In keeping with the playful city theme the shelter in the rain installation endeavored to be as inclusive to the passing visitors as possible. The premise was so simple- that we were there to build up a rain cloud and have a few minutes peace and quiet from the rest of the busy shopping centre. We gained attention from people of all backgrounds and ethnicities, young and old. Certainly many of the people who did come and stand amongst the clouds would not normally have gone out of their way to do so, as many of them told us.
Children were the most naturally drawn in; some of their parents may have been more reticent just in case we were trying to sell them something. They thoroughly enjoyed selecting their own raindrop to hang, choosing where it should go and looked very pleased to have been told that they had been part of making a big piece of art. We gave them each a leaflet so they could tell their teachers what they had helped to make. Children of all ages had a compulsion to touch the raindrops and walk through the clouds which we allowed to a certain extent. I spent a fair bit of time untangling all the wires afterward because I was reluctant to interfere in positive engagement. While the children hung their raindrops I asked them what they thought, which their favourite raindrops were and what it reminded them of to encourage them to think in a creative way about the artworks.
The elderly tended to need a little persuasion but enjoyed the peace and quiet of the rain and birds and artwork. Many hung also enjoyed hanging the raindrops and seemed to appreciate doing something a little different. We had many comments on the beauty of the craftsmanship. Skillful crafting is simple way to appreciate the arts for people who are do not have an understanding or enthusiasm for contemporary fine art. I talked to a couple of people who related it to their own crafts, papier-mâché and sewing and how it made them feel relaxed and happy to take part in creative activities.
Several members of the public who came through had physical or learning disabilities. The set up was wheelchair accessible. Whatever the barrier, there were still aspects that they could enjoy, whether it was the sound, the visual attractiveness or the participatory element.
There were a few participants that stood out to me that day. A little girl who insisted on hanging two raindrops, danced carefully around them and laughed about how she didn’t get wet. Another little girl who picked out different drops to say that this one looked like the sea and another looked like the sky. There were the young sisters who insisted that their raindrops be hung together.
One lady spoke of how she was caring for her husband who only had two months to live. She was just going about her day when she was encouraged to walk through the cloud installation and the beauty and calmness of it had really moved her. In particular she loved the raindrops and asked if she could take one home to her husband. She took a bright blue drop to hang in the window next to him, to cheer them both.
Another older lady appreciated the calm amongst the clouds in particular. She had been initially reluctant to come in as she thought we were selling something but once inside spoke about how it reminded her of when she meditates. It had the same peaceful atmosphere. Then she told me about her daughter who has recently gone into remission after a long battle with cancer and she wished that on the difficult days she could have brought her here to feel calm and peaceful again. She had clearly been through a horrendous time and I was moved that she had enjoyed the experience and it had offered a small brief respite. As she walked away she told me that it needed a chair so that ‘those old folk could sit down and enjoy it for longer’.
I would describe myself as an emerging artist, one who is still learning about using art to engage with the public. I found that the most successful part of this project was how appealing it was to all members of the public, regardless of age or background. You did not even have to speak the same language to take some enjoyment from it. The interactive element was very effective in that it drew people in and allowed a basic engagement. We started out with just over one hundred raindrops, of which we hung roughly half and invited the public to hang the other half. By 3 all of those raindrops had been hung and we were left with a kind of democratic artwork, a rain cloud built up by the participants.
The most unexpected part of the installation was how much some people would actually enjoy the moment of peace and quiet. I tried to play it by ear, either talking to them about whatever personal experience or art they wanted to talk about or letting them have a couple of minutes peace listening to rain and birdsong. When I decided to bring art to the public I expected some to like it or dislike it, what I forgot was that those visitors have their own lives and troubles that they would in turn be bringing to the intervention. To bring them something positive to their day was a lovely experience.