To an outside observer, art on the Wirral could be hard to find.
Even as a resident of the Dark Side of the Water, information about what’s happening creatively is lacking. I think it’s a side-effect of the area being near Liverpool but not Liverpool, thus missing out on the PR & social networks which exist in the city. Furthermore, when it’s only a 15-minute journey to the major cultural hub that Liverpool is, there’s no need to think about what might be happening locally.
I live in Liscard, an area which is probably most famous for a series of incidents with terrible Christmas trees. It has a disproportionately old population, which doesn’t exactly inspire innovation in the area. The discount-store-led shopping arcade is useful, but also home to the kind of proliferation of charity & betting shops which horrifies the newspapers. Apart from the local cafe, which does a fantastic fry-up, there’s nothing I regret not stopping for on the bus to Liverpool.
Once upon a time, there was a bit more going on. It turns out that once upon a time, it was home to Wallasey School of Art. There’s a social metaphor somewhere in its history: despite a decent reputation it was closed in the 70s, with the building left in decline from 2003 until it was burned out in an arson attack in 2008. I’d wager that every point of the process which led to that end, decisions were driven by budgets, rather than aspiration.
But aspiration is important. Everyone knows how these politics work – if you grow up around politicians or bankers, it makes it a familiar and accessible career for your own future. Likewise, if the art school is a familiar landmark in your local park, it doesn’t belong to someone else, or to the city. It becomes a tangible reality, as opposed to an abstract concept.
The art school may be long gone, but as I discovered one sunny August afternoon, not all of that spirit of inspiration has disappeared from the area.
The two-part sculpture is called Just Wait For Me, and is by Brigitte Jurack – a Birkenhead-based, internationally-exhibiting artist. The title gives a reassuring nod to the collective nature of this play. The piggy-backing figures are having fun with a game it would literally be impossible to play alone. A third figure watches on – alone, but calm. She can see the others are coming and that nobody’s getting left out. In the community setting of a park, is a nice enough message in itself. On this beautiful afternoon the brightly coloured forms feel perfect in their setting, surrounded by children & families out enjoying the sunshine.
But what I especially like about the sculptures is that they were inspired by young people in more ways than one. Because the whole shape of the piece was based on models made by pupils from local schools. Can you imagine being a young person, walking through your local park, seeing a statue and being able to say “that was my idea“? What a powerful thing that is. It creates exactly the sense of possibility which I was talking about with the physical building of the art school.
“Anything is possible” is easy to say – but trite if its left only as words. Real self-belief comes from proving what can be done through real-world actions – and these sculptures are a public manifestation of that possibility. Of course, many people will walk past these statues without giving them a second thought. But maybe someone, perhaps a young person who goes to a school listed on the plaque, will stop and start to think: “If they did that, maybe I could too“.