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Funding is biggest challenge to delivering iconic art for Birmingham

Funding is likely to pose the biggest challenge to delivering an iconic piece of public art for Birmingham that could rival the famous Angel of the North.
The Selfridges building in Birmingham and the Angel Of The North sculpture near Newcastle

Funding is likely to pose the biggest challenge to delivering an iconic piece of public art for Birmingham that could rival the famous Angel of the North.

The difficulties of raising £1 million to fund the artwork were highlighted at a public forum organised by Birmingham Civic Society to garner ideas and opinions on the initiative.

The civic society, supported by Birmingham City Council, has launched a drive to commission a new public artwork for the city, which is hopes will be unveiled in time for its centenary in 2018.It says it wants to create something “innovative and highly visible” that would put Birmingham on the international art map, reflect the city’s character and be enjoyed by tourists, art lovers and successive generations.

The public forum took place in Birmingham’s council chamber, where a healthy turnout was addressed by Birmingham Civic Society vice-chairman Glyn Pitchford, who is spearheading the public art project.“We will have to raise at least £1 million,” said Mr Pitchford. 

“Raising that funding will be our biggest challenge from the outset, so this is by no means certain.”Mr Pitchford said a steering group would now be set up for which he hoped to recruit  “at least ten big hitters” whose commercial experience and acumen would prove invaluable in helping to raise the funding.

He added that a variety of potential funding sources would be explored, with the scheme aiming to attract sponsors and benefactors, as well as applying for Arts Council England and charitable trust grants.

A lively public forum saw a diverse range of ideas put forward by members of the public, representatives of organisations and artists based in the city.Mr Pitchford said one of the aims was to consider what defines Birmingham, what a public work of art means, what defines an iconic work of art and possible locations for the new artwork.Ideas put forward ranged from utilising the city’s BT Tower in some way to sculptures commemorating some of the city’s famous figures like Herbert Austin or JRR Tolkien.

Also suggested was something that reflected the city’s manufacturing heritage, in particular the motor car, or its diverse ethnic mix.Other suggestions included utilising the city’s canals, something based on the theme of its anchor hallmark symbol reflecting the heritage of the Jewellery Quarter and having the work of art close to the new High Speed 2 rail terminal.

Nigel Edmondson, the city council’s city centre design manager said the artwork could come under one of a number of categories, objects, places or events and urged people to be open-minded.If the fundraising drive is a success Birmingham Civic Society plans to launch an open competition to find an artist to create the artwork.

Gavin Wade, of Eastside projects, said Birmingham currently has “the most vibrant arts scene the city has ever had” and stressed the importance of allowing the chosen artist free rein to deliver an artwork, rather than having something prescribed.It was also suggested that the scheme should consider a number of works of art, perhaps as many as ten, with the commissions being given to artists based in the city.

Drawing the meeting to a close Mr Pitchford said: “I don’t know how ambitious we are or want to be. Should the artwork be prescribed and then commissioned, or left to the artist to come up with something? Sometimes the latter is very risky. But we are serious about it.“We will consider all ideas but can’t say definitively what we will do at this point but we will move forward by setting up a steering group.”

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