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BIG ART - Sundays from 10 May on Channel 4 at 7pm

Date uploaded: May 10, 2009

Big Art is a major new arts series bringing original works of art to the landscapes and townscapes of the UK - commissioned by the general public, as well as exploring the place of art in the built environment. The programme started life four years ago when people across the country were offered the chance to create world-class art in their own backyards. The first episode of the four-part series introduces the people and places that will attempt to bring art to life - balancing the practicalities of funding, planning permission and political support, with the creative demands of world-famous artists.
About Big Art
Filmed over four years, Big Art gave the British public a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a world class artwork for their own backyard. People up and down Britain teamed up with leading artists to make art.
Public art has boomed over the past two decades. Since 1990, there has been more public art commissioned in the UK than any time since the Victorians. But while art may be profligate, quantity doesn't always equal quality and debates rage about public works: is it any good, why it is there and how much did it cost? Artist Gavin Turk says: "I am frequently horrified by public sculpture and it does seem to give art a bad name. All too often it isn't successful and it's a really difficult area of art."
Ordinarily decisions about what sort of public art gets built and where it goes are made behind closed doors. But Big Art gave the public the opportunity to choose what art goes where.
In 2005, Big Art asked people to suggest a place which could inspire an artist to create a piece of public art. Over 1500 people submitted applications to have art in their neighbourhood. A team of experts sifted the applications and helped advise on practical obstacles facing the possible sites. The following year, in 2006, seven sites were selected: Beckton, Belfast , Burnley, Cardigan, the Isle of Mull, Sheffield and St. Helens , offering an eclectic mix of canvases, from inner city blight to remote landscapes.
Each community then started the journey to commissioning their own public art: balancing the practicalities of funding, planning permission and political support, with the creative demands of world-famous artists.
Of the very different seven sites, each has a unique reason for wanting art.
Waterworks Park in North Belfast wants a new start after years of painful conflict. Part of a city where sectarian murals were for decades the dominant form of public art, can a different kind of art play a new role in the city? Two youth workers, Claire and Katrina are hoping the park can unite a fractured community. Katrina says: "I want to see young people coming together and not even thinking about what religion they are."
In Burnley , a group of teenagers want their town to be remembered for something other than the 2001 race riots. Local youth worker Chris May nominated Burnley and brought young people on board to choose the art: "This gives them the chance to shape the town and have a real say in what the town will look like in the future." On what they would like, Jordan , then aged 14, says: "A big bright sculpture that no-one's seen before...a big bright thing often makes people feel big and bright." The kids think there is two much racist graffiti in the town and want to use the whole town as a canvas - but will they get the backing of Burnley ?
A group of ex-miners in St.Helens feel art would be a fitting way to honour their town's past. The Lancashire town was one of the major coalmining towns in Britain and had one of the largest pits in the county before it closed in the early 90s. Former miner Gary Conley used to work in the Sutton Manor Colliery and wants to make it a place for people to come to, and sees Big Art as opportunity to put the town back on the map. "We've got a blank canvas, a foundation...we need someone to come along and put something on this blank canvas, a monument to St.Helens and to the people who gave their life on this site." explains Gary . The Big Art experts know that to get art on the scale the ex-miners want is a tough brief, not least because of the funding it will need.
Cardigan, home the first Welsh parliament over 1,000 years ago, used to be a major port until the river silted up. There are those in Cardigan that hope art will put it back on the map. "How do we tell the world we exist? Art is the kind of vehicle we need," says site nominator Jim Evans. But will Jim's desire for modern art and debate be too much for the traditionalists of Cardigan?
In East London a former Victorian rubbish heap could provide a dramatic platform for art. Site nominator Jonathan Swan says: "I'd like to be remembered for changing the skyline of East London ." The Beckton Alp was built with poisonous waste from nearby Victorian gas-works. At one time reincarnated as a ski slope the Alp is now redundant - but it provides fantastic views across London and can be seen from miles around. Both Jonathan and his co-nominator, single mum Stacy Blanc, want something figurative - but a meeting with Antony Gormley, where the artist presents proposals, doesn't bear fruit: "I have a fear of abstract," says Jonathan. Antony counters: "It's very problematic, if you were to make work entirely based on popular opinion you would end up, like I did in Leeds , losing out to a rotating cup of tea." Despite meeting one of the country's biggest names in public art, Jonathan finds the proposal "leaves me a little cold."
Two former students want the disused cooling towers in Sheffield to become art. Tom says: "At the moment Sheffield is desperate for a new identity. We want something aspirational." However, not everyone thinks the towers, the most-nominated of all the Big Art sites, are an apt home for art. Owned by E.On, the company is adamant that the structures have to come down.
A number of residents on the beautiful and remote Isle of Mull want art - but can a community that's geographically spread come together for art? It's just one of the challenges of building Big Art .
The Big Art Project was made possible by two key funding partnerships; Arts Council England and The Art Fund. This Channel 4 initiative is the latest in a line of original arts commissions that aim to engage with the general public, artists and the communities to make a significant difference beyond the screen.
Narrated by Bill Nighy.
Press Contact: Justine Bower, 020 7306 8427; [email protected]
Picture Publicist: Jamie Fry: 020 7306 8251; [email protected]
Produced and Directed by Ned Williams
Executive Producer Mike Smith
Prod co. A Carbon Media co-production with Princess Productions
Commissioning editor: Jan Younghusband 

Follow this link to watch a short film of PASW Director Maggie Bolt talking to Big Art about public art commissioning.

The Big Art Project

The Big Art Project