In this blog entry, the University of Bath team reflects on the results of a Co-Creation workshop that took place in Bath 10-14 September 2019
In the consultation phase of the case study, in March 2019, we organised an exhibition at the 44AD Art space, in central Bath, allowing local residents wishing to participate in the project to leave comments and suggestions at the gallery. During the second stage, the University of Bath Co-Creation team invited Rio de Janeiro-based graffiti artist Leandro ‘Tick’ Rodrigues, who worked with the project’s Brazilian case study beforehand and was familiar with Co-Creation, as well as local artist-researcher Dr Richard White, an expert in socially engaged walking-with methods. The group of 16 participants included members of the Co-Creation teams from Bath and Mexico City as well as local residents and artists recruited using local mailing lists and Eventbrite. About half of the participants were familiar with Co-Creation methodologies before the workshop and most of them were aware of local issues, including two of the Mexican scholars who were involved in a previous workshop run in Bath in September 2017.
The aim of the workshop was to address in creative ways Bath’s reluctant past and make alternative narratives visible in the public space. While the city’s official narrative displayed in museums, through a walking tour offered by the Tourist Office and the annual Jane Austin festival, tends to glorify the city’s Georgian architecture and cultural heritage, the story of the slave trade, plantation culture and the abolition which greatly contributed to the wealth accumulated in Bristol and Bath, remains largely untold. The workshop tried to reach out to local stakeholders from the heritage sector and collaborated with the Fairfield House, Beckford’s Tower, the Holburne Museum, Where the Wall and the Bristol Radical History Group. All stakeholders were invited to attend the entire workshop but most of them preferred to limit their participation to a half-day meeting with the group.
The programme started on the 10th September with a slavery-themed walking tour run by Dr Richard White, which included a visit to Fairfield House, which served as a home to Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie during his exile in Bath 1936-41. The group was received by author Keith Bower and Trustee William Heath who introduced the group to Haile Selassie and the multicultural communities currently using the house. The tour continued with lunch at the Bath City Farm where further local social issues were discussed.
On 11th September, the group took the train to Bristol to trace local histories of slave trade and abolition through walking with Marks Steeds and Roger Ball from the Bristol Radical History Group https://www.brh.org.uk/site/, before discovering socially engaged graffiti in the city with Rob Dean, from Where the Wall.
On 12th September, the immersion in Bath’s heritage continued with the official walking tour https://www.bathguides.org.uk/ of the city, and in the afternoon the group was received at the Holburne Museum by director Chris Stephens, curator of a recent installation by Graham Fagan that introduced alternative narratives of Bath in the gallery where portraits of Bath’s prominent plantation owning families like the Byams are on display.
The programme continued at the 44AD Art space with the design of a series of Georgian teacups which evoke hidden histories using collage and drawing. The tea cup, a symbolic object that links England’s colonising past with the current promotion of Georgian heritage both in the Holburne’s permanent collection of fine china cups as much as the city’s many cafés and tearooms, has been adopted as a central theme of the workshop.
After a last outing to Beckford’s tower where the group met with curator Dr Amy Frost for a discussion about William Beckford’s complex and controversial ties with contested heritage, participants’ individual graphics were integrated to a collective final design which was then painted just outside the gallery on Saturday 15th September by graffiti artists Leandro Tick and Ben van Praag with the help of the group.
As this beautiful sunny day coincided with the date of the annual Jane Austin festival, and the presence of a high number of visitors, many of whom dressed up in Georgian costumes, allowed for performed encounters between tourists, local citizens and Co-Creators distributing leaflets and pasting up some of their subversive teacup posters on walls.
The Co-Creation workshop was an attempt to create new synergies between the Co-Creation team and its local and foreign partners. These included local museums, associations, activist groups and artists on the one hand and, on the other hand, three members from the UNAM team and two artists, Leandro Tick and Clara Bosso, from Brazil.
The workshop used social events including a thermal spa visit, about 60 km walk and several shared meals to build relations and provide informal opportunities for the participants to discuss their perceptions of current urban challenges faced by citizens in Bath, Rio and Mexico City. Besides this shared understanding of urban heritage, the workshop produced a series of tangible outcomes: posters, images that can be further exploited on postcards, cups or tote bags, a graffiti on canvas, and an alternative geo-tagged walk and a map illustrated by the participants designs available for downloading from the project website.