“Redeveloping and utilising underused and derelict public spaces… Ensuring a healthy legacy for these spaces.”
Periodically, in common with many of the UK’s
large urban metropolises: Wolverhampton has undergone a period of readjustment and revision borne of a need to formulate an alternative identity in a post-industrial economy.
Though partway through this difficult transition – from an industrial (manufacturing) to a tertiary (service based) economy – Wolverhampton appears anchored in a sea of flux. In turn, the landscape bears evidence of this ‘uncertainty’,
peppered as it is with both the scars and the remnants of urban neglect together with the ghostly demarcations that haunt the present with their past.
Neglected and forgotten, nevertheless the structures within this landscape exude a ‘faded grandeur’, mothballed and frozen in hibernation, a semi-permanent state of ‘becoming’ – waiting to be brought ‘back to life’ with a renewed purpose and identity.
Asylum Art Gallery: Prior to Regeneration
Our Approach to Regeneration
In the spirit of the ‘Big Society’, though not necessarily in agreement with either its ideology or its implementation, we view the process of regeneration as being integral to transforming the physical landscape.
Nestling partway between the ‘gentle’ and the ‘hardcore’, our own approach to regeneration is ‘measured’ in three distinct ways:
Sensitivity - Our innate sensibility and preference is always towards the sensitive end of the spectrum, when renovating derelict or underused structures. Ever mindful of local residents appreciation of their ‘shared heritage’, with reference to both their personal and ancestral associations: we endeavour to marry a building’s former use with its new identity, in such a fashion as to create a harmonious, unbroken, linear narrative between the past and the present.
Sustainability – Characterised by limited environmental impact. Low cost and not resource dependant. Our ultimate aim is to build a long term, viable resource – capable of sustaining itself independent of, and therefore not reliant upon ‘outside’ funding sources.
Visionary – We view the development of ‘public spaces’ as being central to both regenerating the tactile, physical landscape alongside the lives of individuals – all of whom jointly comprise the ‘human’ face, and the ultimate measure, of any successful regeneration program. Therefore, a priority of our ‘regeneration’ practice to date is addressing the dearth of such spaces – with a degree of urgency with regards to what ‘self-evidently’ needs to be done.
Investment in the Creative Sector
We believe that regeneration programs work best when they not only help to transform a derelict landscape, bringing it ‘back to life’, but also endeavour to ‘rebuild’ the aspirations, hopes and dreams of individuals – within and in relation to it. It goes without saying that ‘creativity’ should and, indeed, must be at the heart of this process. Yet our focus, blurred by political rhetoric, appears fixated with a ‘lockdown austerity’ model, outside of which – due to a poverty of imagination – it is hard, if not impossible to see beyond. Consequently, within this entrenched mind-set, the case for investment in creativity is, all too often, criminally overlooked.
And yet creativity, in essence, is about challenging preconceptions, dogma and perceived wisdom as well as helping to ‘fill the gaps’ in our existing knowledge platform. Accordingly, Asylum Art Gallery believes that all artists and, indeed, all
creative thinkers and practitioners – irrespective of their chosen form of expression – are ‘agents of change’ and therefore, at the forefront in ‘widening’ our perception of ‘things’, not just as they are but how they could or should be; as much as any specialist or entrepreneur within the more ‘reified’ fields of business, science, technology and engineering – if not more so. Therefore we need to state the case for investment.
We are wholly committed to addressing both the lack of investment (both financial and personal / interpersonal development) within the creative sector and, ultimately, realizing ‘our vision’ of a fully integrated regeneration model that places equal importance upon the development of both infrastructure and people within a truly inclusive creative framework.
Asylum Art Gallery: Post Regeneration
Our Achievements to Date
Asylum Art Gallery & Asylum Artist Studios
The ‘situatedness’ of Asylum Art Gallery and studios is, fundamentally, a social space – integral to the development of community relations and broader ‘interrelational’ cultural platforms (within Wolverhampton, the West Midlands and beyond) – and, as such, is aware of its need to be both ‘outward facing’ and ‘human centred / centric’. In line with this objective, and given the rather poor state of repair the building was in when we inherited it, the site required extensive restoration in order to make it suitable as an exhibition space.
The Asylum gallery and the newer building of the Asylum Artist Studios have both been transformed from what was once a semi-derelict non-space into a multi-functional, adaptable and versatile gallery space and studio spaces that can easily be reconfigured to encompass a variety of creative and cultural events (i.e. film screenings, social gatherings etc.) in addition to its primary function as an exhibition space.
2020 marks our 6 year anniversary of the gallery, our two year anniversary of the studios and our third year as a self sustainable model that can offer the opportunity for free mentoring and vocational experience for its community.
We have successfully forged long lasting partnerships with the cultural venues in the city and continue to discuss how we can collaborate with Wolverhampton Council to achieve improvements for all its residents through providing space, support and opportunity to research the impact of cultural spaces on communities progression and cohesion.
This year we successfully ran our first 6 month Arts Council England program that offered paid research residencies to local artists and published an academic publication. You can view this project under 'Discursive Spaces'.