Back in May I wrote here about a visit Claire and I paid to the People’s History Museum in Manchester. Today I read in The Observer that due to spending cuts the museum is under threat.


This museum is a true gem that collects together many important pieces of graphic design that chart the history of people’s movements in this country, from pamphlets to posters, from badges to banners. As a result of the funding cut, which means the museum is due to lose out on £200,000, the PHM has launched a campaign to fill this gap. Help the museum survive by making a donation or becoming a supporter and save these graphic relics that played their part in getting us the many rights that we enjoy today.

Letter to the East Anglian Daily Times, re: an article printed on 28.06.14 regarding the publication of the 2014 State Of Ipswich report


I write to take issue with analysis of the State of Ipswich report in Paul Geater’s article on Saturday. It claims “…the poor standard of education probably contributes to it, [Ipswich], having one of the lowest average wages of any town in the country”. Such ‘analysis’ that makes assumptions without presenting any evidence is compounded when, in a reference to the fact that 25% of Ipswich workers earn below the ‘living wage’, it states there is: “a difference between the genders with 18% of men earning below this figure, [£7.65 / hour], but 32% of women below that line”. This is despite the fact that Mr Pinter of Ipswich Borough Council is quoted as saying, “that this difference in wages was in spite of the fact that girls did much better than boys at school”.

In summary the article presents the view that women are worse off in employment than men despite doing better at school, but it is ultimately the education system that is at fault for low wages. While there may be many things wrong with the education system in Ipswich that need addressing, I’m afraid that the blame for low wages and gender differences in the workplace can only be laid at the feet of employers. Such reporting does not hold employers accountable for poor wages and inequality, and in doing so excuses such unacceptable behaviour.

Nigel Ball

People Power installation by Stephan Charnook

Claire and I visited Manchester for the first time at the end of April. Of the many things we saw and did, a highlight for us both was a visit to the People’s History Museum. Housed in a specially converted pump-house, the museum hosts an amazing visual display of artefacts relating to political history of ordinary people in this country, with an obvious bent towards Manchester related events and organisations, from the Peterloo Massacre to celebrating 150 years of the Co-op.



The museum could equally be called the Graphic People’s History Museum, as walking around it becomes obvious just how important graphic design has been to organised labour and grass-roots movements in this county. From broadsheets to posters, from trade union banners to badges and T-shirts—this must be a go-to museum for anyone interested in political graphic design. Importantly, they also have a dedicated conservation room, with conservers fighting the effects of time on historically important trade union banners. (You even get to see them at work through a large plate glass window into what looks like a humidity controlled room with banners laid out on vast tables; unfortunately this is the only area you are not permitted to take photographs).






As the museum covers a vast time period, it is not surprising that the visuals employed to ‘agitate, educate and organise’ change throughout the three floors. From original iconic pre-World War 1 posters that you’ll readily see in graphic design history books, to some truly excruciating 1980s anti-racist GLC posters:


If there are any criticisms I can make of the collection it is that the narrative presented has a left-wing bias that gives the sense that this is the ‘official’ story. While it is understandable that the Labour Party and key trade unions are focussed on in large measure, being highly important and having the biggest historical impact on this country, some factional left parties and organisations are given exposure over others. For example, a sympathetic nod is given to the Anti-Nazi League and the SWP and Militant Tendency, while there is a complete lack of anything relating to anarchist history; there is no Class War or anarcho-punk mentioned anywhere, both of which were very visual in their output and both politically and culturally important throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s in the north of England. Despite this minor gripe, there is a good spread of other worthy causes such as gay & lesbian rights and the Anti-Apartheid Movement, although these were quite fleeting considering the impact they had on changing societal attitudes.



One of the most touching displays for me was a celebration of those that volunteered from the UK to fight fascists in Spain during the Spanish Civil War in 1936, including a typed and signed letter from George Orwell. There is something about this story that I always find moving. Having read and seen much about how ordinary people gave up their time, (and many their lives), to help fight the advance of fascism in Spain, so that the Spanish themselves could concentrate on fighting their own revolution, being confronted by collections of belongings from those on the front lines was over-powering.


A POUM wallet is displayed with volunteers’ belongings from the Spanish Civil War. POUM—a Spanish communist/Marxist party with anarchist sympathies who organised battalions of foreign volunteers to help fight fascists, (and for whom George Orwell fought alongside).


It seems both fitting and sad to write this post today when many right-wing, (and some openly racist), parties have had electoral success in European elections this last week. It was hard not to let his thought linger today as I edited these images to post here. But when we were walking around the museum it was equally depressing that there was not only a corner of the permanent collection devoted to the Manchester born Co-operative Society, but also on the ground floor the Museum was hosting a special exhibition celebrating 150 years of the Co-op. While this in and of itself was a great exhibition, with the Co-op in so much financial and organisational trouble at the moment, it felt like a very deflating experience looking through the Co-operative’s rightfully proud history with knowledge of how recent greed and mismanagement has bought such an important British institution to its knees.

Employees’ magazine for the pre-Co-op CWS




So it is with a bitter-sweet taste in my mouth that I post these pictures here. But regardless, if you are in Manchester at any time then I can not recommend a visit to the People’s History Museum enough.



Today I stumbled across The Truth of Revolution, Brother, a proposed book about the philosophy of punk.

Taking its title from a Crass lyric, (the infamous anarcho-punk band that took punk’s DIY ethos to a whole new socio-political level), the book promises to go well beyond the music, fashion and graphics shlock that most nostalgic punk cash-ins opt for. For anyone like myself who formed many of their personal and social political beliefs from their experiences within the punk movement will understand what an important document this could end up being. Particularly if the accompanying promo video is anything to go by:


The book is being put together by the surnameless Lisa, Charlie and Robin, who say the book is largely written and designed, almost ready to go. With a launch date of August 2014, they’ve started a Kickstarter campaign to raise enough funds for the first print run, and come payday, I’ll be on Kickstarter making my donation.


2014 sees the 50th anniversary of the 1964 First Things First manifesto. In the run up to the launch of First Things First 2014 on Monday 3 March, you can read an article I recently wrote, along with an interview with the author of this contemporary update, over on Eye blog.


After reading the latest copy of Varoom the other day, I’ve really taken to Joe Caslin’s Our Nation’s Sons project which has just won a New Talent award from the Association of Illustrators.


The project is aimed at repositioning the views of young men about themselves in a world of negative stereotypes. As Caslin puts it on his website: “As a nation we have pushed a significant number of our young men to the very edges of society and created within them feelings of neglect and apathy. It is now time to empower these young lads and give them a sense of belonging. I cannot fix the complex problems of apathy and disillusionment by simply sticking a drawing to a wall. However, I can create something more meaningful than any bureaucratic promise and generate a more positive social impact than many published articles, political broadcasts or speeches.”

At the centre of the project is the subject, in more ways than one—as Casiln explains when discussing the process of creating the work: “Find them, draw them, get them to stick them up”, and the positive power of this action on the participant/collaborators can clearly be heard in their voices in this video:


In watching the video it is refreshing to hear the observation of one of the lads involved: “When you’re walking around town you see these huge billboards with pictures of celebrities and models for big brands, it’ll be good just to see a giant image of a normal teenager”. This brings into question stereotypes beyond those of anti-social behaviour and challenges the perception that all teenagers are brand obsessed and incapable of decoding when they are being manipulated by advertising.

This project is a positive one on so many different levels, and it probably takes Caslin to sum it up best: “A drawing has the power to go further than words. But a 40ft drawing has the potential to resonate and disrupt the visual landscape of a city. It has the power to pull a passer-by from the mundane, the power to trend and the power to gain real social momentum. It will re-establish respect for and showcase the capabilities of our nation’s sons.”

The project has just recently moved from the streets of Edinburgh to Caslin’s native Ireland and the dramatic Achill-henge. Read here what the local news made of the project.


Follow Our Nation’s Sons on Facebook

Dear Mr Ball

Thank you for your letter to Sir Nicholas Serota raising your concerns about zero hours contracts at Tate. Sir Nicholas is currently away from the Gallery on Annual Leave but I will be sure to show him your letter when he returns at the end of August. In the meantime I would very much like to reassure you that Tate takes these concerns very seriously.We are aware that the use of zero hours contracts has been criticised in the media in recent weeks. We understand that you have questions about how Tate specifically uses them.

Tate Gallery, and its subsidiary Tate Enterprises Ltd, are committed to engaging members of staff with contracts and working arrangements that are fair. Tate Gallery does not employ any staff on zero hours contracts while Tate Enterprises Ltd employs 40 per cent of its staff on zero hours contracts. Staff engaged on zero hours contracts by Tate Enterprises Ltd work hours based on the employee’s agreed availability and the operational needs of the business. They also accrue holiday pay and are entitled to company sick pay.

Tate Gallery and Tate Enterprises Ltd engages people on a range of contracts appropriate to the type of work. Zero hours contracts, used by Tate Enterprises Ltd, are an effective way to manage the changes in staffing levels that are inherent in retail and catering operations. Zero hours contracts also mean that Tate can offer opportunities to those who require flexibility in their working hours and who choose not to commit to fixed hours.

Thank you again for contacting us with your concerns.

With kind regards,

Lucy Dow
Director’s Assistant
Director’s Office


Dear Nicholas

I have been a Tate member since 2005 and am writing to you regarding the recent disclosure in the media that the Tate employs people on what has been termed ‘zero-hours contracts’. As a Tate member, I feel that I am being complicit in an employment practice that I feel is unacceptable in 2013, and one that I am surprised that the Tate is actively involved in.

Not giving your employees guaranteed hours of employment, I believe, is a practice that should have been outlawed many years ago. I am sure you are aware of the many arguments against such contracts, but to state my opposition to them, I believe they give people on low incomes no security and forces them to live a hand-to-mouth existence. There is little chance of people employed on these contracts being able to find accommodation due to the lack of proof of a guaranteed income. Further to this, should they have legitimate reasons for turning down work, there are reports of people on such contracts fearing they will be marked down as being inflexible and risk losing future employment opportunities. As an organisation that I previously regarded as progressive, I am shocked to find that the Tate thinks this is an acceptable way to ‘reward’ its hard working staff and believe that it could potentially be regarded as an exploitative act, knowing how desperate some people are to work in the arts and how few job opportunities there are in this field.

As a graphic designer and arts based educator, just like you and your staff, I am employed in the creative industries. The UK based creative industries are globally respected and generate a vast wealth that feeds into the UK economy. Further to this, as a university lecturer, I discuss employment ethics with my students on a regular basis and have a strong personal interest in corporate social responsibility. As a result of this, I believe that employers in the creative sector have a responsibility to uphold this respect for all involved in the sector and to treat its workers fairly.

Because of my strong feelings about this issue, I find that my continued financial support of the Tate to be in conflict with my views. I have recently renewed my membership—I even increased it from a ‘Member + Guest’ to a ‘Member + Guest + Extra Card’—but had I been aware of the Tate’s use of ‘zero-hours contracts’ at the time, I would not have renewed it.

There is little I can do about my current membership. However, unless I learn that the Tate has stopped using these ethically questionable contracts before my current membership has run out, I will not be renewing it again. In the meantime, I will boycott cafes and bookshops at any of the Tate galleries that I visit over the coming year so as to not give further financial support to the Tate.

Yours sincerely

Nigel Ball



Contractual Freedom is a short film I made seven years ago about the then obsession with ID Cards and surveillance that Tony Blair’s governement had at the time.

While not directly relevant to the current internet spy scandle, there are enough cross overs to feel it is worth posting this old film again in 2013.

Contractual Freedom

Contractual Freedom was short listed for the Big Issue Film Festival in 2007.

I read about Signal: A Journal of International Political Graphics & Culture, when Rick Poynor reviewed issue 02 for Design Observer recently, and his is a much better critique of this journal than I could give here, so I’ll keep this brief. Published in the United States, issue 01 came out in 2010, and went totally under my radar. Now, in 2012, the second edition has been released, I snapped up both as soon as I could. If you are at all interested in political/agitational graphic design, then they come highly recommended. However, I couldn’t promote one over the other as both are as packed with diverse and inspirational content as each other.

The latest issue features articles about Portuguese street murals; a painter from Mozambique called Malangatana Valente Nguenha, ; spreads of front covers of British Anarchist newspaper Freedom, from 1908 to 1917; and Gestetner Art, among other things.

Issue 01 features the adventures of Red Rat, a comic strip by Van de Weert that evolved from the Dutch punk and squatting scene in the early 1980s; Mexican protest graphics that surrounded the Mexico 68 Olympics; the Taller Tupac Amaru printmaking collective; and graffiti artist Impeach, whose work travels the United States subverting ‘wild style’ graffiti on subway trains into Wild West style graffiti on freight trains.

What I like most about this journal, edited by Alec Icky Dunn and Josh MacPhee, is the exploration of different cultures, examining work and contexts that don’t necessarily crop up in books about political graphic design. That, and the mix of historical and contemporary work. Both these things keep this small book alive and relevant, and stops it being filed under history with out any relevance to the modern day. There are some obvious ‘go to’ books for those interested in political visual communication: Liz McQuiston’s two volume set titled Graphic Agitation, Milton Glaser’s The Design of Dissent, and the recently published and excellent Beauty Is In The Street by Johan Kugelberg & Philippe Vermes. However, because Signal is published as a journal, it gives the wide range of contexts and material discussed a connection to the here and now, a relevant voice that suggests a continuation rather than a static recording.

Now that I’ve found Signal, I just hope the gap between issue 02 and 03 isn’t as great.

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