Drawing Cities: Art and Urban Place-Making

I’ve been intrigued by the This is Our City project for a while now. This is Our City is a multi-year initiative of Christianity Today that seeks to document the way Christians are changing the cities in which they live. As I experience more of what it means to live in an urban environment (and one where the arts are one way the community has transformed itself following the decimation of its industries), I’ve found myself drawn to learning more about art and place, and urban place-making in particular.

One local (to me) project that has caught my attention is an Australian iteration of a project spearheaded by an organisation based in the UK. The Big Draw bills itself as the world’s biggest celebration of drawing. Organised by The Campaign for Drawing, The Big Draw began as a one-day event held in the UK in 2000 and has grown into a month-long festival running throughout October. The Campaign for Drawing works to raise the profile of drawing and promotes it as a tool for thought, creativity, social and cultural engagement. In their own words:

The Campaign for Drawing has one aim: to get everyone drawing!

Drawing allows us to see the world more clearly, to put our thoughts in order and to communicate them effectively. Drawing is a powerful tool for learning, and a valuable skill for life.[1]

With each year, more people across the world participate in Big Draw events, and this year, Newcastle will attempt the first large-scale collaboration of a Big Draw event in Australia.

Newcastle’s The Big Draw event is taking place this Friday from 10am – 4pm. Nurtured and coaxed to fruition by British born but Newcastle-based artist Liz Anelli, tthe big drawhere will be events all across the central business district, incorporating a range of stimuli and drawing media. I’m intrigued by the wide range of community service organisations who have committed to being involved and the way that the local government is promoting this event as part of wider efforts to encourage locals to make use of the facilities in the heart of the city. Pragmatically, art is apparently seen as a gateway to urban renewal.

I’m hoping to get to see some of these events and possibly even participate. I thought about waiting to write about this project until I could experience it in person, but then decided that I wasn’t sure how I was going to assess its “success”. I started to wonder how much of the value of these kinds of mass-art projects lies not in the end project as much as in the experience of the participants. As Sara Schumacher has written previously, participatory art is by nature so much more than the resulting art work. And so, I will go and participate not with a view to assessing success or fail but to enjoy the experience.

I’m interested in hearing about your experiences with these kinds of community art projects and efforts to contribute to the life of the cities of the world. Have you participated in a Big Draw event in the UK or a This is Our City project in the US?

Authored by Anna Blanch.
 Australian by birth, and inclination, Anna grew up surrounded by the Australian bush, a large extended family, bush poetry, and sport. Anna is currently writing her PhD in Theology and Literature.

[1] The Campaign for Drawing. Accessed 21 January 2013.


  • Anna M. Blanch is a regular contributor to Transpositions. She is Australian by birth, and inclination, Anna grew up surrounded by the Australian bush, a large extended family, bush poetry, and sport. Anna is currently writing her PhD in Theology and Literature. She finds photography, enjoying her environment and its fruits, and being in community bring her joy.

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  1. says: Marilyn

    Thanks for the article!

    1) I too have been following This Is Our City, since I’m fascinated with the urban aesthetic and culture and energy, the City of God, etc. Neat to hear someone else’s thoughts on it.

    2) While I have participated in neither Big Draw or TIOC, my hometown in San Diego County had its usual Downtown/Mainstreet Fair last year– and someone purposefully left hundreds of sticks of colorful chalk at various street corners and stoplights.

    Everyone loved it. There was color everywhere, all these crazy designs and portraits and messages and so on. I hope they do it again next year– the community made its home beautiful again and bonded with each other.

  2. says: Jonathan Evens

    commission4mission member Nadiya Pavliv-Tokarska has just completed a call for artists to participate in an exhibition entitled ‘Cities: All Dimensions’ at the Tokarska Gallery in Walthamstow (http://tokarskagallery.co.uk/citiesalldimensions). This will be a two part show running from February to March 2013.

    In her call for artists she noted that:

    “In 2008, the world reached an invisible but momentous milestone: For the first time in history, more than half its human population were living in urban areas. It is estimated that the next few decades will see an unprecedented scale of urban growth. Living in the city is a fact of modern life. From the rich architectural and cultural heritage, vibrant demographics to long commutes and large crowds, life living and working in a city takes on different dimensions. Cities influence its residents in many ways. Some see them as ever-changing complex urban systems, yet some see them as captivating fragments of our existence.”

    Mark Lewis and Peter Webb, also commission4mission artists, have many years experience of ‘The Big Draw’ having run events annually at St Mary’s Woodford (http://www.stmaryswoodford.org.uk/) – see http://commissionformission.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/the-big-draw.html for the last such event. Their next similar event will be on Saturday 16th February in the St Mary’s Memorial Hall alongside St Mary’s Woodford. Mark has previously run workshops as part of the national launch of The Big Draw – see http://www.londonmet.ac.uk/news/latest-news/jcamd-academics-join-quentin-blake-for-national-launch-of-the-big-draw.cfm.

    Mark says: “Drawing is a great way to ‘see’ and a powerful means of personal expression and communication. Drawing can also be a journey of discovery, inspiring, reflective, therapeutic and fun.”

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