I want to write something about public art.
Earlier this year Dame Jayne-Anne Gadhia, opened the Executive Summary of the UK’s Cultural Cities Report with “The overwhelming conclusion of this report is that smart investment through cultural activities can bring enormous benefits to our cities and their people.”. If you’re a bit of a cultural sector public policy nerd like me I highly recommend a look at the report. Here’s a link to it.
Some of you will know I’m still quite new to Inverness. I love it here – very much, and one of the things I love the most about the city, what inspires me, is all the potential I feel we hold in our hands and the exciting development we have ahead of us, not least the Inverness Castle Project and all that it has to offer.
The Cultural Cities Report is divided into four main sections: Leadership, Talent, Investment and Place. I’m going to try and frame my perspectives on recent events around these four areas.
One of the reasons I enjoy working in and around art and culture is because it divides opinion. It creates questions, it inspires conversation and debate. It helps us see the world in new ways and helps us to think differently. Art in the public realm does all this too. Over the last few months a number of people have come out in objection to, or raised concerns about the My Ness / Gathering Place public art commission. I can’t help but think that so often it is the vocal minority that drown out the opinions of a silent majority.
So now we need leadership. We need the elected members of the Inverness City Committee to hold their nerve and ensure that we continue to build and develop a city that is forward-thinking, ambitious and creative. We also need folk from the city, and the wider Highland region to step forward, as I am here, and say we welcome investment in culture – that we see why that’s important.
As I started to look into the issue I have to admit that my heart rather sank when I saw the beauty and ambition of the Tilting Pier, originally proposed for opposite Eden Court, a project that was scrapped due to strong views from the local community.
I was sad to see the image of the pier because I’m sure, by now, it would be a much-loved part of our city. I’m sure there are many more folk who think the work of Sans façon and OSA’s My Ness / Gathering Place is rather beautiful, discreet, complimentary and in keeping with its natural environment. That’s my view, but it’s not a view I have heard publicly very much, if at all.
These are world-leading artists with decades of professional experience creating art in the public realm. That experience, the expertise brought to the design and the public consultation that went with it needs to be better respected.
Let’s be clear. A large proportion of the funding for this project has been attracted from the Scottish Government through Creative Scotland. If we do not proceed with these plans this money will not be invested in our city – it will go elsewhere, our economy will not benefit. These are not funds that can be used on the NHS, or on our schools. This seems to have been lost in the debate and it’s important.
Culture defines a city’s reputation. Cities can make strategic, sustainable use of their cultural property assets, as part of the revitalisation of high streets and city centres, regeneration of post-industrial areas, or development of workspace for the creative industries. We have a wonderful creative economy in Inverness but it has to continue to grow. We need more places for local people, and visitors, to explore, more places for us to go.
The next decade in our city is going to be fascinating. We will see our city centre redevelop, we will find better ways to make use of the riverbank, we will see the Castle become a major, nationally significant, destination that captures the spirit of the Highlands.
We must all work hard to ensure that the more silent voices of support are less silent and that the debate is more balanced and that together we help our city thrive.