The Phone Box Project – background

Project background

The Phone Box Project concept began to develop summer 2019, when West Dean Parish Council purchased fourteen boxes across the parish. Canopy applied for funding to begin the research process – to appoint artists to create work in a number of boxes, with a view to presenting new works by each artist that would tell a different story about each location. It sounds simple, but it wasn’t.  

The artists were appointed September 2020 and we anticipated would delivery the project around Easter time, 2020. Sadly, due to the Covid19 pandemic beginning early March, we couldn’t fully complete the research needed or secure funding (we had 2 bids in the pipeline literally about to have decisions made on them). Ultimately, like so many other projects, we had to draw the project to a halt. Initially we anticipated we may be able to proceed in the near future.

The Phone Box Weekender was to be our first major public event and be intriguing, unique and engaging in many ways. The artists would offer a range of disciplines – performance, sound, community engagement, glasswork, movement practitioners, storytelling, poetry and walking. Each artwork would be relevant to the place the box is located in. The artists would have used the research from phase 1 to inform final works for the trail, which stretches over 10 miles, providing driving, walking and cycling routes, drawing people through this wonderful landscape. We set out to work closely with other organisations and be inclusive in every way. 

Key to our organisational development and learning, we planned to use the event as an evaluation opportunity to further gauge the needs of local communities in terms of our creative offer.

It has become clear we can no longer envisage delivering in the next few months and therefore made the tough decision to put it fully on hold. We have collated this content from the artists to enable them, and canopy, to gain closure on their obligations and celebrate what has been achieved to date. 

Had we secured funding  for Phase 2, and there had not have been a pandemic, we would have seen the artists develop new works for presenting publicly over an exciting weekend, with a symposium too.  Their own creative outputs would have been informed by, and, sometimes, present their research and engagement in their own field of practice.We can only imagine how that might have been at this stage – to hear the sounds of caving in a booth; enjoy live performances; pick up a phone and hear stories by local people; attend creative family events and see school children’s drawings in stained glass windows.

What we set out to do

Canopy seeks to embed the arts into society on every level by developing networks between creatives, communities and businesses. Taking an aerial view, canopy scopes, advocates and engineers connections to ensure a thriving cultural ecology.  We support artists, audiences and participants to engage in the arts in countless ways. Expect to experience innovative, surprising, exciting and high-quality arts, unique to this very particular place – The Forest of Dean. We envisaged the Phone Box Project as an opportunity to meet some of our key aims and objectives:

AIMS to:
  • celebrate the unique qualities of Forest people and places through the creative practices  
  • be economically and environmentally sustainable in all we do 
  • develop a strong, accessible cultural community in the Forest of Dean
  • support and profile contemporary arts in the area
OBJECTIVES:
  • enabling the development of meaningful, accessible, high-quality creative engagement for, and with, local communities
  • establishing pathways for communication and co-creation
  • connecting artists from a wide range of disciplines with communities and businesses
  • unlocking the creative potential of all those that we engage with
  • developing effective partnerships to strengthen the arts sector
  • supporting artists by providing professional development to help them thrive

It was agreed the project needed two phases:

  • Phase 1- R&D: Commissioned artists to engage in to work with 8 different community groups.
  • Phase 2 – Art Weekender – artists present work in phone boxes

We have now completed Phase 1 and are hopeful that we shall be able to deliver Phase 2 in due course. 

Engagement

Each of the artists engaged with others locally wherever possible in a range of ways.

The intention for the event was to stimulate discussion between the public and artists and present various pop-up opportunities for people to attend – performances, meals, walks and conversations. There was also going to be a symposium/event to which all involved at every stage would be invited – to celebrate the project.

We also aimed to secure funding to emphasise the social history of the stories revealed and create a record of them. There would also have been a publication of poetry and writing by schoolchildren. We sincerely hope we can achieve this in the future.

Planned locations

Each box is in a varying state of repair, and if we wish to present an event to the public, along a trail, we had to be very selective about which boxes we used. Public safety was key so we selected only those booths that would be safe for people to visit, and park safely nearby if necessary. We also wanted them to not be too costly to repair and, where possible, be lockable. We planned to provide maps for people to follow by foot, bicycle, public transport and car.

Each box is in a varying state of repair, and if we wish to present an event to the public, along a trail, we had to be very selective about which boxes we used. Public safety was key so we selected only those booths that would be safe for people to visit, and park safely nearby if necessary. We also wanted them to not be too costly to repair and, where possible, be lockable. We planned to provide maps for people to follow by foot, bicycle, public transport and car.

Research

The selected artists were mostly from the South West and Shebang, a collective of three, are from the Forest of Dean. They were selected on the quality of their work, variety of practice as a group, and enthusiasm for working on research-led projects. 

We extended the research period to allow more time for things to develop towards the public event, but we were all hit by the pandemic. Not only could we not push forward with the project, but several of the artists had to take full time work to survive, and others had additional pressure and stress in their lives.

It has been an extremely challenging time for everyone and disappointing for all that we cannot proceed. We hope you enjoy what you see in these samples of the research phase. 

We hope we will, one day, be able to deliver on Phase 2.

Links to artist pages

Dominique Baker & Hannah Aebi @ Clements End

Sharon Foley @ Ellwood

Jean Goubert @ Whitecroft

Tina Hitchens @ Christchurch

Carol Laidler @ Yorkley

Henry Madicott @ Sling

Shebang #1 @ Berry Hill

Shebang #2 @ Oldcroft

What next?

We would love to be able to present the project in the future, but in the current climate we cannot see how that is possible. We could make it an online version but that doesn’t meet the needs of the artworks, which were researched specifically with audience encounters in mind. The Forest is a wonderful place to walk in and during the pandemic it is a fantastic resource for wellbeing and exercise. But we cannot create social gatherings in the foreseeable future. 

When it changes, we would seek to fundraise again to make it happen.

Until then, we wish to say a big thank you to West Dean Parish Council who shared our vision for this event and invested in it too. Also Arts Council England who allocated a grant to West dean Parish Council to support us in our first months of operations, and during the early days of the pandemic.

Most of all we are grateful for the commitment from the artists. Some had got further in their research than others, but all were looking forward to working with us to present what would have been a brilliant weekend for all ages.

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