Whilst not involved in the artist selection or curatorially, in 2012 Ian Banks acted as arts consultant for an project partnership on a feasibility that looked to ‘upscale’ an already iconic public art work being created by artist-sculptor Andy Edwards for Stoke-on-Trent into a major public art monument. Called the Staffordshire Saxon, the work referenced the world famous Staffordshire Hoard. The project idea was first featured in a story on The Sentinel website on March 29th 2010 and was fabricated by the Bronze Foundry.
Several years on, the realisation of the ultimate large-scale public art version of the Saxon has still to happen, but a 9′ version of it already has. This first scale model was unveiled at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke on Trent on the 18th May 2012 before an audience of politicians, business leaders, civic dignitaries and Sentinel readers. This statue was funded by Stoke-on-Trent City Council and unveiled by the Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent, Councillor Terry Follows, and Anthony Jones, executive vice president and chief financial officer at Wedgwood, who sponsored the exhibition detailing the making of the statue. Youtube videos of both the Making and Unveiling of the Staffordshire Saxon can be see below, as well as the recommendation report produced by Atoll:
(Extract from Section 7.3 of Executive Summary)
“The Staffordshire Saxon is undoubtedly a wonderful project and is clearly supported by a number of stakeholders and being delivered by a passionate team of talented individuals. However, what is needed now is to pause at this interim stage whilst considering the bigger cultural and economic opportunity; to consult and engage fully with the wider public and stakeholders; and then begin to professionalise and harmonise the whole design and delivery methods as if this was a major piece of architecture or engineering (it is) being prepared by one unified vision (I would argue it is not as yet). Translating the list of enabling recommendations from this feasibility into a creative list of outputs to help support the delivery of the Staffordshire Saxon is in a sense simple to visualise, but an altogether more daunting one to practically facilitate and then realise.
However, if Staffordshire Saxon Ltd plough-on full speed ahead to fund, develop and realise just the Staffordshire Saxon in isolation, no matter how altruistic in it’s aims or clear in it’s own vision, I believe it may not necessarily be to the benefit of either the artistic project itself, the wider community, region and Staffordshire Hoard it sets out to benefit in the first place. Iconic status is also not a guarantee just because of size and worthy Hoard association. It is not to say that everything in this bigger picture needs to be engaged and funded all at once, merely to say that in the same way a truly visionary idea, business plan model and company aims and objectives are all a core requisite before commercial commencement. The Angel of the North may well have achieved all that rather unconsciously when it was conceived in the late 1990s, and it may have gone on to grow a whole cultural revolution to the North East. However it should be remembered both, that this was created by an internationally-revered artist at the top of his game and given a contemporary free-reign; and that those were different times, and when arts funding via a fledgling Big Lottery and the impending Millennium were at their most ambitious and unrestricted. Times are far different now post-recession, and major cuts to Arts Council and arts development provisions within Local Authorities mean that arts and culture is increasingly being absorbed into more holistic and output-led considerations – ones where community engagement, sustainability, tourism and regional marketing all want their slice of the cultural pie.
With this more process led approach, the quality of the output is sometimes overlooked – or taken as gospel that it will automatically achieve greatness ‘because it is art’ and is inspired and made honestly and locally. This is not the case and there are far more examples of gloriously ambitious public art failures cluttering the landscape than there are successes. It is suggested that, if adopted and then realised, the enabling recommendations and creative actions would add further dimensions to the already well-considered but only partly-resourced Staffordshire Saxon sculpture project itself. Seen as important strands of added value, these layers of ‘additionality’ have the potential to further boost the artistic image and engagement potential of the project, as well as of course contributing even more positively to: the profile of the Staffordshire Hoard; the area’s ongoing cultural and regeneration agendas; and the continued growth of both the local and regional business, skills and visitor economy generally.
Essential to it all though is the absolute need to sing from one sheet and for their to be one clear artistic lead over and above all others. The Staffordshire Saxon delivery is currently operating in piecemeal fashion and this is not coherent or sustainable. The partnership needs to set out and agree on clear aims and ambitions through its new company structure, and then also make sure that the arts, cultural & creative considerations, cultural tourism business & funding plan, and charitable governance models are all equally balanced and not compromising one another. Then when fully considered and resourced the Staffordshire Saxon will be in a strong position achieve all it aspires for – and of course deserves”.
Director Atoll Collaborative
30th March 2012
Categories: Public Art