It started so well. A smart new development of flats in Southampton, and a public art obligation included in the planning permission. There was an arts organisation recruiting and managing the artist and engaging and working with local community groups. There was the young and enthusiastic artist, busy sculpting another masterpiece. There was the Director of the development company, who was not involved in the delivery of the project, but oh dear ……… did not like what he saw on a computer screen. Did not like the sculpture so beautifully carved, and decided to cancel the commission.
This is probably not the first or the last time that this will happen, art can be controversial after all. Unfortunately the community group that were involved in workshops did not have a say in whether the finished sculpture was abandoned or not, and now there is a sculpture without a home. The development has been furnished with a bench incorporating a shelter which is probably easier on the eye – the directors eye at least.
Created by Thomas Kenrick, this is the crown section of his ‘Tree of Hope’ there are sections of trunk to support it, but it could also be installed as shown here, so that the beauty of the carving can be viewed more easily.
Whilst it is disappointing for Thomas, there are serious questions here, about who is the arbiter of taste, and who has the authority to make decisions about public art in public places. The Council were unable, or unwilling to become involved in the project, the arts organisation and the project manager must have thought the design was ‘signed off’, the community groups had worked with the artist and approved the design, so how can one director cancel a commission just before installation.
As more ‘arts officers’ posts within council’s are cut, there is the real possibility that public art increasingly falls to development companies to ‘do it themselves’. Many have little interest or experience and as this instance illustrates there are many pitfalls. Having the right public arts management company or consultant to lead the project can make the difference not only to develop strategy and take it from drawing board to implementation, but also to advice artists and to manage expectations and put in place the checks and balances.
Meanwhile there is a sculpture without a home and a young artist that would love to hear from anyone interested in acquiring the ‘tree of hope’……….