Public art and the regeneration of Leeds

Aerial/drone view of Hibiscus Rising
06 Mar 2024

In the first in our series on regeneration, Sue Ball reflects on the role of city leaders in enabling Leeds to become ‘culturally braver’ through imaginative commissioning of public art.

Hibiscus Rising: The power of public art

Hibiscus Rising sculpture against a blue sky
28 Nov 2023

From public sculptures to powerful performances, new commissions have a unique ability to connect with audiences – which is why Art Fund is keen to support them, explains Robert Dingle.  

Co-creating public space: How can we thrive?

Delegates at conference
14 Nov 2023

Public art is an opportunity for collective expression of identity. In his reflections on a recent conference, Woodrow Kernohan says co-creation offers the potential to realise more equitable futures together.

DCMS pushes 'retain and explain' approach on contested statues

Statue of Edward Colston being pulled down by demonstrators in 2020
05 Oct 2023

Guidance designed to help custodians of controversial public statues and monuments deal with calls for their removal has been published by government.

Parliament defends 'no expenses' public art commission

National Memorial Arboretum (Alrewas, Staffordshire)
25 Jul 2023

Confirmation that artists submitting proposals for a project worth half a million pounds will not have their costs covered comes amid concerns about a lack of diversity in public art.

A-Level students' street art removed after complaints

20 Jul 2023

A-Level students in Bury St Edmunds have had their street art removed after less than a week due to complaints.

The art students from Abbeygate Sixth Form College installed two mural banners at the arc shopping centre in the Suffolk town as part of a wider arts and education project on crime and punishment.

However, after complaints from visitors and residents, arc centre manager Allan Hassell, who apologised to the students for any upset, decided to take the banners down.

Artist Louise Gridley, who worked on the project, said she was “deeply disappointed” the murals had been removed.

Describing the banners, she added: “It’s about social justice. It’s about students learning about what happened in the past, people who lived here, and then making judgements about it.

“For example, on one of the murals there’s a picture of a wolf and the wolf was there to represent authority and the fact it was overbearing and the punishments were too harsh.

“None of the students were glamorising what had happened, but telling the stories that happened to real people.”

Study highlights lack of diversity in public art

Head of invention sculpture outside Design Museum, London.
13 Jul 2023

Public arts sector must 'evolve and improve accessibility' in order to address lack of representation from diverse communities, report finds.

Public art programme announced for Bristol Beacon reopening

20 Jun 2023

Four artists have been commissioned to create new works as part of reopening plans for Bristol Beacon following its £132m redevelopment.

Artists Rana Begum, Linda Brothwell, Giles Round and Libita Sibungu will create new works for the city centre concert hall.

Bristol Beacon Chief Executive Louise Mitchell said the venue's public art programme "will help us to ensure we make the most of and celebrate this special space, reflecting the 150-plus years of history whilst also looking forward to the future".

She added: "The four artists that were selected to deliver these commissions have proposed exciting new works that are sympathetic to their surroundings and will help to create an uplifting and joyful space that enhances the music and welcomes people in".  

The Grade II listed venue, which changed its name from Colston Hall last year to "distance itself from any association" with its namesake, 17th Century slave trader Edward Colston, is set to reopen in November.

Accessible art trail for young wheelchair users announced

25 Apr 2023

A UK charity for young wheelchair users is creating the country's first step-free art trail this summer.

Whizz-Kidz will present Morph’s Epic Art Adventure, featuring more than 50 "super-sized sculptures" of the plasticine children’s TV character, who first appeared in 1977 in the BBC programme Take Hart.

Taking place from 19 June to 20 August 2023 in Central London, each Morph sculpture will be uniquely designed by well-known and emerging artists.

A series of ‘Mini Morph’ sculptures adopted and created by schools will also be displayed, and a trail map and app will help wheelchair users find their way.  

A statement from Whizz-Kidz said: "The Morph sculptures will be canvases for conversations about diversity and inclusion for wheelchair users.

"As part of Morph’s Epic Art Adventure in London, Whizz-Kidz will use the art trail to encourage the public, business community and young people to envision what a more inclusive world might look like for young wheelchair users, and what role they might wish to play in making this a reality."

UNBOXED: unpacked

29 Mar 2023

A new evalution into UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK has been published. Vikki Heywood believes it shows the programme was a good use of public money.

Campaigners protest ongoing closure of Swindon museum

21 Mar 2023

Campaigners in Swindon calling for a museum to reopen held a tea party earlier this week to mark three years since its closure.

Swindon’s Museum and Art Gallery has been closed since March 2020, when the first Covid-19 lockdown measures were announced.

Since then, Swindon Borough Council has agreed to sell the museum’s former venue, Apsley House, to a property developer.

The museum was supposed to be rehoused in a new building, but Councillor Matty Courtliff said that inflation had increased contractors’ estimates, leading to a funding shortfall.

Linda Casmaty, Chair of the Friends of Swindon Museum, told the BBC that she was “disappointed and frustrated” by the situation.

“It's not fair on the people of Swindon – it has been identified as an area of low cultural engagement,” she said. “It could be 10 to 15 years before a new museum is built.”

Instead of funding a new building for the museum, Courtliff said the council was looking into installing the museum and art exhibits on the first floor of the town’s Civic Offices, but no timeline has been provided to local residents. 

Campaigners said that the town, which has a population of more than 220,000 people, currently has no art gallery and nowhere to display its art collection.

“You need to be able to see art, it's no use looking at it in a book,” Casmaty said. “We could get so many visitors if they would open this.

“I'm very keen that Swindon could become a tourist destination and this is one of the things we need.”

Arts and culture fund launches in Liverpool

20 Mar 2023

Liverpool Business Improvement District (BID) has shared details of a new arts and culture fund it is making available to organisations in the city.

The funding programme, called the Liverpool BID Arts & Culture Fund, will offer small grants of less than £5,000 covering 100% of project costs and a larger grant which can cover up to 50% of total project costs.

Museums, galleries, libraries and festivals are among those being invited to apply for funding for projects that promote and showcase the city.

Liverpool BID says eligible projects should align with its objectives, which include driving footfall to the city centre, improving the city perspective, showing innovation and helping to showcase Liverpool as a thriving city.

Applications for the first round are open until 27 March, with a second round scheduled for September.

"We have a long commitment to arts and culture in Liverpool and this fund is the next logical step, especially when the public purse is under so much pressure," Liverpool BID Chief Executive Officer Bill Addy said.

"Alongside the public art we have supported, we hope that this fund can support those who want to bring even more colour and creativity to the city centre."

Pleasure, connection, purpose: How museums can leverage emotions

'Project What If' exhibition at We The Curious. Eight tv screens showing different visual imagery.
09 Feb 2023

Museums are not only holders of our histories and stories, but also repositories of a range of emotions, elicited when we encounter collections, writes Lucy Bird.

V&A urged to return religious relic to Cork

24 Jan 2023

A politician in Cork is calling on the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) to return an Irish religious relic thought to have been looted by British forces in the 17th Century.

Sean Sherlock, a Labour member of the Irish Parliament, said that he would like the V&A to return the artefact, known as the Mount Keefe Chalice.

Dating from the 16th Century, the chalice is likely to have been looted from a church during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in the 17th Century, CorkBeo reported.

The artefact was purchased for £400 by V&A officials in 1929, from an heiress living in Cork, who had purchased it from a dealer.

Sherlock called for a “formal dialogue” with the UK to establish a framework between museums in both countries and discuss the return of the artefact.

“I’d like to see a bilateral process between Ireland and the UK where artefacts and antiquities which are of Irish origin could be returned to us. There are probably thousands of artefacts of Irish origin which should be decolonised,” he said.

“I imagine many artefacts ended up in English possession because they were associated with our colonial past. I certainly would like to see the V&A return the chalice.”

A spokesperson for the V&A said that the museum’s archives don’t include any information suggesting that the chalice might have once been stolen or linking it to British military raids.

“We would welcome the opportunity to explore any new information that comes to light about V&A collections – the Chalice is available for loan to museums in Ireland, which could support further study,” the spokesperson told CorkBeo.

Derby Museums 'face reduced hours or closures'

12 Jan 2023

Proposed cuts to council funding for Derby’s museums could result in reduced hours or closures, leaders of the charitable trust running them have warned.

Derby City Council told Derby Museums, which runs several of the city’s museums, that its grant is set to decrease from £710,000 to £639,000 from April this year.

“Due to a perfect storm of rising costs and inflation, the council has to make an unprecedented level of savings to balance its budget”, a council spokesperson said, adding that all services were being asked to reduce their budgets by 10%.

In an open letter, Derby Museums' Executive Director Tony Butler warned that the proposed cuts could have a “devastating effect” at a time when museums’ own costs were spiralling.

The trust currently runs the city's museum and art gallery in The Strand, as well as the Museum of Making, and Pickford's House.

“The proposed cuts will be compounded by the challenging financial climate,” he said.

“High inflation has increased our costs. We currently spend £160,000 a year on gas and electricity and that could double… The current financial model leaves little headroom and as things stand, I fear we may run out of road.”

He added that the cuts could force museums to take measures including site closures, reductions in opening hours and staffing and the introduction of admissions charges.

Reclaiming public space

Immersive audio installation 'Strand Aldwych': new public space with audio installation on street in central London.
11 Jan 2023

A long-held vision to pedestrianise one of the most polluted areas in London has been realised. Jonathan Reekie outlines how a partnership between the local authority, business and cultural institutions was crucial to making it happen.

National History Museum criticised for gagging clause with oil sponsor

11 Jan 2023

The National History Museum has been widely criticised for a contract it signed with a Danish oil company. 

The contract was originally negotiated in 2016 with Dong Energy, a Danish company with substantial investments in oil and gas. The company changed its name to Ørsted the following year, switching its focus from fossil fuels to renewables.

The current agreement with Ørsted, which sponsors the museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, is set to continue until September 2023.

The Observer reports that the original contract included a gagging clause that prevented the museum from making “any statement or [issuing] any publicity which may reasonably be foreseen as discrediting or damaging the reputation” of the company.

Environmental groups have denounced the partnership, raising concerns about the influence of large corporations on public discourse around environmental issues and accusing the museum of greenwashing.

“It is totally unacceptable that, when the public walk through the doors of British museums, the information they consume is being controlled by large corporations,” said Robin Wells, a spokesperson for campaign group Fossil Free London.

The National History Museum has issued a statement denying that sponsors have influence over the editorial content of its exhibitions. 

“Clauses such as this are standard for corporate partnerships but, as they can be open to misinterpretation with regards to the absolute editorial control we retain, we no longer include them in new agreements,” it said.

A spokesperson for Ørsted said that the company “would not seek to influence the Natural History Museum’s views or limit its ability to provide its usual high standard of independent, critical, fact-based commentary on any aspect of the energy industry sector”. 

Selby District Council approves public art plan

10 Jan 2023

Selby District Council (SDC) has approved a plan to increase public art in the area.

The Public Art Plan, which covers the North Yorkshire areas of Selby, Sherburn and Tadcaster, will seek to increase quantity and quality of public art in a bid to add joy to the local community and boost tourism to the area.

SDC’s Executive approved the plan in a meeting last week.

In the same meeting, the Executive also approved a Heritage Interpretation Masterplan which will promote Selby’s heritage offer to “increase civic pride, revitalise communities and bring new audiences to the area”, according to a project report.

Selby, which features in Arts Council England's (ACE) list of priorty places for investment, will also be represented in ACE's national portfolio for the first first time when the funder's new portfolio begins in spring, with visual arts organisation Mediale set to receive £196,000 a year.

National Portrait Gallery launches youth initiative with Raheem Sterling

14 Dec 2022

A charity established by England footballer Raheem Sterling has joined forces with the National Portrait Gallery to launch a creative youth engagement and skills development programme.

The London-based programme, called "Making of Me", aims to raise the career aspirations of 30 young people who want to express themselves creatively. 

Participants will be invited to take part in a series of 12 workshops and masterclasses, working with photographers, filmmakers and digital producers to create artworks exploring self-identity, representation, place and community.

They will be encouraged to take inspiration from portraits in the National Gallery’s collection.

The initiative aims to foster a sense of community and belonging among participants, while equipping them with a variety of skills and arming them with the knowledge needed to forge creative careers.

It is part of the National Gallery’s Inspiring People project, increasing the gallery’s reach during its closure. The programme will culminate in 2023, when the venue is set to reopen after major transformations to its building, with an exhibition of the participants’ work.

“Social mobility, education and employment make up the foundation’s three pillars and this project is a perfect fit for what we are aiming to achieve – helping to expand horizons, raise aspirations and create opportunities for the next generation,” said Clive Ellington, Chair of Trustees for the Raheem Sterling Foundation.

Unboxing the future

07 Dec 2022

There has been considerable criticism of UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK - from the sector, in the press and in parliament. Here, its Programme Director Sam Hunt responds to the commentary.


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