With less than 50 days until the General Election, and the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, it is a big year for politics and democracy. Our latest project Democracy Street, working alongside the Houses of Parliament and Arts Council England, allows users to investigate the links between the streets where they live and the people who shaped our society.
The Magna Carta, Latin for The Great Charter, was created in 1215 and was the first document in history to establish the principle that every citizen is subject to the law, including the monarchy. It also guaranteed the rights of individuals against the wishes of the king, their right to justice and their right to a fair trial.
King John’s Royal Seal on the Magna Carta.
This year sees the four remaining copies of one of the most important documents in history being brought together in London for the first time. The Magna Carta is not only thought to be one of the first steps made towards parliamentary democracy in England, but its influences can be seen within the American Bill of Rights written in 1791, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, produced after World War 2.
Over the last 800 years a great many men and women have had a deep and long lasting impact on our society; from better known figures such as Winston Churchill and Queen Victoria, to lesser known people like Millicent Fawcett, a key figure in the suffragist movement. These individuals have been commemorated over time by being the inspiration behind many of our street names, and our latest project Democracy Street allows people to investigate these links.
In 2014 the Houses of Parliament Speaker’s Art Fund and Arts Council England commissioned a national arts project called Democracy Street. To commemorate 800 years since the sealing of the Magna Carta it was decided to create a huge, collaborative piece of art with contributions by the British public, based around the democratic history of the streets where they live and work all around the UK. We were approached by the Houses of Parliament to develop the web app that would be the basis of this art project, due to be displayed in a series of exhibitions across the UK from November 2015.
We were approached by the Houses of Parliament to develop the web app that would be the basis of this art project, due to be displayed in a series of exhibitions across the UK from November 2015.
Portsmouth-based artist Jon Adams will use the public contributions to the project to develop the commemorative artwork. Jon is an established artist, research fellow and Associate Artist at the New Theatre Royal. He draws from his own experiences with Asperger’s and dyslexia to allow him to produce work that finds patterns and creates systems from his inspiration sources.
Our first challenge embarking on this project was to collate the 32,000 entries on several databases from the Houses of Parliament into a useable format. We then had to liaise with the National Portrait Gallery to collect any images of the individuals who could be linked to street names. Our second challenge came from the necessity for the mobile users to be able to discover streets and upload images in real time, as well as allowing desktop users to see these results and images as they happen.
We have lots of experience using and developing this type of technology, such as our interactive robot Sid, so we were able to apply previous lessons learned to this project. It is a complicated process to be able to find streets in a certain location, so to solve this we used a third party API which gave us the raw data to build our maps and the ability to grab the data that is going to be used in the final artwork. The images that people can upload when they discover streets of importance in their area could also be used in the final piece.
The finished web app will be formally launched by a reception at the Houses of Parliament on Thursday 26th March, which our Managing Director Steve is attending. Mobile users will be able to choose whether to ‘Find Streets Around Me’ or ‘Manually Drop a Pin’ anywhere in the UK to begin discovering more about the influence of democracy on the society in which we live. They will also be able to collect 9 different badges to recognise their accomplishments such as Discoverer, Researcher and Explorer.
On the desktop site individuals will be able to see the streets discovered by mobile users in real time, as well as carry out their own research into the political figures behind these street names. Jon Adams will begin to build the artwork inspired by the streets discovered and images uploaded over the next few months, ready for the exhibitions that begin in November. This has been a huge undertaking for the team at Si digital, but we’re really pleased to have been involved with such an important project celebrating the history of democracy in the UK.
Plan your project