Leeds as a city has so much to offer to its residents and the many visitors that pass through. Millennium Square sits in the heart of the busy town centre, surrounded by some of Leeds oldest and most famous buildings. The square was opened in 2000, as part of the flagship project to mark the millennium. In the 14 years since it opened, it has been host to Christmas markets, sports screenings, live performances and various concerts to name but a few events. It provides the city centre with an outdoor space to set up events, which is often quite invaluable for a bustling city such as Leeds.
The square is a thoroughfare used by thousands of people each day. Many people who pass through are people going to or from work, others are students attending the nearby colleges and universities, others are families visiting the museums and galleries. It is a hub of movement and also a meeting place for many of the city’s residents. When examining the site and taking various photographs, I noticed a pattern in the movement of people. Most people walk directly across the square, neither stopping nor looking around at what is going on around them. Also, no matter what time of the day, the main route across the square seemed to be from the Northwest corner down to the Southeast, this is the direction that would lead people further into the town centre, towards the shops and the transport lines.
After looking at my findings, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to create something that would somehow make people stop and pay attention, and hopefully for them to realise how amazing Leeds is and how much it has to offer. After coming up with various ideas, I decided to create a ‘vending machine of surprises’. The concept is exactly the same as a normal vending machine but the customer would simply put a small donation into the machine and receive a voucher for some kind of Leeds related experience back. This would be in the form of a golden ticket which would have various gifts on them. These could be money off in local Leeds stores, vouchers for meals at Leeds based restaurants or a day out at a local attraction. This would benefit both the recipient of the voucher and also the local businesses it would help them to gain a wider customer base, boosting the local economy through the extra money spent by the customers.
I decided to place the golden ticket vending machine near to the busiest area of the square. This means that the more people would be likely to stop and use the machine, and so more likely to receive a gift card for their local area. The machine could be a permanent fixture in the square, with the occasional visit from a maintenance team member who would restock it and also take out all donations. The donations would then be put back into the Leeds community through charity donations. The option to pay whatever you want means that poorer members of the community are not excluded from participating.
As an artist, I am very interested in public art, community art and projects that thoroughly engage with people in any way. As well as engaging with the community, projects that enable and benefit the community inspire me more than anything. In my opinion art should not be an elitist part of culture; it should embody the local culture.
Creating an accessible-to-all vending machine will help poorer members of the community make the most of their city and will also give businesses a platform to advertise, gain more customers and create awareness of their services. All of these elements allow for everyone who participates to benefit from the project which is amazing. Leeds can be proud of the installation as it shows just what they have to offer and allows anyone to get involved.
The installation will cause people to stop and think which is also what I believe art should cause people to do. I am increasingly concerned with the way society is so disengaged with what is going on around them. Hopefully, this will cause them to stop and engage with each other while using the machine and then it will give them the opportunity to have a valuable experience within their local community.