A Milton Keynes Arts Centre Project developed by the artist Maddi Nicholson with residents of Beanhill and Netherfield
Maddi Nicholson is an artist who specialises in working with people and place. Her interest is in communities: communities of people, of objects, of interest, of life – and the choices and allegiances that one makes.
From June 2021, Maddi Nicholson will be a Visiting Artist at Milton Keynes Arts Centre, working with local people to delve beneath preconceptions of buildings, and the people who live or lived in them, to explore what ‘home’ subjectively means to each of us. In 2019, Maddi Nicholson first visited Milton Keynes and says:
"Over the past few years I have been investigating perceptions of place, class and status that are embedded in particular structures, especially northern working class terraces, public and civic buildings, animal and agricultural structures and homes of all types. I was particularly interested in the buildings of Milton Keynes Arts Centre, and the grounds of Great Linford Manor Park: the Schoolhouse and Almshouses, built by William Pritchard in 1696; twin stable pavilions; and the Radcliffe building; their perceived grandeur and status, however untrue, in comparison with some of the ‘modern’ 1970s estate housing surrounding the Arts Centre and in the outlying areas around Milton Keynes.”
In June 2021, Maddi Nicholson invited the people of Milton Keynes to take her for a series of walks: to show her their neighbourhoods and to tell her about the things they liked and didn’t like about where they lived. The artist was taken around areas including Great Linford, Eaglestone, Netherfield and Beanhill and became fascinated with the distinct architectural designs characterising houses in each of these areas.
In response, the artist co-created with local schools and community groups an exhibition of over 100 miniature textile versions of houses in each of these areas. This miniature housing estate went on tour across Milton Keynes in September 2021 alongside a 5-metre high inflatable sculpture of a typical terraced house from Maddi Nicholson’s hometown, Barrow-in-Furness. The tour comprised exhibitions in Beanhill, Netherfield, Great Linford and Central Milton Keynes, with each exhibition associated by events and activities designed by and for local residents. Limited edition house-making packs were also created to sell, with 50% of the proceeds going back into the areas on which the designs were based.
With special thanks to participants from Great Linford Primary School, Moorland Primary School, Moorland Family Centre, The Little Bookshop and MacIntyre MK for their help making up the miniature fabric houses which toured alongside Maddi Nicholson’s work Going Home from Here (2009).
With grant support from Milton Keynes Community Foundation, Maddi Nicholson returned to Milton Keynes in May 2022. This time Maddi’s focus was on working with residents in Beanhill and Netherfield, from whom she’d heard many ideas for projects that would improve their neighbourhoods. With the additional support of local artists, Ciara Callaghan and Alondene Phillips, residents created over 40 ceramic money or suggestion boxes made in the shape of Beanhill and Netherfield houses. On the back of each of these houses, residents wrote their ideas for art and environmental projects they would like to see happen.
Maddi Nicholson has worked with 1,139 local people over 27 workshops and 4 exhibitions in creating over 140 artworks, which have been seen by almost 400 people.
For Heritage Open Day on Saturday 17 September 2022 Milton Keynes Arts Centre was converted into a polling station for the day. Visitors were invited to vote for art and environmental projects proposed by everybody who took part in our home making workshops with Maddi Nicholson: proposals that formed an intrinsic part of the design of the 40 plus ceramic money and suggestion boxes they created. People also had the opportunity to make a miniature Great Linford in clay with the artist Alondene Phillips.
Ten of our miniature Netherfield and Beanhill houses were then used to collect nominations for projects people would like to see realised in the two estates. From early November until the end of 2022, 167 votes were collected. 107 people voted to sort out the underpasses, 22 to design a flag or coat of arms for each estate, and 38 to create banners for the lamp posts and pillars in each area. Based on these votes, we are now exploring options for the underpasses between Netherfield and Beanhill.
What happens next...
Milton Keynes Arts Centre is now seeking funding to enable Maddi Nicholson and residents of Beanhill and Netherfield to work together in creating a unique artwork celebrating these two communities in one of the underpasses linking Netherfield and Beanhill.
Thank you to everyone who has worked with and supported us.
We will be back!