Everybody involved in the arts in E17 knew that there were lots of artists, photographers and creatives in the area but it is amazing how many have emerged from their rooms, studios, attics and rocks since the idea of a Trail was first raised in 2004. That year there were just a couple of arty stalls at the Walthamstow Festival including one which revealed the plans for a potential Arts Centre for the borough. Sadly the Arts Centre was not to be but the E17 art genie was out of the bottle and the following year saw the launch of the E17 Art Trail.
2009 marks the 5th anniversary of the Trail and this year there are over 180 registered artists, projects or events - a big increase from the 50 who took part in the first Trail in 2005. As the Trail has become one of E17's definitive annual events, the art and artists network in Waltham Forest has become more integrated and cohesive, increasing the potential for collaborative and community projects. There has been a corresponding increase in visitors from outside the borough which has also encouraged local businesses to offer space or support. So it's all good news and only right that this first post on the E17 Art Trail Blog should say a big thank you to the founders of the Trail, Cris Thompson and Laura Kerry, so .. BIG THANK YOU ... and will you answer a few questions please??
Thanks for this introduction Valerie. It certainly continues to amaze us that more artists sign up each year and about one quarter of registrations for 2009 are from artists who are new to the art trail. We have been working on the art trail since we conceived of it in 2003. But as you say really got started with the first art trail in 2005.
One of the most striking things for me is the sense of time passing, getting to know people, their stories, watching their families grow, move away and even move back again all in six years or so. Although with most artists that sign up we communicate quite briefly via email we build up a picture of their lives as one year they might say they are busy having a baby or off to study somewhere and the next year they are back on the trail again. As a result of all of this we feel we have for the first time become part of a community in London and found that Walthamstow is our home.
We'll now attempt to answer your questions without rambling too much...
1. What were the biggest difficulties with getting the Trail off the ground?
I think it is true of all community projects, that you need to gain people's trust and quite rightly. So it took a while to get the project off the ground. To be honest we faced years of frustration from the artist community who were despondent at the lack of local resource development and a local authority that had no structures in place to support artists or work with them on projects.
Relationships with both local artists and the local authority have been built mainly by just getting on with the project and proving ourselves. Making things happen for ourselves was our ethos initially whilst knowing in the back of our minds that building relationships and support was essential to ensure the sustainability of this kind of project.
We knew of many artists looking for ways to exhibit and were both aware of the problems of working in isolation. One important thing was ensuring that people have a sense of ownership of the trail and I think that is why it was a success. (There is an open submission process without selection so artists can propose anything they like within the framework we provide and they shape the overall event in this way). But now the challenge is to maintain this as the project grows and develops.
2. Since the whole thing began what have been your personal Trail highlights?
Too many to mention but the first things that came into our heads were:
The three coordinated exhibitions and events by Liz Ellis, Alke Schmidt and Cinzia Cremona called 'Notes in the Margin' back in 2006. They had an important awareness of issues local community groups were facing and we were impressed by the sensitive way they tackled these in their work.
In 2008 Elel Kahraman and Lucy Tavener presented “The Little Seamstress”, a marionette performance. We were not sure what we would find, but we were welcomed very warmly, and invited to join in the picnic while we waited for the excellent outdoor puppet show.
E17 Designers Market and East London Craft Guerrilla hosted events last year and it was great to have different and more appropriate ways of showing and selling craft and design. Plus the opportunity for people to try making their own items. Originally we were keen for the trail to focus on visual art, but since then, and especially with climate, environmental and economic issues we face, making things for ourselves has a renewed meaning and significance.
And of course we always love the annual exhibition of photography shown in an artist’s hedge, 'Privet View' by Michael Holland.
A general highlight of all the Trails is that each provides some fascinating and rewarding conversations, not only with the artists but with the many local people and visitors you meet on your way round. This year we already have the highlight of the three Arts Council Commissions which is a great start.
3. How would you like to see the Trail develop?
We want to continue working with community groups as well as artists and we are really pleased that audience participation and education through collaborative events and workshops are becoming such an integral part of the Trail. The forums we have organised this year have been very productive in terms of both networking and professional development for Trail participants and supporters so we want to build up this aspect of the Trail too.
It was fantastic to get an additional grant so we could host these and employ another team member, Morag McGuire, to deliver the forums with us. We are now able to set higher goals each year and this is very encouraging, not just for the future of the Trail but for the creative life of Waltham Forest.
We often consider organising additional elements within the trail such as talks, competitions and curated group exhibitions and other events year round but we just run out of spare time! We need to generate more income to support further development and have gone about incorporating Artillery as a company to enable us to do this. We have already secured a grant for the E17 art trail 2010 which will allow us to employ another person to project manage a large part of the trail administration and publicity. This will mean we can develop new projects that we have been working on gradually over the last couple of years and so we are very excited about where this will go next.
According to the long range weather forecast there will be average rainfall for the time of year. We all know this is not reliable so our forecast is that weather on the Trail will of course be glorious!