In August 2021 North Lincolnshire presented artist Luke Jerram’s ‘Of Earth and Sky,’ a large-scale visual art trail constructed from poetry written by residents. The project was a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and was 20-21 Visual Arts Centre‘s (20-21) first public-realm exhibition that brought together a range of partners from across the region, as part of the celebration of 20-21’s 20th anniversary.
20-21’s 20th birthday took place in May this year and the Centre was able to show The Museum of the Moon by Luke Jerram, but having the opportunity to also present a second piece – Of Earth and Sky –meant more people would have the chance to engage. This outdoor exhibition allowed interaction and connection with 20-21 and their partners in a way that was COVID-resilient, and reached audiences who may have never accessed the arts previously. It inspired people to stay connected to the gallery.
Digital and physical poetry workshops were offered and open to all ages and abilities. Residents were encouraged to submit their poetry to the project via an online campaign. The resulting artwork was presented across Scunthorpe at 23 sites that formed a walkable trail, finishing at the newly regenerated Church Square outside 20-21. The trail crossed through areas of low arts engagement, broadening audiences by making the art physically accessible and challenging people to reconnect with areas of the town and stay active.
The project saw great partnerships form in the area, between the various departments of North Lincolnshire Council, including Libraries; Adult, Community and Family Learning; the Operations team (Parks, Ground and Open Space); the Active Lifestyles Team (including the Health & Wellbeing Activators involved in GP Referrals,) as well as with local schools and colleges and the North Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust.
Residents were invited to share all types and themes of poetry, with organisers encouraging entries that explore a sense of pride, ownership or curiosity for Scunthorpe or North Lincolnshire as a whole. The poetry collected through open call and targeted workshops shaped the phrases used in the trail. 192 people overall submitted work or took part in a workshop.
20-21 provided these activities to reduce loneliness, support wellbeing and reconnect socially through the act of creating and submitting content for Of Earth and Sky. A key part of 20-21’s aims was to engage people who would not normally consider themselves poets with a series of ‘roaming’ drop-in sessions, followed up with a poetry session for beginners and English as an Additional Language students.
Visits to the gallery in August were 90% of those in 2019 and 114% in September comparatively – outdoing 20-21’s aim for 75% of the 2019 figures.
The project enabled 20-21 to develop new approaches, new partnerships, create audiences and opportunities for learning, and mark the 20-year milestone even under restrictions. It was the first multi-site exhibition in the outdoors with hybrid digital elements around Scunthorpe. The 20-21 team increased their understanding of presentation possibilities under health restrictions, strengthened pandemic working practices with communities, allowing new and alternative ways of delivering audience engagement and growing audiences for local art.