Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Debate about public art re-emerges

A lunchtime meeting down the Bay for Pauline and myself to meet with representatives of the city planning department and the SD2 developers, and the art procurement advisor to discuss the situation regarding a piece of public art that is proposed to be installed in the south churchyard garden.

From the conception of the renovation of the garden an unrealistic suggestion was grafted into the plan that the developers (who are paying) could determine the general policy about what should be commissioned to go there. I reminded them as long as four years ago that permanent changes of such a nature to an area that had been a churchyard for 800 years could not be implemented without faculty approval, and that there would be limitations on what the diocesan chancellor may deem to be acceptable. Somehow this fell on deaf ears, until finally the process stalled over a year ago, and the person then commissioned to the task left the job. Today's meeting is an attempt to re-start the process.

Once more I made the church's legal position clear, and piointed out that the kind of art that is usually installed in churchyards is commemorative art, which was why I had suggested two years ago that a potentially acceptable solution would be to commission a memorial to Cardiff's blitz victims, since there isn't one. I could see the mental shutters descending. The 'vision', or is it 'fantasy' prevailing is that something that looked forward to the future was what was sought. Can you have a monument to optimism, built on indefinite economic progress, I wonder? How could you make a sculpture of a soap bubble? Those who forget their history are comdemned to repeat it.

I'm not a great fan of the church's legal alternative to secular planning permission. It has consumed for too much of my life in these years of rapid change for the church in the city, and been a cause of great frustration with all its overblown procedures and paperwork. But in the end, it does serve valuable purposes, if only to remind the secular steamroller that not all the world agrees with its assmptions and values. Hopefully, if things are handled properly, it will be possible to have a dialogue and come to a creative solution.

The outcome of the meeting was an agreement to proceed quickly towards the commissioning of an artist who will start by working with the church community to shape some possible ideas that can be turned into concepts and proposals that can be tested by the PCC, diocesan advisory committee and eventually the Chancellor. I think they understood that the PCC is in favour of the proposal to install a piece of public art, so long as it is of the highest quality, relevant to life at the ehart of the city, thoughtful and vandal-proof. Whether it is possible to embrace both themes of remembrance and hope - whether there really is a possibility of dialogue between the community of mammon and the community of faith, remains to be seen.

Well .... there'd better be, or it will make nonsense of all I've tried to do as a city centre missioner.

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