A dedicated space for creatives is to open in Walsall this autumn, with members of the community having their say on how it should be designed.
The People’s Design Studio is the brainchild of Andre-Donovan Reid, the founding director of KIONDO, a black-led design research studio that connects organisations and local authorities with people.
Based in a listed, 6000 sq ft building – the former Hogs Head pub in Leicester Street – the centre has three aims: to be a community hub and venue; to host KIONDO’s design-research lab, where individuals or groups can experiment with citizen science, design and placemaking; and to provide creative studios, with open access workspace and facilities for creative practitioners, academics and social enterprises.
“What I’ve found is that there is a strong arts and creative sector in the town, but people don’t profile themselves as coming from Walsall; they’ll say they’re from the West Midlands instead,” he said.
“The town is home to visionaries, innovators and creative thinkers and doers who are itching to build Walsall up and I want people to be proud of the town. The aim is to use this space as a place where we can help to transform the town into a place of creativity and innovation.
“I want to help make a place where existing communities and groups continue to work towards a better Walsall, and are resourced to serve the locality in deeper and more connected ways.
“By opening this space to the creative community, we can ensure it is used for social benefit. “The space will be co-designed by those who will use it. It has to be a collaboration.”
Andre, an architectural designer who lives in Walsall, said he had “an epiphany” last year after realising his work on improving the experiences of underserved communities through design was mainly centred on short-term contracts that brought about short-term impact. Instead, he wanted to focus on a large-scale programme that would bring about deep and meaningful long-term change.
“I’ve been living in Walsall for four years and decided I wanted to stay here, but build on the roots I’ve already developed,” he said. “I can see the value of the creative community here and want to harness it, but it has to be right for the town. It’s not a case of bringing a blueprint from elsewhere and expecting it to work – and that was what the creative groups I’ve worked with said, too.
“We’re at an exciting part of what I hope will be a long-term project with local groups, colleges, organisations and local authority. We really want to transform Walsall.”
KIONDO, the leading organisation that is applying for charity status, is to launch The People’s Design Studio at the end of September, with an event, called Blank Canvas, to kick-start the season.
Working in partnership with Walsall for All, Creative Black Country and Walsall Council, Blank Canvas will take place on September 26, starting from The People’s Design Studio, up to Park Street and to The Walsall New Art Gallery.
The launch event will involve the creation of three large murals that will focus on: live, work, and play. Locals will be asked what their dreams and ambitions are for the town and artists will fill in the canvasses to create a “manifesto” that will help to guide KIONDO’s work to support communities in the town.
At the same time there will be an online event, where locals can also contribute to the manifesto, and from the September 25-27, The People’s Design Studio will feature an exhibition by UKBFTOG (UK Black Female Photographers), as its first creative pop-up.
Work has already begun on the creation of a comprehensive online Walsall Arts Map named ‘Abundance’, which will culminate in a detailed digital resource highlighting arts, culture and leisure groups and activities in the borough.
KIONDO is also inviting the public to join the Walsall Placemakers Community, to bring together a diversity of local voices as to help shape Walsall’s future for the better.
Anyone interested in accessing The People’s Design Studio can apply to the trustees, who will review the applications. To support the project please donate to the Transforming Walsall Fund. For more details, email: Walsall@kiondo.co.uk