During the Dementia & Imagination art groups in the North East, we took a range of photos to capture visual impressions of the work that people did and how they engaged with it all.
We wanted to let more people know about the work that we were doing and photos seemed to be a good way of doing that – capturing visual impressions of the work that people did and how they engaged with it all.
We also wanted to display the images in a different format. Ultimately, we decided on creating a series of photo-cubes.
The photo-cubes are cardboard cubes with images printed on every face. They come flat-packed from the printers and have cardboard reinforcing inside them to keep them fairly rigid – a bit like the cardboard inserts in wine-boxes (if you’ve ever had wine delivered to your house). You can assemble them easily but they don’t really come apart again. They come in 3 sizes with the largest being a meter-cubed. The images on the cubes show fragments of the workshops: sensory stimuli, pieces of work, and moments of activity. They foreground the people with dementia as the makers.
We gave them their first outing at a workshop-cum-seminar at Newcastle University as part of our workshops for the Utopia Festival, organised by Connected Communities. Andrew (the lead investigator at Newcastle University) along with Claire and Kate (the two artists who delivered the workshops), presented the project and the ways that they work with older people. The audience were a mixed bunch. Many of them were museum staff who delivered learning activities and who were interested in working with older people. The cubes proved to be really popular: museum educators are not a shy bunch and, when given the opportunity, started exploring the cubes – picking them up, moving them around and looking at all the different images.
Given that initial success, we looked for different venues to display them. (They normally ‘live’ in the Armstrong Building at Newcastle University, which is where our offices are.) Although the photo-cubes are visually arresting, they don’t tell you much about the project itself. So we produced a pop-up banner to accompany the cubes in public venues, to explain a little more about the project and direct people on to the project website.
Staff at Wallsend Library proved receptive. Wallsend is in the borough of North Tyneside (to the east of Newcastle). The council are aiming to make the borough dementia friendly and they have started this by working on making Wallsend a dementia friendly town. The connection between this and Dementia & Imagination was obvious and the staff were happy to host the cubes. The library is a relatively new building and the design is such that they have a display space that everyone has to go past in order to get into the building. We put the cubes there.
The staff were very happy with the cubes. The format was striking and quite different to the pop-up banners and display boards that they were used to. Although we didn’t get much feedback via the ‘comments book’, the staff at the library received a lot of positive verbal feedback during the cubes 3-week stay. Our contact at the library also promoted us to other sites within North Tyneside.
The cubes second outing was to the White Swan Visitor Centre in Killingworth (another town in North Tyneside). The centre contains a library, café, GP, and information centre for council services. Like Wallsend Library, they also had a display space near the entrance and the staff were happy to host the cubes. They kept them for a month, moving them around different locations within the Centre.
It’s difficult to know how much attention people gave to the cubes and the banner. We received several positive comments via the comments book and some people took leaflets away. We can say with some confidence that approximately 55, 000 people have walked past the cubes, so we can assume that a few have stopped to look and read the banner.
This has been a learning experience for us, in many ways. It’s the first time we’ve asked our university porters to transport stuff beyond the bounds of the university and they’ve been happy to do that. It’s also the first time we’ve worked with the council services in this way. We’ve discovered that they really want to work with us like this. They have display spaces and are looking for visually engaging material which is relevant to their visitors. The cubes provided that and we have been invited back should we ever have new material we’d like to display.
The cubes will be out again soon. They will be installed at ‘The Old Low Light’ a volunteer-run Heritage Centre on the quayside in North Shields, facing out towards the North Sea, from December 5th for 2 weeks. We’ll try to keep them in circulation while the project is running. We’ll update on their new locations via our Facebook and Twitter pages, and if you’re in the area, you may wish to go and take a look.