A £1 million fundraising drive has been launched to commission an iconic piece of public art for Birmingham that could rival the Angel Of The North.
The initiative has been launched by Birmingham Civic Society, with the support of Birmingham City Council, and it is hoped the new artwork could be in place to mark the society’s centenary in 2018 and be unveiled by a member of the Royal family.
The society has said 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.
It plans to launch an open competition to find an artist to create the “iconic public work of art”, with the first step of the process being a public forum on Wednesday May 15 at the Council House.
Those who attend are being asked to consider what defines Birmingham and what images the words ‘Made In Birmingham’ conjure up. Also what a public work of art means, what defines an iconic work of art and possible locations for the new artwork.
Spearheading the drive is vice-chairman of Birmingham Civic Society, Glyn Pitchford, who believes Birmingham sorely needs a special piece of public art.
He said: “It started in 2011 when we set up a working group. We wanted to get to grips with existing public art in Birmingham, where it was and what was in the store. Also how appropriate it is and whether we could have something that showcased Birmingham worldwide, not just little statues people have forgotten about and reflecting Birmingham’s unique selling points or characteristics.”
Mr Pitchford highlighted existing high profile examples including the Iron Man, by Antony Gormley, and River Goddess (known as the Floozie in the Jacuzzi), the statue of Admiral Nelson (Birmingham’s only Grade 2 listed monument), the Chamberlain Memorial Fountain, the Hall of Memory, the statue of the Bullring bull and the statue of Boulton, Watt and Murdoch. Works in storage include the Spirit of Enterprise fountain.
Mr Pitchford has suggested a new piece of public art could reflect Birmingham’s manufacturing heritage, including its place at the heart of the Industrial Revolution, the Jewellery Quarter or car-making. Also that it could reflect the city from a contemporary perspective as a conference and exhibition destination, its gastronomy or its thriving professional services sector.
Mr Pitchford has also highlighted an absence of figures or creations central to its history in existing public art, including a lack of monuments to Joseph or Neville Chamberlain, no celebration of JRR Tolkein and little to celebrate manufacturing icons like the Mini or the Spitfire.
He admitted funding will be a challenge but believes a committee of “big-hitters” can deliver the project through philanthropy, sponsorship and lottery or charity funding.
Pointing to the success of Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North, he added he would be delighted if Birmingham’s public artwork became as well known.and would also welcome the artist being involved.
“I would love to get Antony Gormley,” he said. “But whoever it is I would like us to get something that is so photogenic it will end up on a tourist postcard of Birmingham.
"We want to ask people what they think Birmingham is about and what is it that defines Birmingham. We have to think outside the box and have to think big. Birmingham needs something original which is relevant to Birmingham.”
* Anyone wishing to attend the forum, which takes place between 6pm and 8.30pm, should register by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org