For ten weeks this summer, 40 fabulously colourful and unique elephants will be taking you on a trail throughout Plymouth’s city centre and beyond. Elmer’s Big Parade will not only help you to explore Britain’s Ocean City, it will also create long-lasting memories and make a real difference to the patients and families of St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth.
St Luke’s is working in partnership with Wild in Art and Andersen Press to bring this mass participation, family friendly art trail to life; featuring the much-loved children’s character of Elmer, created by Devon-born artist and author David McKee.
Each of the 40 Elmer sculptures will be designed by both renowned or emerging local and national artists, hand-picked by a specially formed art panel from the 180 designs originally submitted. Adrian Carey – the St Luke’s Project Manager – explains how Elmer’s Big Parade is essentially a public art project:
We have 40 large Elmer sculptures which we’ll be positioning throughout the city and into Cornwall. Each one has been uniquely designed by a chosen artist.
“We have an incredible range of artists from Brian Pollard – who is obviously an established and world-renowned name – through to local amateurs, students, professional artists and artists who paint sculptures on art trails around the country for a living! Each one of those sculptures will be on display at a different location around the city engaging with the public, allowing them to enjoy the different designs from an art perspective.”
As well as an impressive collection of 40 large elephants, there are also 25 smaller ‘Young Elmers’ currently being designed by local schools as part of an Education Trail.
Alongside their Elmer sculpture, schools have been provided with an education resource pack which can be used to drive the creative process to piece together an artistic design for the Young Elmer, but it can also be used for lesson planning.
“The Elmer books are very simplistic on one level,” Adrian explains, “but when you dig a little deeper you can start to uncover themes that are more profound and far-reaching, including some themes that overlay with the St Luke’s perspective of care and compassion.”
Within the Education Programme St Luke’s are also able to include some of their messages around death and dying in an age-appropriate way. Currently, 1 in 29 children are experiencing bereavement of a parent or sibling, which averages around one child in every class. “Elmer is a key that unlocks the work we do and allows the public to start thinking about St Luke’s in a different way.” Emma Couch – the trail’s Account Executive – shares how Elmer was the best choice for this trail:
“He’s just the perfect character for us. There’s been many different sculpture trails around the country, but when St Luke’s met with Elmer, it just matched in so many ways. Not only because people are familiar with Elmer and he’s a much-loved childhood favourite, but also because of the subjects covered within his stories, topics such as diversity and inclusion.
Elmer connects so well with St Luke’s, the concept that ‘elephants never forget’ and making memories for example – there are just so many themes that overlay and fit perfectly.
The key element to Elmer’s Big Parade is the engagement it has and will continue to see past the end of the trail in the autumn. Adrian says there has already been an incredible number of stories emerging as well as relationships developing across the entire project:
“Whether it’s artists who have some sort of relationship with our care. Whether it’s businesses who’ve already raised funds for us but have chosen this year to do it in a different way by becoming engaged with the Elmer project, there has just been an incredible intertwining of stories; and the more people we meet, the more stories there are, and that’s become an integral part of the entire project.”
Elmer has already received a huge amount of interest and the trail hasn’t even begun!
“The reaction has been huge, there’s been a giant wave of attention since the project launched and the sculpture painting begun at our Herd HQ studio.” Emma explains, “People have been coming forward to share their stories and volunteers and businesses have been stepping up to approach us with offers of help and sponsorship. Not just because they have an existing connection with St Luke’s, but because they want to build a relationship with us, which is so important as well – many of us or our families may need the support of St Luke’s at some point in the future.”
Elmer’s Big Parade will see a potential 200,000 people taking part in the trail.
So far, Emma tells us that their social media engagement is off the chart, having reached over 62,000 people in the first month and a BBC Spotlight piece featuring the artist Colin Pethick being viewed over 100,000 times in 10 days, which is not only due to its content, but also due to the great work of Kamila and Scott from Eddystone Media, who manage Elmer’s social media campaign.
When we first started working on Elmer’s Big Parade, everything seemed a long way off in the future, now the project is underway, it’s all starting to get very exciting for the St Luke’s team, with Adrian explaining that there’s something new happening every day:
“Whether it’s an artist starting to paint, or forming a new relationship with a sponsor, or whether it’s an event that we’re hosting or involved with, there’s a constant stream of content and that makes the campaign so much easier.”
The engagement never ends!
“It’s a huge year for Elmer. 2019 is definitely Elmer’s year, he will also be turning 30 on May 25th.” Emma explains, “It’s going to be huge for Plymouth too. It’s a great thing to bring the community together – which it has certainly started to do on so many levels, be it schools, businesses, artists – everyone is becoming engaged and wanting to be involved.”
The project ultimately aims to raise money for St Luke’s so that they may continue to care for patients living with life-limiting illnesses. Adrian tells us how the project has already got people talking about St Luke’s:
“St Luke’s is an incredibly well-known organisation. So many people have heard of us and so many people know of one of our buildings and our locations, but the reality is they don’t know very much about us; there’s more to St Luke’s than the one or two things people may know.
“For example, we see the vast majority of our patients in their own homes, we don’t just see everybody at Turnchapel. People just think of the building on the hill and that’s it, we’ve only 12 beds there, yet we see 3000 patients every year.”
Elmer’s Big Parade will open on July 8th and continue for 10 weeks until September 16th. St Luke’s will then host a public viewing weekend open to anyone wanting to see the elephants they may have missed on the trail and after that, they will say goodbye to the Elmer’s as they are each auctioned.
Adrian and Emma may feel sad to see the elephants go but will have very much enjoyed being involved in a project resulting in a lasting legacy of relationships with artists, schools and businesses and ultimately raise money and awareness for St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth.