At Cabot Circus, brace yourself for the very worst if you dare. Roll up, roll up: it’s the January sales. Amateur clowns are in charge of unfathomable prices and it takes a world class trapeze artist to navigate that ever-thinning rope tying you to your sanity. And so, at Cabot 1: You Nil, it’s time to abandon ship. Or shop. But if you’re looking for an alternative to some distressing bargain hunting then head towards St James Barton Roundabout, walk under the subway and voilà: you’ll find The Outdoor Gallery on your proverbial doorstep.
It was launched rather mysteriously by the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft (PRSC) with the arrival of 20 panels of art in the subway back in October. With a definite nod in the direction of the “See No Evil” project on Nelson Street (which remains the UKs largest street art project and an absolute must see), the affectionately dubbed “Bear Pit” subway was transformed overnight.
The curators of the project were locals following the mantra “by local people for local people” and hoping this would be one of many projects in the pipeline to transform, improve and protect public spaces in Stokes Croft. The slow changing of hands of these areas away from corporate entities which currently govern and shape Bristol’s landscape and instead into the hands of local people is part of a movement aiming to create a cultural quarter in Bristol. Some of the materials were even funded by Destination Bristol, who, to their credit had no control over the content of the work, which was decided by local artists working to the loosest of briefs (and for free!)
It seems the art exhibition itself serves a dual purpose: simply put, it is to restore life in a rundown part of the city whilst simultaneously showcasing local art. There is no doubting that some of Bristol’s best up-and-coming artists have transformed the tunnels with their striking art, and sometimes bone-chilling messages. But perhaps less tangibly, there is something else at play here – to do with forming a new identity for a neglected area and taking ownership of it.
Some would say that graffiti had its heyday back when it was shocking, controversial or better still, an ugly medium of expressions for angst-y rebels without a cause. That these days street art has become “all just a bit too cliché.” So now that graffiti is appreciated and even commercial rather than simply a crime, are we no longer interested? Just because it can be admired; albeit somewhat pretentiously in coffee table books, does that strip it of its former glory as a revolutionary new art form? New and innovative urban design projects like The Outdoor Gallery are being heralded by the PRSC as small victories in the continual campaign to rediscover the heart of what defines the nature and character of Stokes Croft, and I’m inclined to agree. Certainly, this is the only art display I know of where buskers provide the soundtrack – and have been seen taking requests might I add.
The Harker provides a platform for young (unpaid) writing talent.