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Public Art On The Increase: Is It Just Art For Art’s Sake And Worth the Money?

Published on: 10 Dec, 2015
Updated on: 10 Dec, 2015

Is Guildford making a name for itself as a borough with an extraordinary amount of public art?

Artist's impression Silver Shoon that will be a feature at Woodbridge Meadows.

Artist’s impression Silver Shoon that will be a feature at Woodbridge Meadows.

A further piece of public art, claimed by the borough council as being “the biggest project of its kind in Guildford” and “set to become an iconic local landmark” will be erected at Woodbridge Meadows to the tune of £70,000.

And also passed by planners in June is another art installation that has risen from the ashes of the “bonfire sculpture” plan that caused an outcry and reported on The Guildford Dragon NEWS in 2012, that was finally rejected. See further on for details.

Taking its place alongside a number of other art installations at the open space between the River Wey and Walnut Tree Close will be a design by artist Charles Normandale.

The council has commissioned his design, called Silver Shoon, and says: “It will reflect the nature of the area in an eye-catching representation of fish swimming among tall, curved reeds. Striking, even when seen from a distance, the hand-forged steel artwork will be easy to maintain, durable and able to withstand flooding.”

The artwork is being funded by a Section 106 developer contribution for art.

Section 106s are legal agreements, also known as planning obligations, drafted when it is considered that a development will have significant impacts on the local area that cannot be moderated by means of conditions attached to a planning decision. The developer agrees to make a payment towards something that will enhance an area, in this case a piece of public art.

The agreement relates to two planning applications that date back to 2003 that were passed for a development on the site of a former motor garage – once Grays of Guildford, then a Deawoo motors garage, on Woodbridge Road / Woodbridge Meadows.

The development that was built is currently occupied by a Travelodge hotel, Frankie & Benny’s restaurant, The Gym, and Evans cycle store.

The Guildford Dragon NEWS asked Guildford Borough Council to name the developer(s) who made the contribution.

It responded saying that the agreement was linked to planning references on its website: Former Daewoo Development, ref 03/P/02597, and 1 and 2 Woodbridge Meadows, ref 06/P/02169.

A trawl through its website links from those two references contain a number of documents and one reveals a name of Tiger Properties.

In a council statement about the new piece of artwork, its lead councillor for economic development, tourism and heritage, Cllr Geoff Davis, said: “Our aim is to have an exciting and original landmark piece of public art for everyone to enjoy. The artwork will complement existing environmental improvements and will have the potential to become a new local landmark for our town.

“We have appointed an experienced artist for this project with a track record of producing outstanding work. The successful design and proposal reflect the aim of our public art strategy, which is to encourage creative and innovative work in the future while conserving, celebrating and promoting Guildford’s rich cultural heritage.”

The council adds that the artist and his team will work with the council, the Woodbridge Meadows Public Art Project Board, and the Guildford Public Arts Advisory Group on the project. And that they will also engage with the local community, including local schools and businesses, on the final designs for the sculpture.

Gold Pollen was isnatlled at Woodbridge Meadows earlier in 2015.

Gold Pollen was installed at Woodbridge Meadows earlier in 2015.

Another piece of public art that has this year been sited at Woodbridge Meadows is called Gold Pollen, and was created by Tom Smith, a Surrey-based artist who works mainly in natural materials, in particular wood.

It is also from Section 106 funding and is made from bolts, wire mesh, soil, wild flower seed, galvanised angle iron, Frittleworth stones, and Terram weed membrane.

Section 106 funding from computer games firm EA Games, that has offices in Onslow Street, for a new piece of public art was passed by planners in June 2015.

It replaces its earlier plans for a sculpture proposed to recall Guildford’s infamous 19th-century Guy Riots. Designed by artist Theresa Smith, it resulted a flood of comments for and against that were reported here. Click here to read an interview we did with the artist.

The new art installtion that will be sited in Onslow Street.

Sketch for the new art installtion for Onslow Street.

EA Games new planned piece of artwork was passed to be placed in front of its offices in Onslow Street. This is despite comments from The Guildford Society who wrote to Guildford Borough Council stating: “In terms of design, the society considers the art sculpture is inappropiate for its purtpose.” And: “The installation is sited too close to the carriageway of the busy Onslow Street such that it would pose a danger to those viewing the proposed installation.”

The design incorporates a piece of binary code and is a nod to the father of computer science, Alan Turing, whose family home was, for many years, in Guildford.

It may be in place – have you seen it? These things are springing up so fast!

And yet there is more “public art” appearing on a regular basis. They can be found on, in front of, or within a number of buildings and open spaces.

This week’s popular Where Is This? post features a model of a black and white cow on a first-floor flat roof of a building in the town.

The black and white cow. But is it art?

The black and white cow. But is it art?

Have you seen the zebra in the window of offices in Walnut Tree Close opposite the railway station? Or the ‘man’ in a suit of armour in the pub garden of the Kings Head in Quarry Street, viewed from Castle Street, for example?

The list goes on… There is a terrific amount of public art on the campus of the University of Surrey. And if you ask them nicely, they offer conducted tours – in a minibus too!

So, is Guildford becoming ‘the place’ for this kind of art? To quote a line from a pop song song by the band 10cc, is it “art for art’s sake, money for God’s sake” ?

What do you think? Are there enough of these installations? Or perhaps will more will be welcome? Do they enhance our borough? Are they a waste or a good use of money? Or should that money perhaps be put to better use?

Please have your say and leave a reply in the box below.


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Responses to Public Art On The Increase: Is It Just Art For Art’s Sake And Worth the Money?

  1. Bernard Parke Reply

    December 10, 2015 at 8:21 am

    “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” so we are told!

  2. Lisa Wright Reply

    December 10, 2015 at 12:50 pm

    Can arts donations be used for the continuation of ‘The Arts’ in Guildford, such as promoting the Electric Theatre or Museum?

  3. Mary Bedforth Reply

    December 10, 2015 at 7:30 pm

    We have a wonderful borough art collection, hardly ever seen, and currently in storage.

    It comprises beautiful pastel portraits by John Russell RA, born in Guildford in 1745, paintings by local artists like Helen Allingham and other artefacts.
    ‘Russell’s work can be viewed at many galleries in the UK and around the world, but the largest collection is held by Guildford House Art Gallery in Guildford.’

    You can see it online but nothing like seeing the real work of art.

  4. Jim Allen Reply

    December 10, 2015 at 7:55 pm

    My preference would be for artwork which reduces traffic congestion and pollution levels. i.e. duel purpose architectural engineering pieces with some sort of ‘hidden functionality’.

    Like pedestrian crossings with figurines on top – which actually allow traffic flow as well as pedestrians to cross!

    One might dare to suggest that like some ‘contributions’ of physical matter in the Tate modern, the holder of the cheque book has been conned by the artist.

    And I thought the Meadows were being revamped under the new town centre plan – are these ‘pieces’ to be integrated during this phase or simply put into storage?

  5. Valerie Thompson Reply

    December 11, 2015 at 9:28 am

    Why not spend the money on existing arts-related facilities, like the Electric Theatre?

    GBC has done its best to remove the arts from Guildford, saying that supporting the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra was too expensive, threatening to sell off Guildford House, and now saying they cannot continue supporting the Electric Theatre, and then they spend money on trivia, which will benefit no-one.

  6. Bernard Parke Reply

    December 12, 2015 at 7:47 am

    Would you call spending several millions on the civic offices just “trivia” when £4 million was spent on it just 20 or so years ago?

  7. Dave Middleton Reply

    December 12, 2015 at 6:06 pm


    The riverside at Woodbridge Meadows is fine just as it is, a green lung near to the town centre, with natural art in the form of trees, grasses, wild flowers and of course, the river with all its wildlife.

    The wooden “chainsaw sculptures” created a few years ago have blended into the scenery as they have aged and begun to decompose and the new Gold Pollen sculpture is at least made of mostly natural materials.

    These stainless steel fish and reeds are not made of natural materials and will not blend into the riverside scenery at all.

    Absolutely dreadful!

  8. Terry Stevenson Reply

    December 15, 2015 at 12:28 am

    … and I suppose Henry Moore’s work is dreadful tat too, particularly when set in a picturesque, rural setting.

    Personally, I am utilitarian, form follows function kind of guy, but don’t get so het up about such things. It appears the same cannot be said of others.

  9. Stuart Barnes Reply

    December 15, 2015 at 9:37 am

    Like most, if not all, modern “art” it is rubbish.

    Why is it that in order to be modern in architecture, visual arts, etc, the only things considered are the ugliest?

    Think Turner prize, Henry Moore, and other atrocities for example.

    If there is money to spare, spend it on something useful or work out a way to show genuine art from previous generations who did know how to create beauty.

  10. Jules Cranwell Reply

    December 16, 2015 at 11:23 am

    I once went to the Tate Modern. On entering, I saw a collection of builder’s rubble in big bags, went back to reception to ask “is that art, or rubbish?”

    Receptionist replied: “Is there label on it? if so it’s art.”

    Went back to rubble to find no label, went back to reception to report, was told “no label, then it must be rubbish”.

  11. Alice Forbes Reply

    December 16, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    It is my understanding that the Millmead refurbishment is, in par, needed to bring the offices up to Disability Discrimination Act compliance – not what I would call a vanity project for either members of the public who visit or disabled members of staff.

  12. Jules Cranwell Reply

    December 17, 2015 at 9:52 am

    In responce to Alice Forbes’comment, in my view if GBC were transparent, we would know how much of the £3.5 million is for DDA compliance.

    I’m pretty sure it’s a small portion of it.

    Most of it is to upgrade the perfectly adequate council chamber to match the egos of the executive. I for one am not taken in by GBC executive spin.

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