Partnership working: Artist Residencies at the Old Fire Station in Carlisle

Partnership working: Artist Residencies at the Old Fire Station in Carlisle

by Professor Mark Wilson: Immersion/Emergence

It’s always exciting to announce new collaborations – the enabling mechanisms of shared vision, hope and purpose between parties that make manifest, ambitious ideas not realisable by either party alone.

In the coming year (2017/18), the University of Cumbria Institute of the Arts in partnership with Carlisle City Council and funded by Arts Council England will host two Artist Residencies at the Old Fire Station Arts Centre in Carlisle.

These residencies will bring contemporary art making and discourse to the heart of the City and this already dynamic and successful performing arts venue. In establishing this pilot programme, together we will be commissioning new contemporary artworks and activities to inform and enrich the growing cultural capital and dynamism of the City.

A regional and national call has gone out to emerging artists to put forward proposals in response to the Residency’s theme Immersion/Emergence.

Partly in acknowledgement of the principles of ‘immersion’ and its value as a condition of ‘knowing’ – a place, a culture, a community – it is expected that these residencies will reflect in some way on the impact of floods in Carlisle and on the processes of recovery. The first flood in 2005 eventually caused the Fire and Rescue Service permanently to vacate the Old Fire Station building. The second, in 2015, just 7 months after opening as an arts centre, enforced its closure, followed by a further year of refurbishment.

Over the last twenty years, fine art undergraduates and graduates of University of Cumbria Institute of Arts have generated, participated in and infused the culture of Carlisle with workshops, open days (West Walls Studios, 11th Hour Studios, Fisher Street Collective, The Pharmacy) innovative exhibitions and interventions using pop-up gallery models (Tempa Tempa, The Griffin, The Galley, Business Interaction Centre and many more) as well as off-site actions and ‘situations’.

Over the last two years, in addition to these initiatives, these students and graduates have been instrumental (from a very early stage) in priming the Old Fire Station itself as a potential venue for visual/contemporary art. In no small part, it is their enthusiasm, professionalism and innovation both in their productions and curatorial skills that has instilled in the City Council the confidence to invest in the present collaboration with the university and its’ Institute of the Arts.

From early in 2014 it’s been our pleasure to work with Council representatives Stephen Dunn and Gavin Capstick towards a more formal and sustainable relationship whereby specific spaces within the Fire Station could be allotted, on a semi-permanent basis, to the production and exhibition of art projects. Immersion/Emergence is the result. An integrated and concurrent programme of public talks and events is planned to enrich, widen and deepen awareness and the effects of contemporary art and as part of the scheme, UCIA undergraduates and alumni will also be encouraged to participate and share in these activities, thereby maintaining and extending a circle of beneficiaries to include all communities of Carlisle and Cumbria.

It’s been said that people need art and artists more for what they do rather necessarily than for the things they make. (Büchler, 1999, p.44). Immersion/Emergence will be a mechanism by which ‘town and gown’ and Artist Residents alike may meet and positively test both art’s processes and productions and in turn, that increasingly, nationally, Carlisle and Cumbria are recognized as sites of cultural vitality and stimulation.

Interested in getting involved? Read more about the Artist Residencies available at the Old Fire Station Arts Centre in Carlisle.

Büchler, P. (1999) Other people’s cultures from ‘Curious’ (ed. Susan Brind) Glasgow, Visual Arts Projects