Any idea what you get when you throw 8 artists , 1 shop, 25,572 people and 5 Ways together?

I’ve been working with a group called Friction Arts in Birmingham on a major new participatory arts project they are going to unleash on the city at Easter.

TEST BED is worth keeping an eye on, even if I do say so myself. Here’s some information culled from a press release we’re putting out:

What is ‘proper art’?

As far as Lee Griffiths is concerned, the answer is not the zoo-like displays at many galleries and museums.

He believes the answer lies in TEST BED, a project based around those living and working in the Five Ways area of Birmingham.

“For too long art made with people has had a reputation as not being ‘proper art’, the things you find in an art gallery or a museum,” explained Lee, a director of Friction Arts.

“We see galleries and the like as ‘zoos’ for art and we’re concerned with freeing it, so it can be experienced properly instead of being examined by a minority of enthusiasts.”

Lee is keen to avoid the term ‘community arts’ when describing TEST BED. “As a label, it is rather misleading,” he added. “It lends one to think of workshops, face-painting and, heaven forbid, murals. 

“The eight artists we are working with are informed by communities, sites and locations, they are not ‘community artists’. 

“Instead of proposing that work for a gallery environment and audience, they showcase and exhibit it where it was made and in front of those audiences. 

“We aim to challenge our audience and participants.”

TEST BED involves eight artists making new work specific to people and place. The location and community of Five Ways Shopping Centre, Birmingham, will inform the creation of the work.

In his work with Friction Arts, Lee has been at the forefront of what he refers to as ‘art where you live’ for 15 years. Yet despite gaining national and international recognition for the quality and range of the group’s work, it still does not enjoy a high profile in its home city.

It was this discrepancy that partly inspired Lee to approach eight Birmingham-based artists to take part in the TEST BED project.

The artists are – Harry Palmer, George Saxon, Darryl Georgiou, Pauline Bailey, Julie O’Neill, Sandra Hall, Nelson Douglas and Mark Storer.

I’m very concerned with the role of art in society, our projects live outside the normal places where you expect to encounter art,” said Lee. “It involves people as participants as well as audience and I put these two ideas together to create TEST BED.”

After securing funding from Arts Council West Midlands, Birmingham Business Link and West Midlands Creative Alliance for the project, Birmingham will become an art TEST BED at Easter.

The eight artists have the widest brief imaginable – there isn’t one, other than basing whatever they chose to do around the Curio City Shop.

The shop was established by Friction Arts at the Five Ways Shopping Centre in 2005 and working with local people who visit the site.

“Perhaps a better term might be that TEST BED will be ‘active’ art,” added Lee.

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