An ambitious scheme to create a major piece of public art and put Birmingham on the cultural map has been given the green light by the organisation behind it. The trustees of Birmingham Civic Society officially endorsed a £1 million plan called The Birmingham Big Art Project with the aim of creating something “innovative and highly visible” that could become the Statue of Liberty or Eiffel Tower of the city.
But the man tasked with spearheading the project is under no illusions of just how difficult the road ahead will be.
Glyn Pitchford, trustee and vice-chairman of Birmingham Civic Society, acknowledged raising the £1 million or more required to fund it would be no mean feat.
At a public forum on the project at Birmingham’s Council House, Mr Pitchford called for at least ten ‘big hitters’ to sign-up to a steering group to raise the funding and urged the city’s business community to become stakeholders in the project.
But he was confident the artwork will come to fruition and said offers of assistance from two of the region’s corporate heavyweights had already proved the perfect start. Birmingham Airport and the regional arm of Barclays Bank have both offered to help, though with discussions at a preliminary stage, Mr Pitchford said he was unable to reveal any further details.
“We have had two terrific meetings with Birmingham Airport and Barclays,” he said. “Birmingham Airport have offered massive support for what we are trying to do.
“You can see they would want to though, as putting Birmingham on the map is something that could help them too.
“Paul Kehoe, the airport’s CEO, has offered a number of exciting sponsorship opportunities.
“If we can be successful then we will start the fund big time – it will be a big chunk coming into the fund.
“Barclays, likewise, are giving big support in terms of what help they can offer.”
With a steering group now up and running, the pace of the project is now likely to pick up, though uncertainty remains about what role the city council will play.
It has made it clear it will not be able to contribute financially and there are now question marks over the level of assistance it might be able to offer.
But Mr Pitchford said he remained hopeful the council may be able to do more as the project progressed, particularly as council leader Albert Bore had assured him of his support, and he has now submitted a briefing report to the council for consideration. To get the ball rolling Mr Pitchford said he hoped to see two ‘quick fixes’ that would whet the appetite for what was to come.
Both were ideas put forward at the recent public forum and the first would see the recreation of a scene from the 1960s film The Italian Job where Birmingham-made Mini cars travelled down a set of steps of Victoria Square.
Another quick fix would involve relocating the City of Birmingham locomotive on display at the Thinktank museum to an outdoor public location.
“The quick fixes demonstrate we can do something now – they’re not the big project but something that will excite people,” said Mr Pitchford.
But he also keen to counter any impressions public funding will be used and believes it is vital the public are behind the scheme.
He said: “There are two major challenges, firstly the raising of funds and secondly public opinion, we need the public to want this to happen.
“But what I am saying is we can’t ignore public art, even in the poor economic climate we are currently in.”
Fundraising initiatives apart, the next key event will be an autumn meeting to gain an insight from the art world on the project.
“We will be having a meeting revolving around artistic curators and Gavin Wade of Eastside Projects has kindly agreed to host it,” added Mr Pitchford.
“The idea is to get people who have artistic expertise from Birmingham and beyond to come and talk to us about high profile commissions they have been involved in.
“In due course we will be trying to bring on board a specialist artistic curator who would project manage the commission and write the brief for the artist.”
If all goes to plan it is hoped the new artwork could be complete in time for Birmingham Civic Society’s centenary in 2018.
If the fundraising drive is a success Birmingham Civic Society plans to launch an open competition to find an artist to create the new public artwork
The society wants to create something that reflects the city’s character and can be enjoyed by tourists, art lovers and successive generations.
A variety of potential funding sources will be explored, with the scheme aiming to attract sponsors and benefactors, as well as applying for Arts Council England and charitable trust grants.
With a desire for the artwork to be connected to the city ideas put forward at the recent public forum 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.
One suggestion, backed by a number of people, involved turning the BT Tower into a giant pen or pen nib in recognition of the fact that 200 years ago most of the pen nibs in the world were made in Birmingham.
Other suggestions included utilising the city’s canals or something based on the theme of its anchor hallmark symbol reflecting the heritage of the Jewellery Quarter
Existing public artworks were also highlighted, including Antony Gormley’s Iron Man in Victoria Square.
Glyn Pitchford, vice-chairman of Birmingham Civic Society who is spearheading the project, has said he would like to see something which would rival Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North.
Further suggestions include emulating New York’s High Line project, where a disused elevated train track was transformed into a public and artistic amenity and something to mark the fact the Spitfire aircraft was made in Birmingham or that lawn tennis was invented in the city.
It was also suggested a number of works of art could be considered, with the commissions being given to artists based in Birmingham.