Thoughts on the James Carling International Pavement Art Competition, Liverpool 2011

I wrote this last month in response to some questions from Anthony Cappetto from Street Painting TV.

Competition ID badge- GOCKER

2011 Competition ID badge- GOCKER

•          We have seen that the festival is getting a large deal of attention in the UK, Hong Kong, and Mexico, as well as a jump in attendance from last year via your FB page. Where do you see the growth of the festival in the next 1-3 years in terms of community, sponsors, perhaps extended sister festivals? 

Yes, there has been an increase all round, according to the people with the clickers; footfall has gone up from 14,000 people last year to 20,000 this year. Also the number of artists taking part, in 2008 we started with 14 local  artists, this year we had almost 40 with a 50/50 split between local/UK and international artists.

The event has developed from a one day competition to a six day celebration of pavement art and is now part of Liverpool’s annual Bold Street Festival.  The James Carling competition is considered to be the UK’s premier festival of this art form and this is reflected in the quality of art & artists taking part. Also in the way that funders and local businesses have more than tripled their investment in this year’s event as compared to last year. It’s important to note that all funding is from private investment via City Central BID. This means that we don’t take the tax payers pound or rely on arts council funding, which in this current economic climate can be problematic.

With regards to the festival growth in coming years, we have always viewed this as an organic thing, I’m sure you know the Kevin Costner film FIELD OF DREAMS “build it and they will come” well that’s very much our philosophy, it is not our ambition to become the biggest event ever; we do know of festivals that engage 100’s of artists, they all seem very well organised and attract lots of attention amongst both the arts community and the public. But the bigger the event, the bigger the headache and the number of paymasters you have to satisfy.

We are more interested in the experience and ‘atmosphere’ being created for both the artists taking part and the public visiting. We are not interested in the WOW factor or attracting big named ‘celebrity’ artists, if they want to come well that’s fine but it’s always been about the little things and what impression the individual takes away with them, that’s how you grow an event, through word of mouth.

We always ask the question “did the person taking part or visiting enjoy the experience?”  Little things matter like “is the surface suitable for great pavement art?” and “is this something we’d like to visit or take part in ourselves?”

When I talk about ‘atmosphere’ I’m describing something that is often forgotten about or dismissed, most street art events are centred around the ‘competition’ or the physical reality of the production of great pavement art; there is nothing wrong with this and in many ways it seems to be the most logical approach. But for us this is just the by-product of the creative process. We take a more artist-centric approach.

Pavement Artists do much more than this, they actually curve time and space. By creating art in a public place they enter into a ‘zone’ where time slows down, they are in a different physical reality than the people who visit and observe the
art. So what effect does this have on the event?

Well it changes the ‘atmosphere’ a once drab, uninteresting square in the middle of a big city becomes transformed into a relaxed & friendly place to be, strangers start talking to each other and children start creating art & laughing and magic is unleashed. We don’t understand all the dynamics of this but then we don’t have to, all we need to know is that it works.  To make sure it works we insist on no distractions, no loud music, no performers etc. in the immediate vicinity, these are the details that many event organisers tend to misunderstand…… pavement art doesn’t need any of that stuff, it’s a performance art within its own right and within its own time zone and this is what we should be celebrating. We have been at events where pavement artists are competing with Brass bands & street performers and it doesn’t work, the organisers are just missing the point.

In terms of festival growth & sponsorship these have different agendas such as foot-fall, value to the local economy and positive marketing opportunities for the city; in this difficult economic climate pavement art is uniquely placed and could actually benefit from a recession. People will always want to enjoy art & culture and where better than in a public place….it’s cheaper/free to watch and participate and I think it’s one future for development. The event will change and develop organically as long as we stay true to our core values. Of course the venues and funders may change but after three years we have developed a great working model with excellent local/national & international arts community support. Local people who we have no connection with have started to blog it, sharing videos and photos on-line and taking ownership over the event and that’s very satisfying.

We are all in favour of extending to ‘sister’ festivals as long as we understand what this involves and we can count on local support for cultural exchange funding. We have had a conversation with Rosy Loyola from Festival Bella Via, Mexico about this and indeed this year we entered into a tentative arrangement where two Mexican artists came to Liverpool with flights paid for by Bella Via and we covered meals, travel within the UK and accommodation. This worked quite well and we loved having them here; we would dearly like to build on this relationship but we must make sure we have funding opportunities or sponsorship in place before we enter into formal arrangements.  We are also interested in linking to more local events like those in Toulon in France and Utrecht in Holland.

It’s important to note that we are just lowly pavement artists organising this event from an artist centric view point, so unlike some organisers we are not directly connected to local authorities, marketing or arts council funding…so finding out were money is available and how we can access it can take a little more effort!


2011 competition ID Badge- Judge

2011 competition ID Badge- Judge

•          Your thoughts on the children’s’ area of the festival, we are always excited about seeing the street painting (screeving) art form shared and encouraged to future artists.

The Little Chalkers Competition is one of our favourite bits, we organise it on exactly the same lines as the main adult competition where children have to register, are given a pitch & some chalks and enter into competition with other children in their age category. It’s a great feature and one of mine & Catherine’s favourite places to hang out! This year we had almost 100 children taking part, all inspired by the amazing works being produced. To us the children’s competition is a core element to the event, it’s also key from an historical point of view, we must remember that Victorian pavement artist James Carling was only 5 years of age when he went onto the streets as a poor urchin, and became known as ‘The Little Chalker’

Street art is a great way to promote creativity, it ticks all the boxes; it’s performance, visual, physical, creative and playful……remember the olden days when kids used to ‘play-out’ well they don’t do that anymore, or very rarely, many reason for that, but street art offers the opportunity for creative play and that can only be a good thing, also it sets the scene for future artists and festivals leaving the next generation with a really positive impression of this art form that we love so dearly; only time will change people’s perceptions and the so called ‘stigma’ of pavement artists as ‘beggars’ will remain well and truly in the past.

On top of that if we light a flame in only one of those children, who feels inspired enough to believe they could grow up and become an artist then our job is complete….there are not enough artists in the world. Perhaps if there were then wars would be a thing of the past? It’s just a theory!


2011 Little Chalkers Eflyer

2011 Little Chalkers Eflyer

•          Let’s discuss the growth of the local screevers, whom are the artists to see and what did they do for the festival this year?

The Liverpool term for a pavement artist is GOCKER, it’s thought to originate in Ireland and was first used by James Carling in 1870.

You know it’s always gratifying to see local artists returning year after year. This started out as a local art event in 2008 and when we introduced an international element to it as we did last year we weren’t sure how the local artists would take to it. Some people did get upset by the prospect of artists coming in from ‘outside’ as they saw it, but most artists have risen to the challenge, realising that there is much to be gained in the cross pollination of art & culture that benefits everybody. The artists we’ve really been impressed with are the likes of Keith Fearon from Liverpool and Christine Edwards from Manchester who before 2008 had never done street art and now they are major prize winners at this year’s event. Also the artists from other parts of the UK like Heike Brinkman from London, Alex Hobby from Newark & Annabel Slater from Oxford.

They all bring their unique talents and vision to the event. We also have a soft spot for our new first timers like Martin Joseph from Liverpool who has never done pavement art before but won a prize at this year’s event.  If you had asked me that question a few years ago I would have struggled to name anybody but it just goes to show that events like this create opportunities for artists that previously didn’t exist. The opportunity to create, shine and learn from others and the chance to share your talents with the world & travel….this can only be a good thing right?

Also we’ve noticed the distinct differences in approach and subject matter between the British, Dutch, Italian, American & Mexican artists; although we are all artists there are differences and it’s something to be celebrated, these differences extend to the festivals and events organised around the world, I know for a fact that an Italian style event such as the one in Nocera, Italy would not work in the UK and probably visa-versa. But the main thing is that we are all creating art and engaging with our public. It’s a great feeling to be part of an international arts movement that is outside the confines of the arts establishment and exists in spite of them and without them!


2011 Event Logistics ID Badge

2011 Event Logistics ID Badge

•          Any other items that would be good for us to post but aren’t really enhanced in other posts in social media?

 One of the important things for us was to connect with the past; have a sense of place and remember where you have come from, so when we heard about the story of James Carling back in 2008 from a local history group it seemed natural  for us to organise an event in his name. Until recently the story of pavement art & artists has been poorly documented and the Carling story is one of the very few early accounts and records, it could easily make for a good film. We were pleased to see Kurt Wenner featuring James Carling in his new book The Asphalt Renaissance.

James Carling has sent us on a journey to discover more and we found records, photos, publications and ephemera of   largely unknown pavement artists across the UK and beyond.  The world we live in today is a million miles away from these street artists….a world in which pavement artists have the luxury to write books, travel the world, earn a good living and even become famous through working the paving stone, this would have been unimaginable back then.  And that’s why James Carling matters; it reminds us of where we came from, who we are. It informs our world and gives gravity to our culture and that’s why we celebrate.

For a list of all the winners from 2011 visit The James Carling web-page.

For up to the minute photos of the event visit The Liverpool Chalk Circle on Flickr.

For up to the minute news on next year’s event join The James Carling Facebook Group.

For more info on the history of pavement art or to share your own stories ‘LIKE’ our ARTISTS OF THE PAVING STONE page on Facebook.

For more info on UrbanCanvas street art activities ‘LIKE’ us on Facebook.

© Philip Battle (UrbanCanvas)

Liverpool, United Kingdom.
21st October 2011

This entry was published on November 12, 2011 at 12:59 pm. It’s filed under arts, culture, History, liverpool, street art and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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