Ambitious plans to commission a world-famous piece of public art for Birmingham moved a step closer after the steering group charged with managing the five-year project met for the first time.
The Birmingham Big Art Project is a Birmingham Civic Society initiative supported by the city council. The steering group is tasked with raising funds, appointing a commissioning agent, finding a shortlist of artists and running a competition to select the winning entry.
A public consultation will also form part of the process and it is hoped the artwork will be ready for a grand unveiling in 2018, the centennial year of the civic society.
President of the steering group, The Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Coun Mike Leddy, is joined by Glyn Pitchford, vice-chairman of Birmingham Civic Society, who will chair the panel. Other members include Neil Rami, chief executive of Marketing Birmingham, Bob Warman, Central TV presenter, Beverley Nielsen of Birmingham City University, Geoff Inskip, chief executive of Centro, Paul Sabapathy CBE, Lord Lieutenant of the West Midlands, Gary Taylor, property developer, Jason Wouhra of East End Foods and Birmingham Post editor Stacey Barnfield.
Speaking at the group’s inaugural meeting Mr Pitchford said the scheme has a target of raising a minimum of £2 million for a permanent artwork with ‘wow factor’ in a highly visible site in or around the city centre.
Other essential characteristics of the artwork are that it must be ‘enduring, relevant, memorable, highly photogenic’ and ‘add to the city’s cultural offer’.
Mr Pitchford believes the art could also generate income through souvenir sales.
“This is an ambitious five-year project,” said Mr Pitchford.
“The next move will be the formal registration of our charity foundation and the appointment of the commissioning agent followed by a detailed timetable.
“We do not wish to diminish charitable giving to other important causes and no financial support will come from tax payers but we hope the people and businesses of Birmingham will back the campaign. We hope people will support the project because they see a need to add to the cultural offering in the city.
“Arguably, Birmingham’s greatest selling point is its rich industrial heritage but the city is already adorned with memorials to its leaders and forefathers; people like Matthew Boulton, James Watt and Joseph Priestley so we are not looking for another statue.”
Mr Pitchford quoted examples of public art from around the world such as Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North in Gateshead and Cloud Gate in Chicago to explain how bold, high quality artworks can have a positive impact on the wider economy and help promote Birmingham overseas.
“We may decide to go for a colossus like the Angel of the North created by Iron Man-sculptor Antony Gormley in 1998 at a cost of £1 million and mainly funded by the Lottery Commission,” said Mr Pitchford.
“It has been used in films and TV sets and is a great advertisement for the North East and, importantly, it has helped to regenerate the area in which it stands and a beacon for a string of other projects, such as hotels.
“Another example is Chicago’s Cloud Gate, otherwise known as the Bean and designed by Anish Kapoor. Companies rent the space for private events and it has become the third most photographed sculpture in the world.
“However, the artwork could be small, like the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen which was commissioned in 1909 and still defines the city.
“Our primary objective is to identify a though-provoking, innovative and identifiable public work of art which has to make a statement about Birmingham, attracting tourism and creating economic benefit. It has to be meaningful, highly visible and something of real quality. Its name and location needs to be spot on.”
City council leader Sir Albert Bore is supporting the project in addition to the Lord Mayor who will act as a fund-raising figurehead.
“This project could be the catalyst for a regular arts festival inspiring other works throughout the city,” added Mr Pitchford. “It could help push local art and the creative sector in Birmingham.”
With help from the commissioning agent and other experts the steering group will select a shortlist of interested artists. Birmingham residents will also be consulted on what they would like to see commissioned.
Neil Rami of Marketing Birmingham said: “Our vision must be around creating a piece of art that works for the citizens of Birmingham first and foremost and if it’s good quality it will have a much wider appeal. The location of the Angel of the North at the side of the A1 was Antony Gormley’s decision but it was built for the people of Gateshead.”
Deputy leader of Birmingham City Council, Coun Ian Ward, cited two very different examples of recent public art in Birmingham.
“We had the Forward statue in Centenary Square. It wasn’t widely understood and ended up being vandalised and burned down,” he said. “Then you have the Bull at the Bullring which, when graffitied, created a public outcry because it is something that is loved by the people of the city.
“We have to get that same sort of ownership over what we’re trying to do.”
THE BIG ART PROJECT STEERING GROUP IN FULL
Stacey Barnfield , editor, Birmingham Post
Dominga Devitt , (Honorary Secretary) Business Development Manager, National Institute of Conductive Education
Geoff Inskip , Chief Executive, Centro
Paul Kehoe , Chief Executive, Birmingham Airport
Councillor Mike Leddy , (President) Lord Mayor of Birmingham
Beverley Nielsen , Director, Employer Engagement, Birmingham City University
Ray O’Donoghue , Managing Director, Barclays Corporate
Neil Rami , Chief Executive, Marketing Birmingham
Paul Sabapathy CBE , H.M. Lord Lieutenant of the West Midlands
Gary Taylor , Executive Director, Altitude Real Estate
The Right Reverend David Urquhart , Bishop of Birmingham
Tim Watts, Chairman, Pertemps
Councillor Ian Ward , Deputy Leader, Birmingham City Council
Bob Warman , Presenter, Central Television
The Lord Whitby of Harborne , Leader of the Opposition Conservative Group, Birmingham City Council
Jason Wouhra , Director, East End Foods plc