Press Release – The Harmony Project

Arts Council EnglandHeritage Lottery Fund

 

 

 

Shared Heritage based in south London was one of the first groups in the UK to receive a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Sharing Heritage grant in 2013. The exciting project, The Harmony Project, led by Shared Heritage in conjunction with the Victoria and Albert Museum was given £23,800 by HLF. Shared Heritage also successfully secured £19,820 from the Grants for Arts Programme (Arts Council England).

The project was inspired by the life and work of the 19th century designer, Christopher Dresser, who lived in London for many years including in Sutton and Richmond. The title ‘The Harmony Project’ partly stems from Dresser’s own enthusiasm for the idea of harmony, a desire for unity and coherence and mirrors well with Shared Heritage’s own vision to use the arts as a catalyst for creating shared spaces in which people can meet.

Christopher Dresser provided a rich input to develop a heritage and visual arts project with local communities. Over the course of 2013-4 Shared Heritage worked across six south London boroughs: Wandsworth, Merton, Sutton, Kingston, Richmond and Croydon. The project worked with ten youth and community groups in these boroughs including young carers, the elderly, refugee and disability groups and those diagnosed with cancer and their families.

The focus of the project remained strongly rooted in the period in which Christopher Dresser was active and working alongside the Victoria & Albert Museum brought to life this unique individual and the period in which he was working. Participants visited the V&A for a specially tailored introduction to Christopher Dresser, who had a very close association with the Museum. They then got a chance to design and make products including bags, wallets, cushions, scarves, key fobs and aprons as part of a series of workshops delivered by Shared Heritage artists, Viv Philpot and Dorothy Tucker. Participants registered their designs and products in a contemporary ledger specially commissioned for the project and similar to the ones in which Christopher Dresser’s work would have been registered as a form of early copyright. The contemporary ledger formed part of a unique and exciting exhibition in 2014 to which the public were invited to witness and share in the participants work.

The project brought to life an important period of transformation in British design during the 19th century through a series of creative design making activities that simulated techniques and ways of presenting that pointed to a rich legacy for designers and audiences today. The project also saw the launch of a dedicated website containing blogs, images and learning materials to promote the project further.

Known as the ‘Peoples Designer’, Christopher Dresser’s ideas and practice are both provocative and inspiring and suggest ways in which Shared Heritage can build on its commitment to engaging new and diverse audiences, for example, by extending Dressers invitation to explore non European design or to explore colour palettes associated with other regions or countries. In addition, Dressers link between good design and mass production and his active pursuit of commercial and popular outlets for his work, point to the spirit of another age that may be very relevant today, as we seek new and enterprising ways of developing local economies and communities.

Shared Heritage is an arts and heritage organisation currently specializing in textiles and crafts. It provides opportunities for different social groups to participate fully in the life of their community particularly but not exclusively through arts, crafts, skills sharing and cultural activities. It strives to ensure that the learning from its projects is made widely available. Shared Heritage has demonstrated a long standing commitment to bringing art and heritage activities to south London over the past decade.

Commenting at the time on receiving the award, Iqbal Husain (Director of Shared Heritage) said: “It’s great that we have been awarded this grant and we can’t wait to get started. Christopher Dresser is such an inspiring 19th century designer and we are really looking forward to bringing his work to life with local communities in south London through heritage and creative activities and a unique partnership with the V&A so that Christopher Dresser is more widely recognised and appreciated for his contribution.”

Commenting at the time of making the award, Sue Bowers, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund London, said: “The project is both informative and creative. It will raise awareness of the designs of Christopher Dresser among local communities who, thus inspired by this heritage, will then have the opportunity to produce their own craftwork. This will in turn feature in a public exhibition that will permit appreciation of Dresser’s skills by a much wider audience.”

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