Smash or Hug the Jug?

The recent announcement by Margaret Ritchie of the latest piece of commissioned public art for Belfast city centre raised a few hackles amongst the arts scene here. A group “No more public art in Belfast” was set up on facebook and through that group, a public meeting was held today at Place the Architectural and Built Environment Centre for Northern Ireland, to discuss this proposed artwork.
Well attended with artist’s, practitioners, architects and the interested, the discussion moved swiftly away from the quality of the proposed art work (a comment in itself) to how it got commissioned and the process behind that.
What was the criteria that enabled the artist to receive £100,000 to produce this?
Where is the integrated arts policy City Hall is working on? (Apparently it’s awaiting ratification and won’t be released for consultation (never mind implementation) till near the end of the year).
When i asked one of the judges from the selection committee, why we couldn’t have a fountain bearing in mind the proposed placement, i was told that a fountain had actually been part of the original remit but that no one had submitted a proposal with one.
Which begs the question ….Why have a remit then accept anything less?

Questions were also asked as to where the commission was advertised as no one present had seen it (and the arts being the arts when £100k pops up on the radar interest is guaranteed).
I was also told (via another member of the ‘selection committee’) that this jug was the” best of a bad bunch”, and yet they have still gone ahead and commissioned it. Why did they not re advertise (locally)? Are they in such a hurry to spend the money that the consideration of quality went out the window?

Given that the Arts Council Northern Ireland were represented on the panel, surely they would have issues around this proposal and it probably could be argued that the decision to go ahead with this particular art piece undermines their position as arbiters of what is good, lasting and  relevant public art.

After the commissioning of ‘The Mangled Metal Mess’ at Cornmarket which has divided opinion (the empty plinth arguably was a far  better piece of public art as it was appropriated by all and sundry), questions remain as to the commissioning of public art in Belfast.

The costs associated with commissions of this kind and the seemingly incomprehensible process that leads to commissioning means that a coherent strategy should be put in place and until such time that it is in place an embargo should be put in place to ensure no more money is spent on second rate public art.

The planning application was in the papers on Friday past so you have less than two weeks to object

, , , ,

  • Pete Baker


    I noted the selection process previously.

    1.DSD commence the procurement process to commission an artist for Fountain Street in March 2009. The method of selection is as follow:

    2.Following the publication the Brief to Artist, the Public Art Selection Panel short-listed the submissions.
    · The short-listed artists were invited to develop concept designs
    · The Selection Panel considered the concept designs and selected the Magic Jug

    Don’t see any mention of a specific advertisement…

    But at least the public aren’t to blame. This time.

  • Thanks Pete i should have remembered your post seeing as i did comment!
    I should be getting more info in the next few days as to what grounds this can be objected too aside from the obvious eyesoreedness(made up word) of it.
    Another thing that rankles with me is that the materials aren’t even sourced locally

  • Pete Baker


    In this case, I don’t think it would matter where the materials were sourced.

  • Julianne


    The current integrated cultural strategy runs until the end of 2010. The proposed new one will be consulted upon as the current one was. The public art strategy is a different matter

  • Drumlin Rock

    When do we get the tea pot?

  • cynic2

    Yes, the panel was

    Belfast City Council
    Planning Service
    EDAW (Belfast Streets Ahead design team)
    Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce
    Arts Council NI
    Royal Society of Ulster Architects

    so no danger of the public getting a say then. Well that’s democracy for you.

    What we really need to stop this is for someone to find that it is in some way linked to ancient Unionist / Irish symbolism. then there will be a row and it will be binned.

    Meanwhile, financial crisis? What financial crisis? Cuts for cross -community work on interfaces anyone?

  • Tugboat

    The Magic Jug has been commissioned as a result of the Streets Ahead programme, and its sheer banality can only be understood in those terms. Here is what it has to say on the Streets Ahead site about public art:

    “Good examples of public art can add interest and bring focus to streets and give people a pride in their city. The Belfast Streets Ahead Project will include new art pieces which will complement the new streetscape.
    It will bring unique and attractive works of art to the city which can be enjoyed by local people and visitors.
    The size and type of art works will be chosen to make the public areas even more attractive.”


    The focus here – attraction, enjoyment, pride, complementing the streetscape, adding interest to streets, pride in the city – reduces public art to just another piece of street furniture to sit alongside the trendy new lamposts. “Size and type” of pieces (in the case of the magic jug: suffering from gigantism and, what, surreal?) are chosen to make areas “even more attractive”, without considering any potential benefit to the public to whom they are presented as a gift. There is no reference, for example, to the power of art to make us think, to engage with people and bring them together, or to consider our history (without the use of yet more lazy symbols).

    The key point from yesterday’s meeting remains, as moochin points out above: if we actually want this stuff for our streets, we need to be able to say, coherently, why we want it in the first place. We need a strategy before more money is thrown at glorified street furniture.

  • The distinctive feature of all public art in Belfast is that none of it refers to the city or to its history, its culture or its divisions. It would appear that this ignoring of the cultural context is a precondition of any artwork being commissioned.

  • Excellent overview of the comments and feedback from the meeting at Place on Monday…..