Warning: Animator at Work

Its website says it’s the largest in the world and in the flesh Cleckheaton’s Aakash Indian Restaurant is truly huge.

CS_070515_0016-EditBuilt in 1850 as a Methodist Chapel its congregation back then were workers from the eleven ‘carding’ factories that made the Spen Valley world famous.

Tonight the SceneMakers are on a trip to see animator, Rozi Fuller, one of Creative Scene’s artists at work. For the next few weeks she’ll spend some of her evenings at table 55, making animated portraits of diners and staff and even encouraging them to make their own.

“First I take their photograph and download it to my laptop,” Rozi explains. “Then I draw it digitally and animate the drawing.” She shows us a recently completed portrait of a bartender.

“I used to teach him!” laughs Gayna, who worked in a local school. “I’ve just been over to say hello.”

Creative Scene producers are here too and so I ask Vicky what they hope to achieve with the Artist at Work scheme. “With local businesses we’re exploring how we can make art part of everyday life for customers and employees,” she says. “We’re looking for new ways  for artists to show their work, get other people involved and have conversations about how they might take part in the future.”

“At the moment Creative Scene commission the artists, don’t they?” I ask. I know there have already been artists at work at a local market, a café and at Fox’s Biscuits. “But in the long run, you’d like businesses to employ their own?”

“It’s already happening,” says Vicky. “You remember meeting Cassandra at The Mill in Batley? She’s now been hired directly by the centre management because they realise her workshops are good for business.”

CS_070515_0061-EditAfter Rozi has taken us all outside for a group portrait – she’s going to animate it later – she asks Duncan about the SceneMakers. She’s as curious of them as they are of her.

“We meet every six weeks or so,” he explains, “often for a brainstorming session with Creative Scene staff. In essence, it’s about helping to deliver things which make art more accessible, like your work here.”

“People like to see you doing something,” Rozi says. “The process engages them, and there’s an opportunity for discussion and making suggestions.”

Duncan agrees: “If something is static, there’s no story to be told, no journey. That’s why people like theatre. They can follow it and be swept along by it.”

Rozi settles back at her table to demonstrate the animation process to SceneMakers Zainab and Ammaarah. While she’s uploading photos I catch up with general manager, Fawaad and asks what the restaurant gets out of the residency.

“It makes the customers’ experience more memorable, doesn’t it?” he says. “We do a lot with the local community and we were keen to get involved in this. It’s a really good idea.”

“And what about your staff? What do they make of it?”

“They love it,” he says, “Rozi is interacting with the kitchen staff and waiters, and they are enjoying having her here.”

CS_070515_0078-EditCS_070515_0092-EditBack at her ‘studio’ – table 55 – and now with Vicky looking on, Rozi draws around the shape of a face, adding the eyes, mouth and nose. “It looks weird at first but then I will colour and shade it.”

CS_070515_0107-Edit“What do you do with the portraits afterwards?” I ask.

“With the subjects’ permission they’ll appear on the Aakash website and on a digital photo frame we’ll put in reception.”

“Wouldn’t it be great if you could project them onto the side of the building,” I suggest, “Imagine pulling up in the car park to see these massive moving portraits.”

“That’s exactly our ambition for the end of this project,” says Vicky.


The potential to bring communities together

The irony is not lost on me as I walk through the Edinburgh Woollen Mill outlet at The Mill, Batley. For over a hundred years Cheapside Mills – as these buildings were originally known – played their part in West Yorkshire’s woollen trade. Now they’re home to outlets whose merchandise most likely arrived by container ship.

CS_151214__0064-EditI’m here to see Sonja Martin, a SceneMaker from Heckmondwike and Cassandra Kilbride, a maker who is running workshops on the top floor.

Between Yankee Candle – apparently the world’s most recognised name in the candle business – and Massarella’s Restaurant, I find the two of them sitting at a small table covered in large balls of coloured wool.

Another woman is here too and, as Cassandra offers low key encouragement, Lyndsay and Sonja start to weave stands of wool and strips of random material in and out of the seven upright wooden pegs in front of them.

CS_151214__0014-Edit“So how did you hear about Creative Scene,” I ask Sonja as she adds her second weft.

“From a friend,” she says, “and I thought it was fantastic. Nothing much happens in my home town so it’d be great to help make a real difference there or anywhere in North Kirklees really.”

Sonja is passionate about the arts and feels Creative Scene has the potential to bring communities together, to touch people’s everyday lives. I wonder how it started for her.

“As a child, I was always making things, usually something from Blue Peter… but not always following their instructions. I think I’ve always been more arty than crafty.”

From picking up a leaflet at a playgroup when her boys were still toddlers, more than 15 years ago, Sonja enrolled on an arts taster course which lead, as these things do, to an NVQ in Youth and Community Arts and then an AS level in Fine Art.

I know that Cassandra’s workshops here at The Mill were recommended to Sonja by Creative Scene, but how, I ask, did Lyndsay get started?

“I just randomly walked past the sign a few weeks ago,” she says, pointing up at the board that advertises peg board weaving on Mondays, Bavarian crocheting on Wednesdays and ‘pudding pom-pom’ making on Sundays. “And now, pretty much every free second of the day I am crocheting. And when I’m at work I’m thinking about crocheting.”

“Really?” I ask, as if I’m some concerned counsellor. “And how long has this been going on for?”

“Only about a month. But I do get obsessed by certain crafts,” she says, “and crochet is my new obsession.”

I had no idea just how dedicated enthusiasts can get over their slip and chain stitches and it hadn’t crossed my mind that these two-hour sessions would be such a hotbed of informal mentoring and experience sharing.

As the wool strands are woven in and out, Sonja tells us about Enchanted Parks, an after-dark arts adventure in Gateshead she saw over the weekend; Cassandra describes her design for an installation she’s making for the shopping complex; and Lyndsay puts her two-penneth into our debate about arts versus crafts. It’s all really quite sociable.

As we are chatting, Fareeda arrives and quietly takes up the only remaining seat and begins to weave.

CS_151214__0023-Edit“You’re going to need a bigger table,” I suggest to Cassandra.

Fareeda lives locally and sat down at the peg boards for the first time only last week. “I like it,” she tells me, “it’s really interesting.”

“Have you done anything like this before?” I ask.

“No, nothing,” she replies. “This is the first time I’ve done anything like this.”

As I pack my bags I hear Fareeda ask if Cassandra could show her how to crochet and, walking up the hill back to Batley Station, I contemplate on what’s happening on that small table outside the restaurant.

In much the same way that playgroup leaflet changed Sonja’s life – and she’s about to help change others – it’s clear Fareeda’s interest in the arts has been ignited by these informal workshops and there’s no amount of evaluation that will uncover where that might lead.