Figure Ground emerged from group of artists who had been recipients of the Art Plus Award Scheme (Arts Council – South East and SEEDA), and who saw the potential in developing a network for artists working in innovative ways in the public realm, to build on contacts and learning developed through Art Plus.
From several initial meetings, Katy Beinart, Jo Thomas and Jon Adams took the project forward, and through a NAN bursary from AN Magazine in 2008 they visited artists, academics and architects involved in public art across the region (Onetwoone, Cameron Cartiere, AOC Architecture and others). Each meeting was intended as a creative, artistic and playful event and these ranged from a picnic in Hoxton Square to foraging on the shores of the River Thames. This initial engagement in creative debate became the essence of the project, and of the intention to initiate networks and events for artists across the South East and beyond, which would be open, participatory and creative as well as artist centred.
In 2009, after a successful bid to Arts Council England, Figure Ground ran a series of events around the South-East, taking place in Brighton, Bracknell, Chatham. Artists were invited with the aim of exploring issues around practice, sparking networks and ideas, and contributing to critical debate about the role of public art. The agenda was kept open, with the strategy of the events being to let issues emerge through actual collaborative practice on the day.
A further event took place at Arts Council England in London where everyone involved could meet each other, evaluate the project and begin to develop future possibilities. From this, a wider group emerged which continued to develop ideas for the next stage for Figure Ground.
Angela Kingston from Artpoint wrote an evaluation of the events. She noted that ‘in Figure Ground there was a strong emphasis on the artist as initiator, and this is a real tonic at a time when artists seem to be presented with increasingly long lists of stipulations and outcomes’.