This artist’s impression of Anthony McCall’s artistic installation “Column” – a six-mile high jet of steam in the Birkenhead docks by Liverpool – is closest we will come to see it now as the funding has been withdrawn and the project has been scrapped. “That’s not news!” – Well it is when over half a million pounds of Lottery money was spent on it.
I am a big fan of art and installations like this in the public domain make it accessible and relevant to the masses, it can open up our eyes to ideas and influences that may not be in our lives otherwise. And while I accept that with all art risks should be taken, I do question the fact that £535,000 of public money through the National Lottery was used to fund the many attempts to get it off the ground – literally.
Liverpool and the North of England in general have seen a huge increase in the gap between rich and poor meaning more issues in terms of homes, heating and food. One of the local Councillors for the area asked how many that could have fed in relation to the worrying increase in food banks around the country. From food banks to fuel poverty charities that money had the potential to make a huge difference to the area but was wasted instead.
Risks in art, yes – but not uncalculated risks and the Arts Council should have done their sums and received more guarantees before committing to such a project. Also the lottery as an organisation should have tighter control over the release of the money to a project like this.
I these times of austerity we need art and we need entertainment, but not at this price. Many different smaller community projects would have been a more fitting use of the money for the Cultural Olympiad in the UK. Supporting small and rural groups to get the materials and facilities to run classes and productions, provide outlets for creativity in the poorest areas of the UK.
A big bold gesture is fine if largely funded by private money, but in this case that half a million is lost with nothing to show for itself and other projects screaming for money.