Brigitte Orasinski is the artistic Director of Strange Cargo. A charity established in Folkestone in 1995 initially focusing on celebratory outdoor arts projects and carnival. Strange Cargo has subsequently developed a significant reputation for its portfolio of imaginative public and visual arts projects, special celebratory events and programmes with large groups of people. Consistently the company has committed to “produce, develop, support and deliver high-quality participatory arts”.
Brigitte: I was brought up in Folkestone, and have two brothers and a sister and we all attended local schools. My first job was nothing to do with the arts and I worked in the Technical and Planning Department of Shepway District Council, until leaving to start a family. It was only when my children went to school that my arts career began when I started studying and unexpectedly found myself with a place at university. I studied Fine Art at Kent Institute of Art and design in Canterbury, graduating in 1997, which is when I started working with Strange Cargo. At the time the company was in its infancy and were best known as a carnival and celebratory arts, but over time its approach has evolved into a participatory arts practice, which still involves lots of people in making an artwork, but also includes public art running a gallery and Light Festival. Carnival is still dear to our hearts, especially Charivari Day in Folkestone, which is now 21 years old and it is our ability to create a carnival that has enabled us to work with local residents to create other public artworks, such as Other People’s Photographs and Everywhere Means Something to Someone – the People’s guidebook to Folkestone.
Art vs Community ? I find creating artworks that other people can contribute to and see themselves in, is an exciting way to work. Strange Cargo’s public art programme in Folkestone began with Like the Back of My Hand, a millennium project involving 101 people, each born in a different year of the last century, which is installed in Folkestone Central. It was making this artwork that revealed to us how interested local people were in being involved in making art, but what was important was to create opportunities for partnerships to evolve between Strange Cargo and people who chose to contribute, so that everyone felt they had a stake in the final artwork. That they’re involvement was visible and that their contribution was valued and meant something. This is key to our way of working.
© Strange Cargo
Public artworks ? All of the public artworks that have been made with Strange Cargo show an evolution of our participatory practice; from the Hands at the station, to the 550 photographs on lampposts across the town for Other People’s Photographs, which are all loaned from private family photograph albums for the project. The No1 best selling people’s guidebook (we were commissioned to create a similar guidebook for the Louvre in Lens), and 3D printed The Luckiest Place on Earth at the bridge on Cheriton Road that was commissioned by Lewis Biggs for 2014 Folkestone Triennial. All these works took Strange Cargo on a journey in partnership with local people. Their contribution gave the artworks their content and made them relevant to the people who live here. The enthusiastic voluntary participation of other people is the key ingredient to making a successful artwork for Strange Cargo.
Experiencing art in public space? Art, like many things in life, can take a variety of forms. There are many approaches to making art and they all can have a place in our lives, but often people do not experience art for themselves, as so often seeing world class artwork involves having to go somewhere else to see it. We are lucky in Folkestone that we have artworks by some of the worlds most creative artists in our town. Strange Cargo is interested in exploring how art can become more a part of most people’s lives and a great deal of our work is actively places in the streets where people live, so that they can experience it as they step outside their front door. Charivari Day carnival has involved over 12000 local people since 1997 and because of this event, many other artworks have enjoyed the participation of people who have been part of this event, because we have build a relationship with them – and we continue to offer opportunities for folks to join in with our work, whatever form it takes.
© Strange Cargo
Spencer Tunick? When we had the opportunity to become involved in a contest to bring international artist Spencer Tunick to Folkestone, we were in competition with two well known galleries in much larger towns and cities. Because Strange Cargo has spent 20 years developing our relationship with local people, thousands of them got behind us and we won the contest to bring Spencer to Folkestone, where he created an amazing participatory exhibition of portraits of local people. This actively shows that people can affect where world class art can happen by making their voices heard and wanting it to happen.
New destination? Strange Cargo moved to Cheriton in 2015, from The Old High Street, where we had run a gallery for 18 years. We are now in a part of town that has a large residential community and we have our HQ in an old factory building five minutes walk from Folkestone West Station. This was a very important move for us, as we are developing a new destination for the arts and a new venue for artists to make new work, exhibit their work and an arts space for the public to come and get involved. It is very different to our other building, but people are getting to know where we are, artists are hiring the workshop regularly to create work and in the last 12 months we have made a Channel 4 short film, shown world class exhibitions, created carnival costumes, delivered the Cheriton Light festival and run family workshops for hundreds of people. The arts needs an audience and our interest lies in taking people on an artistic journey of discovery within their own community.
Giving access to the art world? I remember before I trained to be an artist that I did not know how to be involved in the art world. I am sure lots of people feel this way – not because they are not interested, but because they are not sure where the open door is to becoming involved. Strange Cargo’s work is all about keeping the door open, so that whoever is interested has an opportunity to take part in a cultural opportunity, be it Charivari Day, or contributing to a public artwork, or visiting a festival, workshop or exhibition, or maybe just having a conversation that helps them find a way to start their own cultural journey.
Folkestone in 10 years? Folkestone doesn’t have much potential to grow. Folkestone is a small place, but it can be a welcoming visitor destination, as it has been for over 150 years. The way people travel has changed a lot and we now have the fast rail link, motorways practically leading into the town centre, and a tunnel to Europe. There are more new faces in Folkestone in the last ten years, than I have seen in my whole lifetime living in the town. New people bring new energy, which is incredibly important. I am not sure what the next ten years will bring, but I do know that historically Folkestone has always been a place of comings and goings. It was a port until very recently and for many years a holiday destination for thousands every summer. The flow in and out of people will continue and a lot of them are here to experience the cultural offer of the town. This offer is generous and varied and we are delighted to be part of it.
A hidden place in Folkestone – not hidden, but sometimes obscured by weather – on a good day France is very clear and seems very close.
A personality of Folkestone – Buffalo Bill’s famous wild west show once decamped at the top of Sandgate Hill.
Something you would only see in Folkestone – the 3 wooden crosses on Sugarloaf hill at Easter.
Best walk – Folkestone to Hythe along the coastal path, lots of lovely people walking, cycling, skating, with occasional coffee shops, or kiosks to buy ice cream or drinks and lots of lovely views.
Best bar – Chambers cellar bar, restaurant and coffee shop in Cheriton Place (great beer and food and an amazing range of live music)
Best fish and chips – The Corner Plaice, Cheriton
Best ice cream – La Cafe del Gelato
Best coffee shop – Chambers Coffee Shop
Best concert venue – Quarterhouse
Best shopping place – Old High Street and Hythe High Street
Best kids activity – Coastal Park
Best health and well being place – Natural Health Centre