It seems like only yesterday the artists from Chapel Arts Studios were preparing to open the ‘Bureau of Exchange’ pop-up shop on Union Street but on Saturday the Bureau opened its doors for the last time – the last four weeks have flown by!
On Saturday afternoon the last day of the project was marked by the ‘March for Optimism’, a community procession through the town centre with people wielding banners & placards decorated with optimistic slogans. With local community leaders, school children and families, volunteers and artists all taking part, the cheerful rabble managed to coax smiles and waves from the bemused onlookers. We have a sneaking suspicion the brief encounter left them feeling just that little bit more optimistic than before.
Artists and volunteers have been working tirelessly over the past four weeks to deliver an ever-changing programme of workshops, exhibitions and events all with the intent of creating an all-inclusive space where people can come to think about what gives things value.
The Bureau was a pop-up shop for community rather than commerce; creativity and conversation was it’s currency.
The Bureau was a public art project which allowed people to determine their own value systems.
It became a social space in the truest sense, without the need to buy a latte or panini just to spend time with another human being. The sheer variety of what was on offer is mind-boggling and testament to the breadth of talent amongst CAS artists. There really was something for everyone.
Children and adults alike enjoyed learning how to screen print, book bind and make mini zines at Tom Mortimer’s Zine Fair during half term. Visitors also had the opportunity to see work by zine artists of international standing thanks to guest artists Alternative Press and Mine Sweeper.
Children from Icknield school participated in a series of workshops led by Deborah Skinner. Using recycled materials to create unique shoebox compositions that contributed towards their Arts Award certificate, the workshops asked the children to think about the question: ‘What’s It Worth?’. There were also after school workshops where parents and children transformed their broken toys into treasured sculptures with Yonat Nitzan-Green. Both of these activities allowed the participants to reflect through conversation with the artists on the value of these objects and the creative act of re-appropriating them.
If you’ve been out and about in Andover recently, you may also have come across a woman dressed in white, hand spinning wool. If you happened to stop and talk to her then your conversation has been spun into beautiful yarn and makes up part of the web of connections Laurence Dube-Rushby has been mapping throughout the town. Also on offer was a pewter casting workshop where people learnt how to make coins decorated with the ‘heart’ of Andover – the route along nearby roads which formed the basis of her journeys.
People were invited to imagine alternatives to current economic models when Lydia Heath brought The Freed Market to the shop. Over five days a plethora of different payment systems were explored through swap shops, skill sharing, intercepted food waste, workshops and performance. Transactions were documented and displayed provoking animated discussion about what makes one object worth more than another. Perhaps most significant was people’s reluctance to accept that goods and services could be bought without money, they just couldn’t seem to get their head around it. The swap shop in particular facilitated some very personal exchanges with people trading poems, life-hacks & skills for the objects they wanted.
Then there was the week that David Dixon transformed the shop into a sprawling cardboard cityscape made up of both fictional and real buildings created by the public and artist. People were asked to respond to the question: ‘Where do you want to live?’ and bring life to their imaginings. Cyanotype and animation workshops were also on offer which in turn became part of the fabric of the city. And as if that wasn’t enough, Susan Francis collected people’s stories of the night and transformed them into a late night performance using light, paper and olive oil.
To say it’s been a busy month is somewhat of an understatement, but it would have all been in vain had it not been for the wonderful people of Andover. We’ve been delighted by the enthusiasm and sheer volume of visitors coming through the door (800 in four weeks!).
The purpose of the project was to reimagine what a community space could be if it freed itself from the need to generate an income. One of the remarks we heard again and again from visitors was how important it was to have a place to come to that didn’t cost them anything. Very few social spaces offer this and in austere times such as this they provide a vital service to the lonely and the vulnerable. We lost count of the amount of times people lamented that this was just a four week project, wishing a permanent space like this existed in the town centre.
The project has raised the visibility of the Chapel Arts Artists who up until now have been working almost invisibly in the chapel in St Mary’s cemetery. Creativity became a vehicle for conversation and as well as people having the opportunity to learn new skills, it also contributed to a sense of community amongst local people. Children had a safe place to play whilst parents and adults had a chance to put their feet up and breathe. No expectations were placed on anyone and all were welcome, it was a place to simply ‘be’.
Sadly, as with all good things, it must (and has) come to an end. Despite the fact that the Bureau was exploring money-less collaborations and exchange, there was a finite amount of money behind it that made it possible. The project was supported by The Arts Council England, Test Valley Arts Foundation and the generosity of local volunteers and businesses. There were numerous donations of time, resources and materials that allowed the project to happen and were living proof of all the other currencies in action that aren’t officially recognised in our economy.
Who knows what the future holds for Bureau of Exchange, our hope is that it will become a regular event, and if the reception of the people of Andover is anything to go by, this is their wish too. But for now all that remains is to say a huge heartfelt thank you to all the people that have come and taken part in the various activities and events and those that have supported us by spreading the word to others. The interactions between the artists and public have inspired and uplifted us, making all the hard work more than worth it.
Until next time Andover…