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Reading Borough Council

This strategy is reproduced by kind permission of Reading Borough Council.



1.1      This document has been written following consultation with a number of interest groups including regional arts agencies, artists and arts organisations in Reading, the Arts Forum and other local organisations who have an interest in public art.   

1.2      It is intended to build on the growing local and national recognition of the role that artists have to play in creating, exploring and enhancing the public domain, and seeks to maximise the opportunities for commissioning public art in Reading.


2.1      Reading Borough Council has long recognised the role that artists have to play in the life of the town, and since 1989 has initiated its own commissions and worked in partnership with other agencies involved in commissioning.

2.2      Reading Borough Council has a Percent for Art policy which states that:

The Council will in appropriate cases encourage the provision of new works of art as part of schemes of development, and in determining an application for planning permission will have regard to the contribution made by any such works to the appearance of the scheme and to the amenities of the area.

2.3      A number of factors mean that the opportunities for commissioning artists to work in public places are increasing in Reading. Such factors include major new building and environment developments, regeneration initiatives, the National Lottery and plans for celebrating the Millennium. A number of major commissions have been completed or are underway, and a growing recognition of the value of public art means that private developers are responding to the Council's Percent for Art policy with increasing frequency.


3.1      It is important that a strategic framework for public art commissioning is developed so that we can ensure that the potential benefits of increased public art activity are maximised for Reading and its population. Reading's Public Art Strategy attempts to embrace all relevant activities and is rooted in a commitment to working in partnership with the private sector and community at large. Key aims of this strategy are:

  • to encourage public art commissions of the highest quality
  • to promote a role for local, regional, national and internationalartists
  • to encourage public, private and community sector partnerships incommissioning
  • to maximise resources for the commissioning of artists
  • to identify good commissioning practices


4.1      Reading Borough Council Vision and Corporate Objectives

Reading Borough Council aims to provide high quality and cost effective services which:

  • meet the needs of all groups in the community
  • contribute to protecting and improving the environment
  • promote Reading as a place in which people are proud to live and work

4.2      Reading Borough Council's Public Art Strategy has a key role to play in reflecting and contributing to this vision. Public art is also identified within the Council's Economic Development Strategy, Tourism Strategy, Arts and Leisure Strategy, Town Centre Strategy, Local Area Plans, Borough Plan and Single RegenerationBids.

4.3      In order to implement this strategy effectively an action plan will be developed which will identify the steps that need to be taken to ensure that the potential for public art to meet the objectives of  these service areas is maximised.  

4.4      Reading's Characteristics

There are a number of features which make Reading distinctive and which contribute to its identity. These features provide a context and inspiration for public art, and should be considered as key elements in a strategy for commissioning.

Waterways - Reading's waterways are the towns most significant topographical features and include the Thames, the Kennet and Avon Canal, and the Holy Brook. Reading Borough Council's Waterways Plan seeks to promote their importance to the town and encourage the realisation of their potential. Public art has a role to play in enhancing the riversides in both the urban and rural settings.  

Built environment - There are a number of features which make a unique contribution to Reading's built environment. The Town Hall is probably the building with the highest profile, and other major features include the Abbey Ruins, the Reading Station complex and the town's major churches. Plans for major refurbishments of any such features or areas should include consideration of the contribution that artists can make.  

Festivals - Reading is a town of festivals, and major annual events include WOMAD, Reading Rock Festival, Children's Festival, Waterfest and Reading International Festival. These cultural events offer opportunities for artists to create public art which explores relevant themes, leaves a lasting reference, or commemorates significant anniversaries.

Diverse communities - Reading is made up of a number of communities with culturally diverse backgrounds. This diversity ispart of and has had a significant impact on Reading's character. Public art in Reading can reflect and celebrate the range of cultural influences in the town and can provide a focus for communities to explore their identities.

High profile developments - Reading is attracting significant new commercial retail and office developments, and current major initiatives include The Oracle and Green Park. A programme of public art commissions is already being developed for The Oracle, and other developers are recognising the value of involving artists in their schemes.

4.5      Public art in Reading

Reading has a number of public artworks which have been commissioned over the years by  private sector developers and Reading Borough Council. Many of these commissions have been developed through partnerships between the public, private and community sector and examples of some of the key partnership projects are given below:

Lyon Square Public Art project - this is a major environmental improvements project which has been developed jointly by Reading Borough Council and Dee Park Residents Association, and funded by Reading Borough Council and the Arts Council of England. Free Form Arts Trust have recently completed the scheme which includes paving, lighting, mosaics, an archway and an amphitheatre-style seating area. Local residents were involved in the design and management of the scheme which reflects aspects of the area's history and development.

The Compleat Angler - this was a private sector commission as part of the development of the new Prudential building on King's Road. Developers Kumagai Gumi and Ranelagh Developments invited representatives of Reading Borough Council to take part in the selection of artists, and Reading Borough Council worked closely with Kevin Atherton, the selected artist, to provide local contacts as part of the development of the artwork.

Public Art at The Oracle - developers Hammerson are working on a number of major commissions for The Oracle. They have taken a partnership approach by progressing the commissions through a Public Art Liaison Group which includes representatives of Hammerson, Reading Borough Council, Haskoll Architects and Free Form Arts Trust. Individual commissions will offer opportunities for partnership working with local schools and the Museum of Reading. 

4.7      Since the adoption of Reading Borough Council's Percent for Art policy an estimated £2.3 million has been spent or committed by the private and public sector on commissioning public artworks. This breaks down as follows:

87% private sector

6% Reading Borough Council

7% raised income (Single Regeneration Budget, Lottery funding, Southern Arts)

This reflects both the importance given to public art by the commissioning agencies, and the ability of public art projects to attract private and external funding.

4.8      Current resources

Reading has access to a range of resources and expertise which have contributed to the development of  public art commissions in the town. These include:

Arts Development team - the team has considerable expertise in this area and has taken a lead role in developing the Council's Percent for Art policy, managing the Council's commissions, and working with other commissioning agencies.

Artists - a wide range of artists and makers are based in Reading, and Reading Borough Council has provided financial support to artists studios run by Open Hand Open Space, Jelly Leg'd Chicken and Rising Sun Arts Centre. Many Reading artists have been involved in public art commissions, both permanent and temporary, and provide expertise in various artforms and a knowledge of the town.  

Southern Arts - as the regional arts development agency, Southern Arts is able to offer expertise and funding for public art commissions. We have worked closely with Southern Arts on a number of projects, and our annual partnership agreement enables us to identifyinitiatives where we have a joint interest.

Public art agencies - a number of specialist agencies exist who provide a whole range of services relating to public art commissioning. Reading Borough Council has worked with Artpoint Trust, Free Form Arts Trust and Partnership Art Limited, and these agencies have been involved in advising on, managing and implementing commissions.


5.1      Definition of public art

Reading Borough Council subscribes to the following definition of public art:

'Works of art and craft of any scale created by artists as permanent or temporary features for any location freely accessible or visible to the public'

5.2      Commissioning themes

We wish to encourage public art commissions which will enhance Reading Borough Council's corporate vision and make a positive contribution to the town. We will therefore particularly encourage and support public art commissions which:

  • contribute to the regeneration of an area
  • have an element of education and/or participation
  • focus on the needs of the Council's equalities target groups
  • explore aspects of Reading's identity
  • are a response to a specific site, whether built or natural
  • raise the profile of Reading

5.3      Role of the artist

We recognise that public art embraces many contexts for commissioning, and in order to encourage the themes identified above, we want to involve artists in the following ways:

  • by commissioning artists as part of major capital schemes, regenerationinitiatives and transport schemes
  • by commissioning new work to celebrate major events or commemorate new facilities
  • by setting up artists residencies in community and neighbourhoodcontexts
  • by purchasing contemporary work for public places
  • by commissioning new work for public places which are not related to building schemes

This list should be seen as indicative rather than exclusive, and we will consider other new forms of commissioning and working with artists which may emerge. It should be recognised that commissioning offers artists new opportunities to extend creative ideas and work in new materials.

5.4      Commissioning code of practice

There are a range of commissioning practices that can be adopted, and the scale and location of the commission will be factors in determining the most appropriate process. However, there are some principles of good practice which should be considered by Reading Borough Council and other commissioning agencies:

  • where appropriate, artists should be commissioned at an early stage so that their work can be integrated into rather than added to any development
  • each commission, however small, should be accompanied by an artist's brief which gives information on the aims of commission, site, budget, timescale and selection process
  • the artist's brief should not be prescriptive, and should aim to foster rather than restrict the creativity and imagination of artists
  • commissioning agencies should consider having a selection panel with representatives from key interests having a stake in the commission
  • Reading-based artists working in the appropriate medium and with the appropriate experience should be considered as part of any selection process
  • commissioned artists should be issued with contractual agreements
  • commissioning agencies should consider using the expertise of arts professionals in managing commissions
  • commissioning agencies should consider appropriate ways of involving the public, whether through consultation, exhibitions or education programmes


6.1      Reading Borough Council has been successful to date in attracting resources for public art, developing partnerships with other commissioning agencies and managing public art projects. In order to consolidate and build on this success, a number of key mechanisms need to be developed and co-ordinated.

6.2      A detailed action plan will be drawn up which will identify a three year programme of activity designed to implement this strategy. The action plan will need to address the issues outlined in the following paragraphs.

6.3      Partnerships

Reading Borough Council wishes to build on the partnership approach which has been the key to successful commissioning in Reading to date. In order to achieve the aims of the Public Art Strategy it will be important to build on relationships with developers in the private and public sector, with the community sector, and with arts funding and development agencies. It is intended that the proposals for action outlined below will facilitate partnership projects.

6.4      Promotion of the Public Art Strategy and Commissioning Code of Practice

We need to ensure that the strategy has the widest possible promotion to those who will play a key part in implementing it. Proposals include:

  • running a series of seminars for Reading Borough Council capital project officers and planners
  • running a series of seminars for external potential commissioning agencies, including private and public sector
  • publishing a new leaflet explaining Percent for Art and the benefits of public art

6.5      Identification of key projects for next 3 years

In order to prioritise and target resources it will be necessary to identify and plan for commissioning opportunities. Proposals include:

  • identifying Reading Borough Council capital schemes and considering if Percent for Art should apply
  • identifying major external developments where Percent for Art or S106 agreements could apply
  • identifying community-based projects which could attract externalfunding
  • identifying partners in the private, public and community sector with whom we can develop joint projects

6.6      Project delivery

Reading Borough Council has developed a high standard of project delivery using professional practices, often in partnership with public art agencies. In order to continue to deliver high quality public art projects and to meet the criteria of major funders it will be necessary to ensure that commissioning budgets have adequate resources identified within them for project management, marketing, and education and outreach programmes.


7.1      The commissioning themes identified in Part Five should be recognised as strategic priorities for public art commissions.

7.2      The Commissioning Code of Practice outlined in Part Five should be adopted by Reading Borough Council and promoted to other commissioning agencies.

7.3      A three year action plan should be developed which will:

  • identify commissioning partners
  • promote the Public Art Strategy, internally and externally
  • identify and allocate resources for public art, internally andexternally
  • identify mechanisms for effective project delivery

For further details contact: Tammy Bedford, Arts Manager,

Tel: 0118 030 0394, Email: [email protected]