Today’s post is by Rebecca Farley, ICCHS PhD researcher.
Three public art collections
Over the summer months I’ve been out and about beyond my usual Newcastle-Gateshead research base, visiting a selection of UK towns and cities that positively describe themselves as holding public art collections – in the ‘art in the public realm’ sense rather than museum or gallery based artworks.
In the UK the word ‘collection’ is not one that has been commonly connected with public art practice. (Indeed there is quite strong resistance towards this term from some UK public art professionals I have spoken to.) The term is more accepted in the USA however, where cities both large and small, often describe and promote their public artworks as city or civic collections. In recent years a small number of UK towns and cities are also beginning to use the ‘public art collection’ label. Three of these places, Milton Keynes, Folkestone and Cardiff, were selected as sites for my own PhD research visits. The purpose of these was twofold: to explore these public art collections as they might be experienced on the ground; and to meet with some of the curators and local authority officers who have responsibility for their commissioning, presentation and ongoing management or care.
As you might imagine, these visits to three completely different places – a 1960s ‘new town’, a culturally regenerating south coast harbor town, and the capital city of Wales’ – uncovered a diverse picture of public art collection history, practice and approach.
In Milton Keynes the collection encompasses some 220 individual artworks including outdoor sculpture and interior artworks commissioned for some of its key public and cultural buildings. Situated both in Central MK and the wider borough these artworks date from the various different phases of the physical development of Milton Keynes, from the mid 1960s to the present day. Despite their very mixed pattern of private and public ownership and current custodianship, all are considered as part of the ‘MK collection’.
In Folkestone the public art collection (‘Folkestone Artworks’) is much smaller and younger. Linked to the commissioning for the Folkestone Triennial twenty-seven artworks have been permanently sited and ‘collected’ for the town since 2008. Rather than coming under a local authority remit (as in Milton Keynes and Cardiff) here the public art collection is developed and managed by an independent local charity, The Creative Foundation.
Cardiff’s public art collection is by far the oldest of the three I visited. Managed by the council’s planning department and based on its recently compiled Public Art Register this collection maps the development of public art in the city – its statues, monuments, memorials and art in architecture commissioning – over a 150-year timespan. This includes over 200 artworks sited in Cardiff city centre, the historic Civic quarter and around Cardiff Bay.
For individual reports on my encounters with these three public art collections visit my PhD research blog at: rebeccafarley.wordpress.com