Travelling chimps

Snailspace – is it is as good as Snowdogs by the Sea?

This summer Brighton has been invaded by snails. Not the slimy type, but the arty, fibre-glass sculpture type. There are 50 giant ‘Snailspace’ molluscs at locations across the city, all hand-painted by local artists, community groups and schools. It is the second time the Martlets, a Brighton palliative-care charity, have created a giant sculpture trail to fundraise. After the success of Snowdogs by the Sea, it was hotly anticipated.  But is it as good?

Snail spotting

Snail space Hove Park
Our most expensive snail. We got a parking ticket trying to tag this one. Grrrr

The boys, particularly our youngest, was snail-mad from the moment they brought a junior snail into school for the kids to decorate. Soren, 5 and a half, could remember the Snowdogs but was a bit too young to really take part in the trail. Kit had been involved in creating the schools Snowpup, the schools version of the Snowdog, and it was Kit who is in all our Snowdog photos (sometimes with Soren strapped into a bike seat in the background!). This time Soren clearly decided it was his turn to lead the charge.

For the past few weeks we have been incorporating the art trail into our weekends, often choosing where to go based on where we can spot new snails. We’ve taken our bikes out on the seafront, hiked around Stanmer Park, gone for a family meal at the Marina on a Friday night, trekked around the Laines and been to the Duke of Yorks for Saturday morning kids club.  I have to admit, it’s been lovely exploring the city with an aim. I hate it when we get to weekends and end up lolling around the house because we’ve done all the free activity options to death. The snails do make you see the city in a new way and I’ve enjoyed seeing new art by the local community.  We’ve seen some amazingly decorated shells – some by artists we know, who have loved the opportunity to showcase their work as part of a city-wide project, which is wonderful.

What wasn’t very wonderful was getting a parking ticket for £100 at Goldstone Retail Park for leaving our vehicle in the car park while we dashed across the road to see the Hove Park snail and take part in Hove Junior Park Run. They watched us leave and even though the shops were closed, we were only 20 minutes and we didn’t think we were doing anything wrong, they have been targeting the junior park run and trying to catch out parents between 9 and 9.30. So devious.

What do the kids think of Snailspace?

So why does Soren like Snailspace?  I asked and the verdict was “I really like the name snail trail. I like finding new ones – it’s fun. The best one so far is one that I haven’t seen yet”. I’m not sure whether his answer is confusing or enlightening but either way he is enjoying it. I love it when he scoots at super-speed because he’s spotted a new one or shouts out of the car window at people ‘there! there!’ , assuming everyone’s focus is on finding giant gastropods!

Kit, at 8, seems less interested. Although he loved the first trail and was super keen to download the app for this one, he lost interest quickly. If we spot one while we are out and about he’ll go and look but if he has a better offer (a chance to go to Smiggle for example), or tracking one down means a detour and a longer walk, he doesn’t want to do it. I was surprised when he said that he thinks Snailspace is better than the Snowdogs, when I grilled him on it though it was because  “the snails have funnier names like ‘I ain’t no slug’ and ‘Gary’.  

What was the first art trail in Brighton?

Disco Dog Snowdogs by the Sea
Kit’s favourite was Disco Dog

In October 2016 the Martlett’s launched The Snowdogs by the Sea – a whole new thing for Brighton. There were 44 giant Snowdog sculptures placed all around the city and everyone was full joy about Brighton’s claim on Raymond Briggs, author of the Snowman™ and The Snowdog. I was working for Brighton i360 at the time and the owners had sponsored a dog, which we named Belle, so we were part of the huge build up to the launch. I’d heard about similar art trails in Bristol and the ensuing public enthusiasm, so was thrilled that Brighton & Hove had fallen under the same spell. I also thought it was brilliant that the schools were also getting involved, creating Snowpups that would also be displayed. Well done Brighton!

When I quizzed Kit as to why he enjoyed Snowdogs by the Sea so much and he said:  “I liked that there was loads of different art pieces and none of them had a mistake on it. And I loved finding them. My favourite was disco dog”. 

Much as we have done with Soren this time round, we traipsed across the city on Kit’s command, looking for Snowdogs and scanning QR codes to add them to our app. We met up with friends and explored the city, we even paid to go to an extra date of a ‘sell-out’ event to see all the Snowdogs in one room.  At that point, 2 months after launch, it started to feel a bit like the Martlets had done as much as they could with it – it was rammed in there, underwhelming (we had already seen them all on the street), they were selling tons of Snowdog merchandise that we didn’t want (but of course the kids did) and you couldn’t even get a drink. We left feeling quite sick of the sight of those pesky pups and must have had the ‘at least it was for charity’ conversation with about 10 other similarly frazzled parents on the way home.

Why have they done another art trail in Brighton?

The whole Snowdogs by the Sea event was phenomenally successful for the Martlets and so it is not surprising they wanted another bite at the cherry. Not only did it raise £310,000 for the Martlets but it also contributed £10.1 million to the local economy, with 42% of people visiting somewhere new in the city because of the trail. In the end, over 350,000 people went hunting for the Snowdogs and shared their photos and stories online (#BrightonSnowdogs made 14.6 million impressions!).

Brighton charities like to share learning and whilst working for TDC (Trust for Developing Communities), I went to a talk by the Martlets about the impact of the trail. Along with the above info they told us that they were planning a new trail for 2018. I, along with many others in the room, questioned whether this was foolhardy – like winning at the casino and then staking your winnings on another go. Wasn’t it risky? Would people really want to do another trail? Apparently yes. They confidently told us that it takes 2 years for people to reach a point where they are ready to go again – enough time to remember the first time fondly but not feel as if they are out of pocket from the last round of fundraising.

I didn’t wholly believe I would engage with another trail it but it’s true – I wasn’t as excited by the arrival of the snails but I’ve definitely enjoyed searching the city for them.

So why the Martlets and not another charity?

Hove Seafront racing snail
Escaping the norm – one of the snails with more than just a paint job.

At the Martlets talk, the fundraising team talked about the gamble they took by setting up Snowdogs by the Sea.  They told us how much it cost to run and although I can’t recall it now, I remember being absolutely gobsmacked. It was far more than the majority of local charities could have spent on an event – a massive gamble.

If the Martlets had not had success getting the £5k sponsorship for each sculpture then it may have been a very different story for them. As it turned out, it was the right move – they are well established in the city and have loyal supporters including several major donors. Once a couple of businesses and individuals had invested all the others followed suit – how could they not, it was so public. I’m sure a few of them felt like they didn’t really have a choice – I was working for BAi360 at the time and we had to spend a huge chunk of our minuscule marketing budget on our dog for fear of losing public and business support if we didn’t. In a way they had us over a barrel.

When so many people have invested in an event (both financially but also physically – the Snowdogs were painted by artists and then businesses got to choose which one they wanted to sponsor at an event on the Pier. At the sound of the whistle you had to run and put your sticker on the one you chose… there were raised voices, people on the floor – it sounded like carnage!) everyone wants it to be a success. It launched to adoration; Brighton & Hove fell in love with Snowdogs. Even when the trail finished up people were bidding huge amounts at auction to keep them forever. The Martlets even told us people who weren’t regular supporters were paying thousands for dogs to keep in their gardens at home. What a shame that GDPR means that you can’t ever look into who those people are and whether they’d like to carry on donating

But why snails this time?

The Martlets work with Wild in Art, the company behind most of the pop-up public art trails in UK cities. This year alone they have had GoGoHares in NorwichBee in the City in Manchester, Maggie’s Penguin Parade in Dundee, Hoodwinked: A Twist on the Tale in Nottingham, Worcester Stands Tall in Worcester, Elmer’s Big Parade in both Suffolk and Plymouth, Go Wild Gorillas in Jersey, Wallabies gone Wild on the Isle of Man and even another Snowdogs Trail in Ashford.  They have the concept nailed – you can either pick from a portfolio of animals that make a good ‘blank canvas’ or work with their team to design something that fits your city.

According to the Martlets site, the choice of snails was suggested by Charlie Langhorne, Director of Wild in Art,. He said it was because they thought Brighton needed ‘something unexpected’ after the Snowdogs. Imelda Glackin, CEO of Martlets, felt that the snail was a perfect emblem for the work the Martlets do – it encourages people to slow down and enjoy their time with loved ones. I’m not entirely convinced the concept was reached before the list of sculpture options arrived – snails to me do not conjure up images of quality time – but I don’t think it really matters what they chose. It’s the trail and the art that are important, not the canvas on which it is displayed.

So will Snailspace be as popular as the Snowdogs by the Sea?

Prisnailla – our first snail, decorated by my friend’s wife Francesca Grace Mcleod. Very talented and very alone at Brighton Marina.

I seem to remember from the Martlets talk that Wild in Art had predicted they would make even more money on the second trail. So far it’s looking positive – there are more 6 more snails than there were Snowdogs and it doesn’t seem as if they had trouble filling the corporate sponsor slots. I’m sure most of the previous sponsors were approached again; it would seem churlish to decline participating this time around. That said, there is a definite lack at the Black Rock end of town – just the one hidden in a square at the Marina. Instead they’ve been replaced by new sponsors, keen to get in on the citywide action.

In terms of popularity it’s hard to judge. The trail is still on the streets and whenever you pass one there are people are going crazy for the critters – photographing and uploading their snaps. Kit thinks that  it won’t be as popular as ‘Snowdogs was the first’. I’m inclined to agree. The Snowdogs were more exciting and interesting because they were the first of their type. I also think that whilst the snail art has been wonderful, there isn’t the variety in texture / style that we had with the Snowdogs. Most of them are just brightly painted – albeit beautifully – whereas the kids loved the Snowdogs with mirror tiles and fur.

There are a couple of snails that have veered away from the norm – I love the one on Hove seafront which is styled to look like a car and has seats inside the shell – that one will definitely sell at auction. I do think they are missing a trick with snails climbing up walls though and I’d like to have seen a different take on the idea – something new for 2018… BAi360’s snail in graffiti on top of a rooftop perhaps?

It will be interesting to see what happens at the end – I don’t think the auction element will be as popular as before – for all those people who bought a Snowdog, you rarely see them displayed. When you do, they seem big and slightly out-of-place.  I would have guessed that a lot of them are now sitting in store rooms but the Martlets did a follow-up article that showed lots of them in their new homes. I’m not sure it’s a selling point that one of them – Dave the Dog – helps to keep seagulls away from the pub garden at Hove Place. That’s one expensive scarecrow! Perhaps the Martlets predicted the evolution of interest though – 2018 has other revenue streams; tiered sponsorship and an app you have to pay for.

Whatever happens. whichever is best, we’ve enjoyed Snailspace. It’s engaged us, got us travelling on foot and by bike across the city, helped the kids learn about art, shown us new parts of Brighton & Hove and it’s raised a bit of money for a good cause. So maybe the auction won’t be as successful as 2016 but I’m sure the Martlets will be overall. Good luck to them – even if I do end up sick of snails