WINDOWS OF LEEDS
On the occasion of the British Art Show opening at Leeds Art Gallery I commissioned Unfold, a programme of events, exhibitions and marketing showcasing the wider visual arts scene in the city. Although the marketing and event raised the profile of the full spectrum of visual arts in the city, in order to reach out to new audiences and remind them that the city’s galleries, studios, workshops and classrooms were waiting for them we wanted a more visible and permanent reference.
I commissioned two new pieces of public art in high footfall areas, one of which was Windows of Leeds in the busy Leeds Railways Station reminding commuters that there is more to the city that meets the eye and welcoming visitors new and old. The project also included the commissioning of the George Street Mural.
Leeds Railway Station will soon welcome more people per day than Gatwick Airport, yet its interior is dated and shabby, there was little in the train station to locate visitors and the Tourist Information Centre had recently closed. Many key stakeholders in the city were keen to see an improvement and wanted a message of 'welcome' for new arrivals, particularly international visitors who would be getting their first impression of the city travelling to the station from Manchester Airport and London. The busy station offered an ideal platform to remind to people that there is more to the city than meets eye as often galleries and studios are not clearly sign posted and can be hard to find if you don't know where to look.
Originally the brief asked for a 'Welcome to Leeds' sign that could be suspended from the back of the information screens and be a prominent and visual marker on arrival. The train station is a complex environment to work within, managing high volumes of pedestrian traffic at peak times, mitigating visual clutter and managing the tricky balance of the need for commercial advertising space with the opportunity to support city messaging and major events. The brief was to create a welcome sign that would also act as a platform for the creativity and artistic talent in the city without upsetting the balance of city messaging versus advertising.
Something More put forward a bold proposal which suggested a move away from the screens which are not in the obvious sight line of arrivals and rather than an overt and obvious messages of welcome in the usual array of languages, something that was more of a focal point and landmark for new arrivals. Their proposal drew inspiration from the large letters other cities have adopted at gateways such as Amsterdam's I Amsterdam sign at Schipol International Airport, but with a creative twist that would give a high profile and adaptable platform to artists and designers in the city.
The proposal was to create large letters that could have the inner panels changed to either advertise major cultural events or to showcase the talent in the city. The first iteration of the project worked with the city's illustrators and graphic designers to create five different takes on the cultural life of the city. A risky proposal to support given that it didn't meet the stakeholder demand for a sign that specifically read 'Welcome to Leeds' or utilise the preferred space at the back of the screens, however this proposal was by far the most creative, the most flexible and would achieve what stakeholders wanted without feeling like an obvious and cliched exercise in marketing and branding.
We went ahead with the proposal and were able to negotiate with the train station to find a prominent new site for the letters, which now have a permanent home in the station and a six month rolling programme of new inner panels each time featuring an different artistic discipline and artist or collaborations connected to the city. The letters have become a much photographed meeting point for the thousands of people who use the station every day and a reminder that the city is also home to a diverse artistic community of illustrators, graphic designers, artists, photographers and more.