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Public art in Wales in Focus

Date uploaded: January 22, 2009

From project managing one of Wales’s biggest programmes of public art commissions at Cardiff’s St Davids 2 development, to curating Turbulence, the Channel 4 Big Art Project in Cardigan, Safle, the Welsh public art agency, believes 2009 will see a renaissance in public art debate and endeavour in Wales. Safle has also been officially recognised by the influential Artists Information Company as one of the UK’s leading arts organisations.

a-n, The Artists Information Company, has been tracking opportunities and jobs for visual and applied artists since 1989 and according to its report ’Who employs artists?’, Safle is one of very few organisations to offer substantial budgets for artists’ commissions. During 2007, for example, Safle offered some £1.24 million in budgets for artists’ commissions and residencies.

In terms of work programmes, St. David’s 2 Partnership, which comprises of Land Securities and Capital Shopping Centres, has contracted Safle to commission a series of public art projects, including a major new piece which will become the focal point for the £675 million city centre development. Six further projects have been commissioned throughout the development, including a large-scale interactive lightwork by Nayan Kulkarni and a series of photographic works produced by 4 outstanding international artists.

Turbulence, a work by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer for Cardigan, is the product of a unique public arts commissioning model and has perhaps proved to be more controversial. Part of the Channel 4 Big Art Project and working with the local community, the project has become a topic of debate in the town. Some concerns about the project have been addressed through an environmental impact study, and the project has gradually gained the strong support of the people of Cardigan, although some opposition remains. The project team is now in the final stages of design and it is hoped that once the work appears at the proposed location at The Strand, upstream from Prince Charles Quay, the work will become a positive focal point in the town and a catalyst for further regeneration. The project will attract international attention to the town and has received support from The Art Fund and the Welsh Assembly Government.

In the south Wales valleys, New Yorker Brian Tolle, best known for the Irish Famine Memorial in Manhattan, is putting the final touches to a major new landmark along the A465 for Caerphilly. He has collaborated with Powys based film maker Stefhan Caddick, who engaged the community of adjacent Bute Town in a film project around the commission, which was show in the local Parish Hall. It is hoped the recently completed Public Art Strategy for the Heads of the Valleys area will see further works commissioned within the region in the near future.

Outside of Wales Safle is managing a major commission in Northern Ireland for the City of Derry, the Foyle Public Art Project, where an outstanding line up of internationally renowned artists have submitted proposals for selection.  Safle is also developing a Public Art Strategy for the States of Jersey and is continuing its long standing relationship with Wolverhampton City Council through two further artist commissions.

Wiard Sterk, executive director of Safle, said, “2009 promises to be an exciting year for Safle and for public art in Wales. It is highly encouraging that artists from all around the world are eager to bid for work in Wales and as a nation we are leading the way in terms of public art commissioning in the UK. This is especially true of the St Davids 2 project which is international but is also infusing a very specific Cardiffian and Welsh character into this major city centre development, avoiding the perception of another anonymous shopping centre. We hope that we can apply this approach in many other major development projects.

“As part of Safle's ongoing commitment to public art, artists in, and from Wales, have been engaged on many major public art commissions. Completed projects include a work by Anne Catrin Evans in Holyhead, a series of seats by Richard Harris along the Conwy Estuary, Howard Bowcott and Angharad Pearce Jones' works for the new Bala Rural Life Centre and the Kite Sculpture by Carmarthen-based Andrew Rowe in Aberafan, who also worked with two colleagues, David Mackie and Heather Parnell on the GAP’s project in Ebbw Vale. New projects have been commissioned from Bedwyr Williams and Jennie Savage, while the renowned Martin Parr has produced new work through the St David’s 2 commission programme. These are just a few examples and many more are highlighted on our website.

“The Big Art Project was extremely fortunate to have secured artist Rafael Lozano Hemmer’s involvement and the final work will offer an excellent opportunity for Wales to showcase its important role as part of contemporary culture. Art can play a significant role in an area’s regeneration and future prosperity.  Hopefully we’ll be able to produce a work of art worthy of its locality, for the benefit of Cardigan and Wales as a whole.

“It is also important to note, even during this current difficult financial climate, that we must continue to invest in art and innovation to avoid totally sinking into artistic dullness as a nation.”

For further information please contact Rhodri Ellis Owen at Cambrensis Communications on 029 20 257075 or [email protected]