A Place For Words: Off The Shelf – Text in the City, Sheffield

What happened?

For the past 11 years the Off the Shelf Festival of Writing and Reading, working with Public Art Consultant Paul Swales, has commissioned writers to create text for pieces of public art. This innovative ongoing project is called Text and the City. A variety of projects have been realised including a poem by Benjamin Zephaniah cut out of steel balconies in a new block of flats, a poem by Jarvis Cocker on the wall of student accommodation and, most recently, a major piece commissioned from Poet Laureate Andrew Motion and sited on one of Sheffield Hallam University's tallest buildings on Howard Street, Sheffield.

As the project has developed a simple and consistent use of font and graphics has been adopted. Instead of working with another artist such as a sculptor or visual artist, Text and the City has worked with a graphic design company who have brought their own creative vision of a clear, readable font for the work. High profile writers have been commissioned to create new work specific to the place in which it is to be displayed. Public Art Consultant Paul Swales says that he has found it a joy to work with writers and he has been consistently impressed by the work produced, work that truly speaks to the place it is read in.

This work is about an individual writer's response to a specific place. Paul Swales believes this is a way of working which allows the writer's own creative voice and vision to be articulated and makes a space for the reader's own imagination and creative response. As part of the project, opportunities are sometimes made for the writers to share their work and practice with local schools and other groups.

Project Gallery

Text in the City 1

Andrew Motion's poem on one of Sheffield Hallam University's tallest buildings.
Photographer: Paul Swales

Text in the City 2

Jarvis Cocker's poem on the wall of new student accommodation.
Photographer: Paul Swales

Text in the City 3

Part of Benjamin Zephaniah's poem on a city centre flat balcony.
Photographer: Paul Swales

What made it work?

  • Clear aims and objectives – to raise the profile of poetry in the city and enhance the city-scape.
  • Clearly defined briefs that take into account the physicality of the outcome (the size of the piece).
  • A consistent use of font that gives the pieces a city-wide identity and ensures they are clearly readable.
  • Trust in the commissioned writer to come up with a valuable creative response.

Further information and links:

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