"Art with a heart": Assemble wins Turner Prize

The biggest art prize in the UK has gone to a social enterprise.

Assemble (pictured above), a collective of 18 people who describe themselves as working ‘across the fields of art, architecture and design’ scooped the £25,000 prize for using art and design to improve houses in Toxteth, Liverpool.

Following riots there in 1981, many of the houses in an area known as Granby Four Streets were acquired by the council for demolition and redevelopment. Local residents fought back, buying ten of the houses and Assemble has helped to improve them with imaginative designs and recycling of existing materials.

Some of the products that have been produced are now available through a social enterprise Assemble has set up in the wake of its nomination, with revenue from the sales going to support the redevelopment project. These products were designed for refurbished homes to replace elements that were stripped out of the houses as they were boarded up by the council, including door knobs, mantelpieces, furniture, fabric and tiles.

Fran Edgerley, member of Assemble and Turner Prize winner, said: "We have used the Turner Prize this year to launch a new social enterprise – Granby Workshop – as it offers a real and meaningful way for the public to get involved in our work in the community-led rebuilding of the Granby, a neighbourhood in South Liverpool. Social enterprise means that the project can contribute directly to rebuilding the economic infrastructure of Granby and create a sustainable organisation to advocate for the tenacious creativity that has been so transformational for the area."

The Turner Prize has long been mired in controversy, with entries including Damien Hirst’s shark preserved in formaldehyde, fake policemen trying to stand still for an hour and Tracey Emin’s vodka and condom littered ‘My Bed’. Named after the English painter J.M.W.Turner and organised by the Tate gallery, the public are able to nominate artists during May but at least one judge, the journalist Lynn Barber, has questioned how much influence that has on the shortlist.

Newspapers delight in mocking the entries annually and indeed, the prize seems at times to be specifically intended to repeatedly raise the question ‘Is it art?’ This year however, there can be no griping about the winner, given the laudable social impact. Writing on the BBC website, arts editor Will Gompertz, sees Assemble as “leveraging the value we place on the word 'art' and work artists produce, to enable them to raise the funds to do the regeneration work that motivates their activities.”

Regarding the question the Turner Prize regularly throws up, he continued: “Is it art? Does it matter? If somebody turning on and off lights can win the Turner Prize, why shouldn't somebody trying to re-energise a neglected part of an inner city win?”

Peter Holbrook, CEO of Social Enterprise UK, also welcomed the win. He said: "It is wonderful news that Assemble, a team which has embraced the ethos of social enterprise and community action, has won this year’s Turner Prize. It's art with a heart.

"What is happening in Granby shows the power of residents coming together to tackle the challenges faced in their local area, taking the redevelopment into their own hands. This social enterprise has created opportunities for a previously marginalised community.”


Photo credit: Assemble