BBC North West Tonight features Bolton’s Digital Arts Centre

Video Credit: Laura Moir/BBC North West Tonight There’s art in everything: from the colourful designs found on the walls of the Sainsbury’s computer lab in Pontefract, to the specially commissioned pieces used by an…

BBC North West Tonight features Bolton's Digital Arts Centre

Video Credit: Laura Moir/BBC North West Tonight

There’s art in everything: from the colourful designs found on the walls of the Sainsbury’s computer lab in Pontefract, to the specially commissioned pieces used by an army of trompe l’oeil artists in modern caves.

BBC North West Tonight has produced a series on art galleries and how they can be transformed from run-down building to deliciously hidden gem.

The Digital Arts Centre in Bolton can be described as an arts destination, thanks to the beautiful work of artist Alex Ayres.

In 1999, he was commissioned to commission artwork at Bolton’s Alder Hey Children’s Hospital.

Mr Ayres took his place between the bricks and had to cut a series of 12ft by 12ft images in wood.

Sadly, his ability to measure his task so accurately meant he was unable to recreate the original art he had created, but he can still conjure up entirely new scenes with the only tools required – a chalkboard and scissors.

The award-winning centre was once home to a couple and their young son, celebrating his baby-doll collection.

Margaret and Ian Cooper spent their whole lives in it, until, in a flash, Margaret died from ovarian cancer – leaving behind their artwork.

When Ian turned up for the funeral, he found three of the woman’s dolls – the two with flat heads and the other with a full head – gone.

“I had all these big cardboard boxes of posters – my own work, Margaret’s work – all in this pile and I said, ‘What is this all about?'”

Cut out

For four years, the Coopers carried on to create each piece, with Margaret writing her own codewords in the back of each one.

Margaret Cooper was insistent that no one else know about the project.

And so it worked: nobody turned up.

These days, the art project has become an important part of the BT Premiership, with players’ pictures unveiled on the outside of the building – but the players are unable to unsee it and images of her three babies are pinned to the wall.

Now 70, Margaret is delighted that she did not have to endure such tragedy again, but at a certain stage, she reached breaking point, wondering if she might have “gone mad”.

“I had every guardian angel that there was in the universe, so I felt that I shouldn’t go round the other side, as I have ended up somewhere else.”

She was delighted when someone turned up one day and had his car changed.

“I thought: ‘Wow, it’s true that it’s really nice.’

“I said: ‘I’m in total pain.’ It was quite important for me that I didn’t really go round the other side.”

Eventually, the Coopers decided to sell it, as the owner had a flat on the other side.

“We were kept busy, it was very well appreciated.”

A Charity Donation

BBC North West Tonight tested the centre’s knife-edge cutting skills when we cut into 11 million bricks, forming the title lines for a Banksy puzzle with 20 short stories featuring legends of football, monsters, castles and eagles.

The idea is that a player can figure out which one is the most difficult, and win a year’s membership to the MCC.

The password: qyegfbqfaqwgn.

The centre’s creative director, who has worked with Andy Warhol and Andy Warhol’s lawyer, saw the challenge as “an excellent platform for play”, and awarded the project The BBC North West Young Audiences Award (most exceptional broadcast project) – and £2,000 to cover the costs of the project.

The tiles finished in time for the Taunton & Somerset international Cricket event in June.

For Alex Ayres, his memory of working with the Coopers in their former art gallery is still very vivid, and leaves him with a curious urge to make new cuts every day.

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