Making Manchester: Design Studio Involve 1,000 Members of the Public in Making 2,000 Tiles

| Maria Passingham

“Community doesn’t exist without collaboration, and collaboration isn’t a success without a form of community.”

These are the wise words of Jess Higham, Creative Projects Manager at Standard Practice, a Manchester-based studio that operates in the overlap between design, fabrication, performance and architecture.

In terms of work, this means that they consult on public spaces, throw neighbourhood parties, and operate urban fabrication facilities – always using design as a catalyst to build communities. They’ve been recognised by Creative Review as one of the top 50 Creative Leaders in 2018, and they won a D&AD Award in 2017 for their work with The Pilcrow project.

This summer Standard Practice (formerly OH OK) are resuming their partnership with Manchester International Festival to lead three mass participatory ‘making’ projects which will produce useful and beautiful things for the central Festival Square.

Staying true to her statement, Higham and the SP team are drawing on members of the community – in fact the aim is 1,000 participants – to collectively produce 2,000 ceramic tiles for the Festival Square bars, 100 stacking wooden stools, and 500 ceramic bells to be used in the festival’s opening ceremony: Bells for Peace with Yoko Ono.

In a series of free workshops across Greater Manchester the members of the public are being encouraged to create their own ceramic bells to then take part in the festival’s first night. The idea is that a rich mixture of voices (mostly choirs from around the city) and bells either brought from home or created specifically for the event will ring out as a call for peace, and to welcome the world to Manchester.

The Standard Practice team have already held several tile-making workshops, where participants were provided with a specific rectangle size, and from there were given full creative control to design whatever they wanted within that space. Higham says that the huge variety of finished tiles reflects the diversity of the festival and everyone involved, but their glazing in one blue colour will also provide consistency across Festival Square.

She remembers when the studio first ran workshops for The Pilcrow Project in 2016 (a pub built by the people who use it) and their uncertainty as to how it would pan out:

“We really weren’t sure how people would respond to the environment we were putting them in! But we’ve always found sessions to be positive, collaborative and overall provide a real sense of community. Everyone tends to be starting at an equal level of knowledge and experience (unless they’ve been to one of our workshops before) creating a level playing field for participants, encouraging skill sharing and discussion from the start.”

This level playing field is reinforced by the fact that the tile, bell, and stool-making workshops for MIF19 are totally free (although booking is usually required), breaking down any economic barriers to access these materials and skills that are often expensive for individuals.

The workshops themselves vary in format, although Higham says that they always want to involve the public from the earliest stage possible.

“The stools and bells are slightly different [from the tiles] as there are specific designs required to ensure they’re comfortable and functional. These workshops are less around design, and focused more on woodworking and ceramic skills, and completing consistent, beautiful products.”

When asked about the ‘hands-on’ element, Higham stressed that it’s key to Standard Practice’s work, and the members of the public who join in.

“It helps to make your involvement in something tangible and touchable, more than just giving your opinion or providing feedback on designs. Everyone can do that now, online or in person through consultations – but to actually be able to build and contribute something to a space? That’s different and something people are responding really positively to, so we always include this as a central element to all of our projects.”

This feeling of contributing to something is a crucial part of motivation, argues Behavioural Economist Dan Ariely. He says that we work harder and for longer if we feel a sense of purpose to our work, if we feel that it’s meaningful, and even more so if we feel acknowledged after completing the work. In the same way, Standard Practice believes that “places work better when everybody is involved in building them”. Indeed, that was the core ethos that launched the studio in 2016.

Not only will the tiles created by the public be used to adorn the bars of Festival Square, but MIF have promised that they’ll be given a new life after the event ­– a future use which has been revealed only to the tile-makers. In this way, in addition to learning a new skill, participants can also feel a part of something larger; that their contribution is worth something, and will be appreciated and used.

Manchester International Festival takes place 4th-21st July 2019.

Find out more about Bells for Peace and the workshops on the MIF19 website:

Find out more about Standard Practice:

Photograph of tile making workshop by Richard Tymon.

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