Funding secured by creatives in Old Trafford has led to five artists, including Russ Mehan of Mural Life , being selected to design and paint murals on buildings and walls in Old Trafford (OT). The trail is being designed with community input from local residents and businesses on what art will be produced and where it will be displayed. Lynda Sterling, Managing Director of OT Creative Space has worked tirelessly during the pandemic to get the funded needed for the artworks, said:
“Art doesn’t need to be displayed behind the barrier of a building; it can transcend into a community.” Lynda explained that the ethos behind the development of the mural trail, known as the OT Art Trail, was to bring together the community and to raise the profile of the area: “Old Trafford is such a close-knit community with an interesting mix of class, race and age. We wanted to find a way to bring all of that together.” Lynda says that this project offers people the chance to make an impact on their area and hopes it will encourage people to come and visit Old Trafford.
Illustrator Robert Lomas had always wanted to do a piece of art in Seymour Park. When asked why he agreed to be part of the trail he said, “it’s a great opportunity to spread some positivity and colour into the community.”
The other artists include, Martene Rouke, Jme Dzynz, Sam Owen Hull and Isaiah Hull. Isaiah is a 21-year-old spoken word poet from Old Trafford and a finalist in BBC Radio’s Words First competition. He has already found fame supporting great artists on stage such as Kay Tempest and Lemn Sissay. Isaiah is going to create a bespoke piece of poetry for the trail.
The social enterprise OT Creative Space was set to open in March 2020. Nestled between a coffee shop and a fried chicken takeaway on Ayres Road in Old Trafford, some may be surprised to find an art studio. Once a bustling butcher’s shop, Lynda Sterling and her husband Malcom, decided to renovate the old building into a purpose built art studio. They offer affordable studio space for local artists to work, run workshops and display their work in the shop window that acts as a mini gallery. “That’s the beauty of setting up our studio where we have. The footfall we get looking at our mini gallery in the shop window is amazing. We want to prove that art can be for all people. You can be creative no matter of your background and whether you know big words!”. Lynda said.
Before the pandemic hit, the OT Creative Space put in a funding bid to the Arts Council to have five murals painted around houses, buildings and community spaces in Old Trafford. As the pandemic swept the country, the arts were hit in a big way and many funding applications were halted. The group had to rethink how they could creatively serve the community. Lynda and her team wanted to bring art out in the everyday space.
Determined not to be thwarted by the pandemic, Lynda and her team decided to forge ahead with some of their art trail ideas. She obtained funding from the Trafford Council for the project #stayCreativeOT and says this was because “the council saw that creativity was an important response to the pandemic” and it allowed outdoor community activity, in a creative way. The hashtag also allowed those people at home isolating to stay connected to the project via social media. One use of the resources was to buy packs of chalks for people to leave messages of hope in the local parks. Lynda also made a monster trail from recycled products and a jam jar gallery. Each jam jar, dotted around the area, held a piece of artwork that reflected its location. She hung messages of encouragement in the trees for people to see on their daily walks – “We got this!” and “It will pass.” All of Lynda’s creations were designed to draw attention to objects or moments that often get overlooked, particularly at a time when everyone was pre-occupied with Covid worries.
As the pandemic continued, Lynda and her team went back to their original funding bid that had stalled as the Covid lockdown took hold, paralysing arts activity across the UK. They scaled down their ideas, reworked their proposal and reapplied. They were successful and Arts Council funding was awarded to the OT Art Trail in September. Lynda explained how considerations for the community during the pressures of Covid was key to their success:
“The OT Art Trail’s main feature is to work with the community and really make them feel that they are a part of the project. We needed to think about how we could get the most community input in a Covid safe way.”
The team put together art packs that people could take home and work on together as a family. Lynda did zoom workshops with local schools and community groups. Packs went out with the NHS Social Prescribing team, to the local care homes, and food banks. The team wanted to spread the message of inclusivity as far and wide as possible.
Once the art packs had been sent out, Lynda and her team needed to collate the suggested ideas. Deciding what art would go where and who would do what has been a balancing act. The community needs to have its voice heard, the artist needs to feel their work is authentic, and the home or business owner needs to be satisfied with what will go on the wall. “We’ve set up an advisory board which we’ve named OT Creative Voice” Lynda said. A group of people from a mixed demographic who have influence on the final say of the designs. Over 300 suggestions were sent in for consideration. The OT Creative Voice team worked hard to try and work out the key themes and what the community was saying to them. The artists are in the final stages of planning their designs and the trail is set to launch in May 2021. Watch this space for a follow up on the beautiful painted mural once they are painted.
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Feature image: OT Creative Space