Some art projects are worth forking out for

I guess that’s it then. We should take down the hanging baskets in town centres and forget the Christmas lights this year.
As for that 20,000-ticket centenary celebration in Hanley Park on December 4; we can’t possibly countenance such largesse.
We should all stop at home with a cuppa and a Rich Tea biscuit. OK, maybe we should scratch the biscuits…
Yes, it’s time to batten down the hatches, pull up the drawbridge and stop those champagne Charlies down at the Civic Centre frittering any more of our hard-earned dosh.
We just can’t justify non-essential window dressing or daft art projects which cost a fortune.
That’s the extreme but not entirely unexpected reaction of some people to the £135,000 sculpture which is to be unveiled outside the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery next month.
The work, by Scottish sculptor David Annand, depicts a man and a woman holding up a plate and a chalice and is part of the celebrations marking the centenary of the federation of our Six Towns.
As the 8,000 or so Stoke-on-Trent City Council staff brace themselves for hundreds of job losses there will be some people who regard the £135,000 project as an obscene waste of taxpayers’ money.
Well, whisper it quietly but I quite like it, which is, of course, not the thing to be saying when the local authority is conducting a no-stones-unturned audit of services and personnel in order to save millions of pounds.
After all, that sum of money could be used to save maybe five or six jobs at the council.
The question is, of course, which ones are worth saving?
In truth, that £135,000 is a drop in the ocean compared to the savings which must be achieved and so we should be avoiding such apples and pears comparisons.
To be fair, I’ve been in the vanguard of criticism of the local authority for its past inefficiencies, its well-documented squandering of public money and the way in which some very senior and untouchable officers have treated the citizens of Stoke-on-Trent with utter contempt.
But as most of the UK seems to consider Stoke-on-Trent to be a cultural desert I’m all for projects which help to alter that perception.
We can argue about how the piece was chosen and who was consulted but, in my view, the centenary sculpture is a strikingly simple piece of work which looks like what it is rather than some airy-fairy artistic nonsense.
It will be ingeniously lit and create a landmark gateway to a venue which is to house half of the Staffordshire Hoard.
Of course, one man’s public art is another man’s wasteful tat – particularly at a time of great austerity.
But the moment we start sacrificing art and culture is the moment that we cease to have any ambitions to be a city worth the name.
If we do that, we may as well close our museums and all our public libraries.
Culture is a great intangible but we must never underestimate its potential for raising people’s aspirations.
Fifteen years ago if you had told people in Gateshead of the idea of spending £800,000 on the Angel of the North you would have been laughed out of town.
No-one’s laughing now at an iconic piece of public art which has levered in tens of millions of pounds in regeneration funding, helped to create thousands of jobs and done wonders for the profile of the North East.
The (by comparison) relatively small centenary sculpture to be located outside Hanley’s museum won’t do any of the above.
But it will help to enhance the experience of the tens of thousands visitors who come to our Cultural Quarter every year and perhaps help to engender a feeling of pride among local people.
I’ve always been of the opinion that if you create a pleasant environment for people they are more likely to have respect for it.
To my mind, projects such as the centenary sculpture are just as important as sending hundreds of council staff out on to the streets to clean up graffiti and litter.
It is about nurturing a better, more aspirational environment in which we can all live and work and one which we can be proud to call our home.

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