Local hero: Fred Deakin talks about his Scribble Jam event for Museums at Night

By Mark Sheerin | 02 May 2014

We speak with the artist, designer, musician and teacher ahead of his audio visual extravaganza at the Wilson Art Gallery and Museum in Cheltenham

Colour time lapse photo of an artist DJing
© Youki Mikami
In a town where there might be few places for young people to go, the late opening of a museum is causing ripples of excitement. The venue is the Wilson, an Art Gallery and Museum in Cheltenham. The occasion, if you needed reminding, is Museums at Night 2014.

“I think it’s a common problem in small-town Britain, to have a bunch of creative people with nowhere to go,” says Fred Deakin, who hopes to soon rectify the situation. The visiting artist is planning an audio-visual happening with local musicians, artists and VJs.

“There’s certainly enough bands in Cheltenham,” says Deakin who has met his local talent through Skype. “I think there’s a good bedroom band scene in any city.” The artist and musician with more than half a million album sales is in a good position to know.

In a former life, his electronica band Lemon Jelly was nominated for both the Mercury Music Prize and a BRIT Award. His design agency Airside was meanwhile nominated for two BAFTAS and no less than nine D&AD Awards. To get nominated for just one would be the highlight of many a designer’s career.

Indeed, Deakin has a CV as colourful and as thrill-packed one of his AV shows. He’s also been a successful DJ, government advisor, and now teacher. He is Professor of Interactive Visual Arts at the University of the Arts, London. And so it is little surprise he is reluctant to pigeonhole himself.

“I call myself a creator. That's a Japanese term and, yeah, that's slightly pretentious,” he says. But he makes no apologies for being a polymath.

“There’s been a massive shift in arts education,” he reports. “Every student does everything. They’ve got a laptop. They can download software. They can make movies and design templates and make sounds.”

Is it any wonder his Museums at Night event will cross boundaries? Deakin has been working with the museum youth group the Wilson Collective. Together they came up with another Japanese sounding concept: the Scribble Jam.

“We were exploring how we can jam basically, how we can have a Scribble Jam, where they are generating visuals in an interesting way to music and including some of mine,” he enthuses. “It’s a collaboration seeing what will happen if we throw it all in the pot”.

Deakin promises live music, live drawing, live AV. Cheltenham will be spoiled for choice and the artist, quite naturally, will be in at least two places at once: “I think I’m going to be between two rooms, one with more live music and one with more what emerges upstairs in the gallery space”.

So, that’s downstairs for the uptempo local bands and upstairs for a more laidback gallery ambience, complete with folk guitarist. With support from Deakin, the Wilson Collective are curating both the music and the visuals.

The group includes illsutrators and filmmakers. “For me, it's trying to get an overlap really,” says Deakin. “When you bash all that together it’s when the really interesting AV stuff happens”.

But rumours that visitors will be drawing on museum walls appear to have been exaggerated. “We're going to hang some paper up there,” says Deakin. “We’re all going to have pens and stuff. People can join in and at the end of the night there’ll be a unique work of art.”

He may have rocked a few concert venues and festivals in his time, but Deakin is looking forward to this museum gig on May 15th: “Because people are very excited to be in a different space in a different context,” he says.

What’s more, the musician, designer and artist has a well-rounded understanding of Museums at Night: “It’s disrupting their relationship in some way, when people walk into a space that they’re used to being in in broad daylight. It’s late. They’ve got a beer in their hand. That is immediately exciting and unusual. I think it's great, bring it on.”

If Scribble Jam works, the Wilson Collective and their local network will surely feel “a bit more ownership” about what happens in their town. And it’s also “a way for the Wilson to welcome a new audience”. Like so many Museums at Night events, there’s a win-win scenario there.

“I’m not an expert on Cheltenham,” Deakin admits. “But they've got one really good second hand record shop”. Add to that a well-respected art school and you have the ingredients for a really good local scene.

“I’m really glad this event will be a catalyst for change,” he says. Perhaps museums in sleepy Spa towns should open late more often.

  • Fred Deakin will be at the Wilson Art Gallery and Museum in Cheltenham on May 17 2014.

Hundreds of events take place for Museums at Night between May 15-17 2014. Visit museumsatnight.org.uk and follow the festival on Twitter@MuseumsAtNight.

More on Museums at Night:

Space opera: Jessica Voorsanger talks sci-fi in Scunthorpe for Museums at Night

Volunteers share all: Spencer Tunick talks about his daring project for Museums at Night

Museums at Night 2014: Our guide to Newcastle and Gateshead's Late Shows

Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.
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