Cheltenham: art in public places

ruralrecreation has been working with Ginkgo Projects on new public art strategy for Cheltenham Borough Council and its partners The Wilson Art Gallery and Museum, a fascinating and attractive place whose well-known stories are told through some of its historic art in public places. However there is so much more that could be achieved for the benefit of residents and visitors through a joined up strategic approach that brings together culture, planning, education, health, environment, economic development and communities. Within this context public art development is a critical component of providing cultural density and identity.

“showing that creativity is a renewable resource: heritage is non-renewable” – Cheltenham resident on the what art in public could achieve

Strategic priorities for public art development are:

• Strengthening identity and a sense of place – making people see Cheltenham differently and developing Health and Education as a key part of this identity, particularly in new developments on the outskirts of Cheltenham
• Supporting local creativity – supporting cultural producers and or just getting out the way – there should be a culture of allowing artists and creatives to experiment and do new things without unnecessary obstruction
• Community engagement – there needs to be more input from the grassroots and more projects that engage with social and economic deprivation such as engagement in developing briefs, ideas and selecting artists.
• Building on the history/roots of Cheltenham, but making these messages relevant to today’s societal issues

Art in public space in Cheltenham is created in through two main routes, the planning process (development led) and through cultural agencies (arts-led). When created by the planning process and funded by developers public art is usually created in an organic way, as investment becomes available and particular locations become ripe for development. Public art in Cheltenham has therefore resulted in a series of isolated projects with little or no strategic relationship between them. Equally culturally led art in public space is created in response to the objectives of cultural organisations, such as audience development or creative education, with little reference to wider social, economic or environmental goals.

The task is to join up planning-led and arts-led approaches that address the strategic priorities of identity and place, local creativity and community engagement. This can be achieved by:

  • Setting out best practice for the commissioning of public art, not to restrict artistic vision but to enhance its transformative power
  • Improving the infrastructure for public art delivery- opportunities for exchange, collaboration and communication between development-led and arts-led partners
  • Taking a pro-active approach to demonstrating potential benefits through innovative exemplar projects and action research which target strategic areas – health, education, new housing, neighbourhood planning, town centre improvement (retail and leisure), cultural tourism and enhancing green space

Read the full strategy here

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