Street Art Adventures 1

Recently I have been given the opportunity to explore making art on the streets around the Parson Cross area of Sheffield. The plan is to produce a series of images in the area for Advent to explore the idea of hope and life emerging in the ordinary places where we all live and work. Little did I realise how profound an experience this would turn out to be.

This is what happened when I began to paint on the walls of a derelict Bingo Hall on a roundabout near the heart of the estate…




The image is by no means finished yet, and time will tell how it turns out, but more important to me is the experience of the process of creating something in such a public space. Whilst I have made art on the streets in the past it has always been on my own paper, on an easel – a creative space that I own and I control, even if I can’t control the public space around me. This was different though, I have never felt genuinely scared making art but I felt real trepidation as I sprayed the paint onto grey breeze blocks.

For some time I have thought that when we act courageously and creatively we open up the potential for love to break through into the world (Jesus called it the Kingdom of God) but I hadn’t realised how vulnerable and exposed it would make me feel.

As soon as I began to paint then cars on the busy roundabout began to honk their horns. I faced the wall, not wanting to see the expression on their faces. But when I eventually plucked up the courage to turn around I saw that the drivers were giving me thumbs up as they went past.

And then the passers by, mostly young men as it happened, who would approach me to say how great it was that someone was doing something like this, or that I should add a ganja leaf to the design, or concerned that I might get caught. Taking the creative risk can draw out so much goodness in people.

A teenage lad, on his half term break, came and watched me for a while. We chatted about his life and he eyed the paints, it was clear he was itching to have a go. In the end I let him and he cut out a small heart stencil and sprayed 3 red hearts connected together in one corner of the image and he told me that this was ‘the second best thing that’s ever happened to me’.

At times police cars cruised around the roundabout slowly and eventually a community support officer approached me to ask what I was doing. I explained the project and that I had permission to work here and he told me that they’d had a few calls from people concerned about what I was doing.

As I reflect on how different people responded it was the young men in their late teens and twenties who came and spoke to me in support, middle aged people mostly scurried past with their heads down, I wonder who called the police? I’m not criticising those who did, it’s good that there are civic minded people about, but it is interesting what actions (and what kind of art) attracts or alienates different types of people. The Officer took down my details and it was one of the few times in my life when I have emphasised the fact that I am a Reverend! He was a good man and we chatted about the community.

Late in the afternoon, as the image began to come together from the random lines and colours, a couple stopped to chat. I don’t recall mentioning to them that I worked for the church but the man showed me a rosary round his neck and said he was a Catholic although he hadn’t been to church for years. The woman was pregnant with her fourteenth child and worried about the future, they wanted me to write their names on the wall and pray for them. I told them that this picture was my prayer for the whole community. Then I pointed to the pattern that the lad had stencilled earlier in the day and told them that those three hearts would be the prayer for the two of them and their unborn child. They were deeply moved and grateful and I was left dumbfounded at how simple symbols and actions can have such a profound effect on people.

Thinking about that afternoon I am in awe at the depth of humanity I encountered and how my fumbling act of creation somehow made the space sacred. I had the sense of participating in something much bigger than I am, something way out of my control. Call it what you like; as a person seeking to follow Christ I might call it the Spirit of God, but those words are so frail and inadequate to encompass the reality.

In the Old Testament, God speaks to Moses from a burning bush and tells him to take off his sandals because he is standing on holy ground. Next time I am out at Parson Cross to finish off the painting on that shabby building, in the midst of the detritus of the street, perhaps I should do it in bare feet…

18 thoughts on “Street Art Adventures 1

  1. this is amazing ric. thank you for having a big enough heart to care for this place. May God bless you and the people you meet and who see this art. AMEN!

    • I presume the person leaving the above comment knows nothing about Parson Cross nor its people!
      This area is full of people who have worked hard all their lives in the mills and factories of Sheffield, many to the detriment of their own health. They helped to build the city of Sheffield and deserve praise, not patronage. They are proud and independent people but the area was deliberately run down in order to access government and EU funding. There is a long-standng community here who have no desire to move and regret it’s deliberate destruction so that private housing can be built and intellectuals brought in on good wages to repair damage deliberately done to their lives by government and local council policies.

  2. I drove around the roundabout a couple of times last night to enjoy what is emerging – thanks so much for your thoughts on the experience. I think there is something deeply prophetic and prayerful about engaging in this community in bare feet. Going and being present in vulnerability is very powerful – I encourage you to ensure you don’t lose that position.

  3. Your reflections are part of the art too – powerful thoughts on the process of engagement. Keep up the work on the edge, its the place to be.looking forward to seeing more…PS. You made me laugh out loud and made me own the term ‘reverend’ more fully even for a few brief moments!

  4. Thanks for these encouraging words (and I’m glad I helped you own the term ‘Reverend’ James!)Hopefully I can get out there again today to work on it some more – weather permitting.Ric

  5. Ric, it is interesting to note that you and the Community Policeman referred to inhabitants of Parson Cross as ‘the community’ as if we are clones and to be judged as one. 16,000 people live here each with different traits, values, qualities and, as with organisations such as the church, politics or the police, each member is an individual and worthy of recognition as such. I have lived here all my life and would not dare venture to think I had sufficient knowledge of all residents to pass an opinion of them as if they were a ‘collective’. A habit which many ‘passing through’ appear to have developed.

  6. I am sorry I am currently on leave and will not be checking or responding to emails. <br/> I will response as soon as possible on my return.

  7. Thanks for your comment Mary. I would never consider a community to be made up of clones, even less would I judge a community either positively or negatively in the light of encounters on the street. Maybe a better word would have been ‘communities’ to reflect the different social groups and networks that exist in the area. I’m sure plenty of people passing through have developed an opinion about all residents – I prefer to deal with individuals and would be very wary about makign generalised judgements about a nieghbourhood. My experience of the people of Parson Cross has been a very positive one and the response I recieved from people I met whilst i was making this piece of art was warm and friendly.I understand your concern that people, and artists in particular, sometimes just pass through. Rest assured that I made this piece in consultation with friends and colleagues who live in the neighbourhood and are committed to working alongside those who live there.

  8. <html> <head> <style><!– .hmmessage P { margin:0px; padding:0px } body.hmmessage { font-size: 12pt; font-family:Calibri } –></style></head> <body class=’hmmessage’><div dir=’ltr’>To explain my cynicism I send a copy of a verse written by a visiting ‘artist’ and condoned by many others&nbsp;who should have know better (Nick Waterfield worked with Ania on the book in which this is included).&nbsp; Despite my complaints they refuse&nbsp;to condemn its wording but I believe it to be disgraceful and a slur on the whole neighbourhood, many people&nbsp;of which I know have recently gained degrees.&nbsp; 1 a First in computer engineering, 1 in computer analysing, 1 in Sport @ Exercise Science and twins now studying at Master level.&nbsp; All living and educated in Parson Cross.&nbsp; These are just a handful of people within my own circle&nbsp;and there must be many more who are undeserving of Ania’s scorn.&nbsp;&nbsp;Other artists have created an animation of the lyrics and placed it on the internet.&nbsp; Some other so-called ‘responsible adults’ charged with&nbsp;overseeing teenagers have created a&nbsp;video in which a young commentator claims that ‘every house on Parson Cross is filthy’ and&nbsp;placed it on the internet with no means for redress for those to which it refers because they have no knowledge of the existence of any of these..&nbsp;<BR> &nbsp;<BR> Here is what sparked my anger:<BR> &nbsp;<BR> &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Rotting Heads in Parson Cross<BR> &nbsp;<BR> Burping lasses chewing gum, dirty pavements, human scum<BR> Rows of shops selling shit always prone to take a hit<BR> Local gangs of 10 year olds armed with stones and dirty words<BR> Empty houses farming weed, gardens filled with heaps of shit<BR> Television always on watching what you know is wrong<BR> Neighbours shoting turn it down, no one wants to give a damn<BR> Oldies buying smelly fish, just five pence per moulding dish<BR> Big fat faces in the aisles, young mums racing with a pram.<BR> &nbsp;<BR> Rotting heads in PX<BR> Growing bored of an estate life<BR> Drugs, dole, firt and a flick&nbsp;knife<BR> Rotting heads in PX<BR> How hard it is to believe<BR> The only dream is to leave.<BR> &nbsp;<BR> Lids are taught how to cheat, no one know how to read<BR> Basic skills are smoking dope, drinking booze, snorting coke<BR> Getting kicks from smashing glass, painting walls and driving fast<BR> Telling girls dirty jokes, getting loads of facebook pokes<BR> Hanging out at the Tongue Gutter, counting pennies for your flutter<BR> Stealing cakes from church hall fetes, blaming it on your best mates<BR> Burning tyres in the park, mugging oldies in the dark<BR> Partying hard until you faint, waking up by the Chaucer gates<BR> &nbsp;<BR> chorus<BR> &nbsp;<BR> Council grants, local groups, car boot sales, dancing troupes<BR> Zumba classes, learning zones, grow your own, business loans<BR> Coffee mornings, exhibitions, evening courses, free admissions<BR> Cycle lanes, public phones, SOAR Works centre, tea and scones<BR> None of these make a change, better buy new ASDA range<BR> You can hope to drive a lorry, to see a world that isn’t boring,<BR> Whilst you’re sober and still sane, sing about your P.X pain<BR> Banging out tunes of glory to overcome your PX story<BR> &nbsp;<BR> chorus.<BR> &nbsp;<BR> Ania has now left the area with no regard for what she has left behind.<BR> &nbsp;<BR> Apologies for the length of this e mail but I am growing tired of the thoughtlessness of people using public money to further their own ambitions whilst putting down the people amongst which I have lived all my life.<BR> &nbsp;<BR> Regards<BR> &nbsp;<BR> Mary Steele.<BR> &nbsp;<BR> &nbsp;<BR> &nbsp;<BR> <DIV> <DIV id=SkyDrivePlaceholder></DIV></DIV></div></body></html>

  9. I can understand why after reading that poem you would be cynical and angry and it certainly doesn’t reflect my experience of the people I have met in the area. For what its worth I’m paid by the Methodist Church and don’t use public money. My aim with this work was to celebrate the life, vibrancy and goodness that I had encountered during my time in Parson Cross – I hope that the piece emerged out of a dialogue with people I met there rather than simply being imposed by an outsider and I have received many positive comments about it. But I will certainly bear in mind your concerns when I embark on future community art projects.Best wishes,Ric

  10. <html> <head> <style><!– .hmmessage P { margin:0px; padding:0px } body.hmmessage { font-size: 12pt; font-family:Calibri } –></style></head> <body class=’hmmessage’><div dir=’ltr’>Dear Ric<BR> &nbsp;<BR> Thanks for your kind comments about the people of Parson Cross the majority of which I&nbsp; have always found to be friendly and helpful.&nbsp; I&nbsp;am fully aware that you do not use public money and that you are paid by the Methodist Church but my anger is with&nbsp;those who do and abuse the privilege.&nbsp; I really do hope you enjoy your stay in Parson Cross and continue to experience the kind of&nbsp;hospitality you have already encountered here.&nbsp; <BR> &nbsp;<BR> Regards<BR> &nbsp;<BR> Mary Steele<BR> &nbsp;<BR> &nbsp;<BR> &nbsp;&nbsp;<BR>&nbsp;<BR> <DIV> <DIV id=SkyDrivePlaceholder></DIV></DIV></div></body></html>

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