Regeneration specialist, St. Modwen, has been working in partnership with art organisation WERK to enable artists to create a series of contemporary public artworks inspired by both the heritage and the current transformation and regeneration of Longbridge.
Friday November 16, saw the unveiling of a heritage map designed by local resident and ex-MG Rover employee, John Baker. The map, made from layers of stainless steel, contains etchings that depict the site circa 1985. The map visually and physically commemorates Longbridge’s heritage in the British car manufacturing industry and the rich layered social history that saw generations of local families working at the factory.
The map, 1.6m by 3.5m in size, has been installed in Longbridge town centre on the side of the multi story car park adjacent to M&S.
The map forms part of a wider programme known as the Longbridge Public Art Project (LPAP) by WERK. Since 2012, over 60 artists from Birmingham and the rest of the UK, Europe and the USA have been invited to Longbridge to create a series of temporary and permanent contemporary public artworks. As part of the project, hundreds of activities have taken place including pop up-exhibitions, educational workshops, alternative history walks, food markets and two light festivals.
The LPAP has encouraged local residents to participate in artist and community-led cultural activities that aimed to share memories and explore together the rich history of Longbridge. As a result of this long-term community driven process, 11 diverse permanent public artworks have been created, each achieving a unique sense of place.
Claire Farrell, Director and Project Curator of WERK, said: “Working collectively with artists, residents and former factory workers enabled us to produce a project that was about the history, transformation and recreation of Longbridge. Perhaps most importantly, it was also a project created for Longbridge.
“It was refreshing to work with St. Modwen because of the developer’s openness to embrace a process that placed value on the role of an artist facilitating research and engagement without prescribed outcomes.”
Chris Newsome, Development Director at St. Modwen, added: “As Longbridge enters an innovative new era, it’s important that we commit to projects that see the history of this town recognised and continue to build on its legacy through the current regeneration.
“St. Modwen leads the way in delivering quality places to live and work and the Longbridge Public Art Project is testament to that. This map typifies the contemporary art project’s responsive approach and St. Modwen’s ethos, which is to celebrate and wherever possible conserve the heritage of place.”
John Baker, the former MG Rover factory worker and creator of the heritage map, said: “As an Austin Apprentice from 1958, Longbridge was my home for nearly 40 years. It was a very sad day for the community when the factory closed. I was passionate about reminding people how well the Austin served us both in war and peace time.”
Accompanying the heritage map is a series of plaques entitled ‘Longbridge Archives: This is the Spot’, created by Birmingham-based artist, Steven Burke. Burke’s six Rover-red art plaques dotted around Longbridge town centre mark the former factory locations which have been redeveloped, such as K Gate, North Works, Foundry and No. 5 Machine Shop.
Members of the public can scan QR codes that have been embedded into the plaques to access an archive of original photographs, quotations, memories and stories from Longbridge residents and former workers on their smartphones, transforming the new town centre into a unique digital museum.
A fully restored 1275GT Mini made at the plant in 1979 has also been unveiled and driven back to where it originated. The Mini has been restored by Birmingham-based award-winning photographer and contemporary artist Stuart Whipps.
Earlier this month, German artistic duo FAMED (Sebastian Kretzschmar and Jan Thomaneck) installed a ‘lightbox’ as part of a new walkway between Austin Park and the Beefeater restaurant in Longbridge.
The artwork consists of a series of consecutive illuminated letters set into the floor, which read: ‘We resemble our times more than we resemble our parents’. The statement, a quote by French philosopher and situationist Guy Debord, is indicative of the artists’ experiences of the transformation and future of the Longbridge site.
The Longbridge Public Art Project (LPAP), created in September 2012, was set up by arts organisation WERK with significant support from St. Modwen, Birmingham City Council, Bournville College and Arts Council West Midlands in response to the huge transition of Longbridge.
To discover more about some of the additional art installations in Longbridge, please visit www.werk.org.uk