put on display at venues across the city that are in need of a little TLC.

Mike Vosper, the coordinator of Plymouth Artists Together said, “We’re creating street art and murals to brighten up the streets of Plymouth. It’s an opportunity to get out in the community and put art on all the unloved and neglected spaces across the city.”

The Random Art Corner is situated on the corner of Union Street and Western Approach, brightening up the site where the Two Trees pub once stood. Since the pub’s demolition, the area has been transformed with bright and colourful artwork donated by artists of all ages across the city.

BA (Hons) Painting, Drawing and Printmaking students Abby Sharman and Eleanor Keith contributed to the project, with paintings based on their favourite Nintendo Switch game, Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

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Abby Sharman (left) and Eleanor Keith (right) with their paintings on Random Art Corner

Abby said, “We based our paintings on Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the new game that was released on Nintendo Switch at the beginning of lockdown. That game got me through a lot of lockdown as it was like escaping to a different world. We do commissions for people and paint their Animal Crossing worlds, and a wide range of other things, so it seemed like the perfect thing to create and brighten up that corner of Plymouth.”

“I’m very proud of the work I have on display and as an art student at Plymouth College of Art that wants to progress to having more work out there, it feels like a step in the right direction.”

Eleanor said, “We both wanted to start getting our art out there, it seemed like a good chance to do something in the community and it was great to meet other artists as well.”

Another project bringing public art to the people is Cliik Community who has organised a number of local artists to take part in painting murals and BT boxes. Founded by locals of Stonehouse, the group wanted to see the area transformed by its residents for its residents. As well as creating safe spaces, providing housing and encouraging healthier lifestyles with services and support, Cliik organised that local public art be more prevalent in the area.

Cliik managed to secure £3,000 through Sparks funding to commission the transformation of over 30 utility boxes across the area. The different designs, which had to be approved by the likes of Virgin and BT before they went ahead, have been well-received in the area.

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BT Boxes by Mrs Murals (left) and Roisin Cunningham (right). Photo credit: Brett Lockwood for Fotonow CIC

Jennifer Pointon, Director of Cliik, said, “I’m just completely blown away. I’ve not heard a single negative comment. I’m a resident of Stonehouse, along with a few of the artists, and we’ve all just had constant positive feedback; there’s a lot of buzz in the area as everyone is seeing something lovely happening.”

“I even overheard some box engineers yesterday saying how rather than calling the boxes by their unit numbers, they’re going to start calling them ‘the moth’ or the ‘blue house’.”

Abby and Eleanor continued their involvement with public art projects when they collaborated together to decorate two BT boxes in the Stonehouse area.

While Eleanor was inspired by the work of Dr Suess’ The Lorax, Abby translated her love of books into artwork on a BT box on Wolsdon Street. Eleanor said, “We weren’t expecting much of a response, but when we were painting them, everyone who walked past had something positive to say. Everyone has been so nice about it. It’s had such a good impact on the local community as well as the artists.”

Abby said, “We even had a few people stop that were interested in commissions!”

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Abby & Eleanor work on Abby’s BT box in Wolsdon Street Photo credit: Brett Lockwood for Fotonow CIC

Plymouth College of Art BA (Hons) Photography graduate Brett Lockwood has also been involved in photographing the artwork for local social enterprise Fotonow.

After a chance meeting with Matt Pontin from Fotonow CIC and being commissioned to photograph aspects of the Stronger North Stonehouse project, Brett ended up meeting Mike Vosper and being introduced to the Plymouth Artists Together Group.

Creating more accessibility for people to make, or just enjoy art, is amazing. Everywhere could use a bit more of what’s going on in Plymouth right now!
BA (Hons) Photography graduate Brett Lockwood

“My job with the Stronger North Stonehouse project was to capture the mood, aesthetic and character of the surrounding area, as well as document the changes in the area from new CCTV to street art. It was during a shoot in Wyndham Square that I was approached by Mike Vosper and was told about Plymouth Artists Together, so while making work with Fotonow, I also began working with artists from the group, ranging from stills to timelapses.”

“I have always been inspired by performance arts being brought to the public through my love of capturing contemporary dance, so being able to watch and document something being created from nothing, live and in the community, had been a box I wanted to tick off for a while after graduating.”

“As an artist that has been freshly introduced to Plymouth-based artists communities, especially recently, I have seen a massive desire for collaboration and a huge respect for any practice, no matter what medium. This has brought communication between not just artists but also the public. Even those outside of the arts world are excited to participate in street art projects. Creating more accessibility for people to make, or just enjoy art, is amazing. Everywhere could use a bit more of what’s going on in Plymouth right now!”

For more information on the Stronger North Stonehouse project, visit their website, or join the Facebook group Plymouth Artists Together for regular updates.