TPYF - Blackpool Remembrance project brings sense of place to archives and artworks

By Richard Moss | 05 November 2009
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A photo of a man explaining a pill box to group of school children

(Above) St Kentigern's CP Primary School with Artist Thompson Dagnall at the Soldier Sculpture (WWII Pill Box in Salisbury Gardens Blackpool)

Richard Moss takes a look at a TPYF project in Blackpool that uses artworks, poetry, local archives and site visits to explore the meaning of Remembrance.

As a scheme which has never been shy of exploring twentieth century conflict in innovative ways, the second phase of Their Past Your Future has evolved to embrace many approaches to unlocking and using collections and archives.

In Blackpool the Cultural Services Department of the local council decided to tackle the meaning of remembrance by fusing its local art collections and archives with the insights of poets, artists and even park rangers working with over 200 Blackpool primary schoolchildren.

As Blackpool Council arts development Officer Lynne Pattinson explains, the key to success in an ambitious project with a strong focus on 21st century artist’s interpretation of past conflicts, was simple site visits and hands on sessions.

“As well as exploring our own collections and archives we did a number of visits including the pillbox in the woodland of Blackpool’s Salisbury Gardens,” says Lynne. “These adjoin the local zoo, which during World War Two built Wellington Bombers – the aircraft hangers are still there – the elephants are in one of them.”

A memorial with the words, sing softly. be still. cease, carved into it

Ruth Barker's The Choir Loft at Blackpool War Memorial.

Artist Thompson Dagnall, who has created a public sculpture of a soldier on top of the pillbox, joined one of the visits and discussed with the children how the soldier might have felt during wartime defending the huge hangars behind him. Liverpool based poet, Terry Caffrey was also on hand to help the kids think about what they were experiencing.

“Terry’s a great character and he facilitated sessions with children to help them put their thoughts into phrases and poems,” adds Lynne. “An education officer then talked about the history of the site and how it is used today.”

There were also visits to the town’s War Memorial where a contemporary commemorative artwork remembering all of the people who suffered in conflict was explained by the artist who made it, Ruth Barker.

Children were then encouraged to realize their own ideas of conflict and commemoration through creative workshops at the Library Archive and the Grundy Art Gallery led by Terry Caffrey and a gallery education officer who compared archival material and discussed artwork relating to war and conflict.

A drawing of a white dove

(Above) One of the many artworks in the book - inspired by a Picasso dove artwork in the Grundy Art Gallery collection.

Education officers also went into schools and even the local park rangers contributed to the history of the sites and are now working with archivists to explore the role of green areas during the WWII.

The outcome of all of this activity was a library exhibition and a new book, featuring artworks and poems by the children from Year 4 at Stanley Primary School and Year 5 from St Kentigern's Catholic Primary School.

“It’s a combination of watercolours, drawings and collages that have modern influences like Doris Salcedo,” says Lynne. “It’s very innovative, there are even miniature environments photographed underwater. The way the children put the artworks together is very thoughtful.”

Plans are now afoot to roll the project out to schools across the area.

Launched in 2004, Their Past Your Future is funded by the Big Lottery Fund and administered by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. It uses historical sources, sites, museums, veterans and eyewitnesses of war to increase young people's understanding of history, commemoration, national identity and civic participation today. Find out more at www.culture24.org.uk/tpyf.

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