Stockport Council looks to the regenerative power of art to revive its ailing retail outlets

By Richard Moss | 01 March 2011
a photo of an art installation featuring a vacuum cleaner
‘Be Active’ – a collection of retro flying vacuum cleaners ‘sucking up’ the contents of the shop window.© Stockport Council
Among the many effects of the current economic climate the appearance of vacant shop units is one that may pale when compared to job losses, house repossessions and the rising cost of living.

But for council bosses in Stockport the sight of disused shop fronts in the town centre has become such a cause for concern they are turning to the age old civic practice of investing in art to revive their fortunes.

The council has invested £120,000 of its precious funds to try and improve the look of the shop fronts in the local shopping centre and, they hope, encourage businesses back.

Part of the Stockport Boost scheme the project at the Merseyway Shopping Centre is called the Vacant Commercial Units Initiative and sees windows dressed by designers and artists working with Stockport Art Gallery. Visual merchandising expert Jonathan Baker from the London College of Fashion has also been drafted in to help.

For the council this blending of art with regenerative economics is a practical way of giving Stockport’s High Streets a boost.

“This really is an inspiring way to animate empty shop units and bring the town centre to life by combining historic artefacts, cutting edge design and the very latest in visual merchandising techniques,” says Councillor John Smith, Executive Member for Leisure. “It is a winning formula aiming to get these units re-let by showing them in their best light.”

The results, which shoppers in the Cheshire town can now see for themsleves, are seven themed windows featuring works by the eco-designer Michelle Brand, textile designers Jane Withers, Nawal Gabreel, Clare Webster and artist Karl Christian Geleff.

Each piece attempts to communicate an imaginative story or scene by blending the historical artefacts with artworks referencing the former tenants who have occupied the space.
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