Clapham showed what true community spirit can achieve on Thursday night as local businesses, artists and councillors came together for the Clapham Art Prize award evening.
Of the 612 entries, the 10 finalists had their work displayed around Clapham in local businesses and vacant buildings, with a public online vote deciding the winner.
A lively crowd turned out at Omnibus arts centre to see fine arts photographer Rebecca Litchfield, 32, win the £1000 prize for her photo ‘Empire of Absence.’
“I’m very excited and happy. I wanted to win but there are some great entries. I’m just very happy,” she said.
“I’ve lived in south London all my life and this seemed like a really amazing opportunity with the potential of being recognised in the local community.”
Entries covered all art forms, from photography to sculpture and acrylics. Evie Elliott, 20, won the under-21s prize.
Clapham Art Prize was an initiative launched by Clapham Business Community (CBC) – an organisation of 14 local businesses focused on improving the working environment in Clapham – to promote creative talent and use public space for displaying art.
CBC Vice Chair Charmaine Wasif is manager of the Eco-group and was one of the judges for the prize.
She said: “The idea was to have art interwoven into the high street and to bring art to the forefront.”
CBC Treasurer Pinder Soor said: “We just want to engage and create and involve the community in general.”
CBC has been running for a year and is campaigning to create a Business Improvement District (BID) in Clapham which would allow the group to advance on a number projects for the area. A ballot will be held later in July to decide on the outcome.
Over the past year CBC has been collaborating with Lambeth Council.
Dawn Bunce, the Arts Partnership officer at Lambeth Council, was one of the judges.
“We wanted to promote good quality artists, not just for Lambeth, but also so that London would acknowledge the work of artists, which was why we chose to show them in a different setting, on the high street,” she said.
“It was more a case of bringing quality work to the public rather than expecting the public to go to see it. It’s about making art more accessible.”
Around the room fashion designers chatted to health store owners and artists mingled with locals. People were hugging hello, laughing and chatting. Everyone seemed to know each other; there was a real sense of community.
In a short opening speech Jeremy Keats, Brixton and Lambeth town centre manager for Lambeth Council, said:
“After 14 days of display, 3000 people participated in the vote. It shows what can be achieved when members of the public, businesses and artists work together.”
Later on he said: “It’s about Clapham being seen in a more positive light to promote it to visitors. It’s about making the high street interesting and the kind of place you want to visit. And it gives local people something to see when walking down the street.”
Lambeth Councillor Christopher Wellbelove was also involved in the project. He said projects like these encourage the self-determination of the local community which is very important for Clapham.
“We want businesses to take a lead on local community and to improve the environment for the wider community. If the CBC ballot does go through we will be able to see more projects like this,” he said.
“There is a big creative community in Clapham. People think of the high street as shops, clubs etc. What they don’t realise is there is a huge creative community here as well. That’s what I think this project helps bring out and it will help get Clapham known for that.”
Councillor Wellbelove said Clapham has a big community spirit and has proved this through a number of neighbourhood led projects such as the pocket gardens at Clapham Manor Estate.
Even the venue for the evening’s events, Omnibus, came about as a result of community support.
Formerly the Old Clapham Library, the council had plans to turn the building into flats, but a seven year campaign to keep the building for public use finally succeeded in 2013, and Omnibus opened its doors as Clapham’s newest arts centre in November 2013.
The campaign was funded by the local community. Artistic Director Marie McCarthy is proud of what they have achieved. After only eight months Omnibus has already seen 6500 people come through its doors.
Their packed programme includes family theatre, comedy and jazz nights, classical music and film evenings.
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