ShopArt scheme sees window of opportunity as artists plot for retail regeneration in Norwich

By Ivan Stoyanov | 02 August 2010
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A photo of a young woman standing outside an arts centre

Grace Jackson (above) is leading the bid to put artists in the shop window

As one of the top 10 shopping destinations in the country, the city of Norwich is full of vibrant, independent stores with eye-catching window displays.

Since the recession took its toll, though, some store fronts have been boarded-up and windows left empty in telltale signs of the economic downturn.

So what would make people in the East of England resort to the guilty pleasure of shopping once again?

One initiative is supporting local retailers with the help of a government grant aimed at using shop windows to promote artists and present a positive image of the region.

"City centres around the country are blighted by empty shops that just look shabby," says Marion Catlin, Norwich City Council’s cultural development officer.

"Our artists always have good ideas for creative uses for empty buildings, but rarely have the chance to put them into practice."

"This project will help artists and their work to take centre stage and reinforce the city's reputation as an ongoing city of culture."

The plans have moved a step closer with the appointment of Project Coordinator Grace Jackson, who has previously worked in marketing and project management for Norwich City Council and Norwich Arts Centre.

"We had some considerable competition," confides Stuart Hobday, the Director of the Arts Centre, which is managing the project.

"But at the end of the day, Grace was able to demonstrate an exceptional enthusiasm for, and understanding of, the idea."

Beside her passion for reviving the retail industry in Norwich, Jackson is a keen visual performance artist herself.

Her first task was to name the project, which will be known as ShopArt. With that off her mind, she will spend the next month identifying potential empty shops to be enlivened. Both emerging and established artists can market and sell their work in them.

To speed things up, Norwich City Council and the City Centre Partnership have issued an invitation to artists and cultural organisations to bid for the design, management and operation of the scheme, which will start in October and run until March 2011.

Will art help consumerism in Norwich get back into shape? Only time will tell.

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