Public Art in Lowestoft
The most easterly town in Britain, the port of Lowestoft in Suffolk is the centre of population in Waveney District, one of seven District Councils in the county which share control of public services with Suffolk County Council in a two-tier system of local government.
Lowestoft 's fishing industry, central to its economy for centuries, is in serious decline, and its role as a centre for tourism and leisure activities has become increasingly important. Strategies for the environmental and economic regeneration of the town have formed a vital core of Waveney District Council's (WDC) projects since the mid 1990s, and the Council's formal policies for planned regeneration have identified public art commissions as an integral part of the means to that end, serving to reinforce Lowestoft 's historical associations and cultural distinctiveness. The Home Zone project differs in type from the other public art commissions already realised or currently planned in the town - it is not sited within the town centre and seafront regeneration area, and is categorised as a 'Community Development' project within the Council's regeneration strategy framework. Nevertheless, the principle of employing a visual artist as part of the team responsible for carrying out the project is a clear extension of that already put into practice by the Council in employing artists to work collaboratively on environmental schemes on or near the town's seafront.
In its 1996 Waveney Local Plan, the Council adopted a policy for setting aside a proportion of the costs of its own building and landscape schemes for the purchase or commission of art. The document additionally encouraged a voluntary 'per cent for art' policy (based on a model promoted by the Arts Council) as part of any planning application for new private development schemes in the district. Cambridge-based Commissions East (supported by the then Eastern Arts Board as the Regional Development Agency for the visual arts) was appointed as the consultant to WDC in formulating a public art strategy and for providing an advisory and management service for Waveney's initial proposed public art commissions.
The first public art commissions to be realised in Lowestoft between 1999-2001 as part of its regeneration schemes are sited on or near the seafront, a focus for visitors to the town. They can be divided into several distinctive groups, though collectively they are intended to comprise a Maritime Art Trail. WDC's former Cultural Services Officer, Vaughan Aston, was influential in developing a relatively ambitious and outward looking policy towards these public art commissions. Since leaving to work for Norwich City Council, Aston's post has not been replaced, and there is currently no arts development officer at WDC. Larger environmental project proposals are taken to the Council's Regeneration Strategy Group, and shortlisted commission proposals are considered by an Art Panel.
In 2001 WDC and Suffolk County Council jointly drew up a strategy document for a 'Lowestoft Town Centre & Seafront Regeneration Project'. Included in this document were generalised proposals for the incorporation of commissioned elements of public art as an integral part of the overall regeneration policy, listing 'public art' along with lighting, signing and play facilities and the co-ordination of shop fronts, advertising and street furniture as being collectively instrumental in "creating an attractive image for Lowestoft". The existing art trail and other commissions were included retrospectively within the terms of these strategies, with the assertion that the provision of such ëart features' should be extended in order to provide "interpretation of the area's heritage and culture to visitors and local people".
The Waveney Sunrise Scheme is the most recent regeneration framework into which the commission of works of public art for Lowestoft 's town centre and seafront have been set, drawing together several other projects currently at various stages of development. This £14.7 million project has been under way since December 2002, with WDC as lead body, working in partnership with Suffolk County Council. The other major funders of the scheme are the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), East of England Development Agency (EEDA), and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The Sunrise Scheme proposes the extension of the existing seafront ëpublic art trail' to the town centre. The realisation of this extended 'art trail' involves the employment of a lead artist, and will centre around a proposed 'Eastern Lights' scheme, "using art to improve town centre pedestrian areas" by developing "a unique programme of illumination". Commissions East has generated the brief for this commission, and the painter, printmaker, enamel and ceramic artist Dale Devereux Barker has been appointed as lead artist. A package of funding for this project comes from ERDF, EEDA, and Suffolk County Council's highways budget.
In December 2003 EEDA launched its 'East of England Urban Renaissance Strategy', with the aim of improving the quality of urban design and architecture in the region, and in particular in its urban centres. Whilst acknowledging the shortage of appropriate skills in the region, within a climate of low expectations of design quality and little awareness of exemplar schemes, this strategy stresses the importance of landmark buildings and public art within regeneration schemes, and posits the potential effect of a notional "Angel of the East".
In line with this strategy, Waveney District Council is currently in the course of creating a 'heritage and cultural quarter' in the High Street and Triangle Market area of Lowestoft . As the result of an RIBA competition, John Whiteside has produced a new sail-like market canopy design ('Eastern Sails'). The area already includes a small arts centre and a number of artists' work spaces. This scheme plans to encourage a greater number of arts related businesses to the area, and to develop specialist shops and an 'evening economy'.
The funding of regeneration projects, even within a relatively small authority such as Waveney, derives from a complex mosaic of regional and local governmental bodies and development agencies, some mediating European funding programmes. Where regeneration has been linked with art features, successful bids to Regional Arts Lottery Programme have been made with the advice and support of Commissions East.
The public art commissions realised as part of the schemes outlined above are as follows:
A sculpture trail devised and made by Paul Amey, reflecting the fishing industry of the area, can be followed in and around 'The Scores', historic narrow alleyways with evocative names running from the old High Street to the seashore. No doubt influenced by the Fish Trail sited successfully in the Old Town of Hull some years earlier, the Scores Trail comprises such elements as a Red Herring Trail (including a large metal fish leaning against a brick wall), mackerel and herring inlaid into flights of steps, crabs scurrying along the ancient cobbles, and relief images of sailing ships set into the pathway
Claremont Road and Wellington Esplanade
A number of commissions for the redevelopment of the traditional Victorian Wellington Esplanade, and the area adjacent to the entrance to Claremont Pier were completed in Summer 2000:
- A circular paving feature by Anu Patel for the area in front of Claremont Pier in the form of a patterned whirlpool of fish, made using resin-bonded aggregates, and a related series of protective tree grilles incorporating fish and boats by the same artist.
- A sequence of banners by Lee Lapthorne for an existing row of curved lamp posts, bearing digitally printed abstract designs derived from the artist's photographs of features along the Lowestoft seafront. Signs for the entrance and exit to the touristic Kirkley area of South Lowestoft were also designed by Lapthorne as part of the same commission.
Ness Point is the most easterly point in Britain. The opportunity to commission an environmental art work for this undeveloped visitor attraction arose when Anglian Water announced its intention to replace its existing waste water treatment plant on the site, and together with Waveney District Council to develop the adjacent area as a public space. In 1999 the environmental artist Chris Tipping was appointed to "act as a catalyst" in the development of designs for the site, in collaboration with the consultancy Landscape Design Associates. The resulting scheme was intended to "reflect the nature of the site", surrounded as it is by industrial buildings and characterised by intense light and monotone concrete and shingle. Glass, metal, and ambient light were thus identified in the brief as possible appropriate design elements. Tipping's environmental interventions focus upon Anglian Water's new 12 metre high round outfall tower, around which a green glass canopy spirals upwards. Pathways, ramps, viewing points, seating and barriers (including an arrangement of wooden posts) which serve to screen the work compound of the water treatment centre, create a formal, abstract juxtaposition of angled elements.
In recent years, these features at Ness Point - an often deserted place - have suffered badly from vandalism. Officially designated unsafe, the broken spiral glass canopy on the tower has been removed by Anglian Water and its now dilapidated appearance has become "a delicate and sensitive issue". WDC is committed to refurbishing the site, but progress to that end is at a standstill at present, though the artist has been requested to consider designing a steel replacement for the original glass canopy.
Claremont Pier & South Pier
Linked lighting features by David Ward for Lowestoft's two piers, were made in collaboration with the lighting engineer Chris Baldwin (ACT Consultant Services). The 1903 Claremont Pier is privately owned, and the more modern South Pier is owned by Associated British Ports. Both owners supported the project but did not fund it.
The works were originally titled Pier and Ocean, after the series of abstract works by Mondrian originating from the observation of light playing on the surface of the sea. Their eventual title, St Elmo's Fire, is the traditional name for the luminous discharge caused by atmospheric electricity which flickers around the masts of sailing ships. Visible one from the other, the two works comprise groups of tapering steel poles, atop which irregular constellations of lights illuminate temporarily in a random sequence, their verticality contrasting with the horizontal linearity of the piers and the horizon.
Website for information about the Waveney Sunrise Scheme:
© Copyright David Briers 2004