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Cambridge City Council

New strategy sets out a way forward for public art in Cambridge

23 March 2022

A NEW vision for public art which puts art and artists at the heart of the community to create engaging artworks is being proposed by Cambridge City Council. 

A proposed new strategy to be discussed by councillors underlines the intentions of commissioning public art in Cambridge, acts as a reminder of its benefits, and makes a commitment to best practice in commissioning new work. 

It sets out four key objectives to inform the council’s approach to public art: 

 1 Artists - To put art and artists at the heart of the process to create public art of high quality using clear criteria, which engages people, and is relevant to places and people’s lives; 

 2 Community - To engage local people in the planning, design and animation of their environments and social spaces through public art and to encourage a greater sense of social cohesion and ownership of the public realm and public art. To enable residents to experience high quality cultural activity and have the opportunity to develop themselves as makers, participants and audiences; 

 3 Place - Public art can help create a high-quality public realm and improve environmental quality through the creation of artworks that provide visual and emotional pleasure. Public art commissions can animate public spaces and help create unique spaces as well as create identity both at a local level and citywide with each artwork being specific to its location; 

 4 Change - Public art can be used as a conduit for community engagement and participation and to recognise changes taking place in the city. This is particularly important in relation to Cambridge’s growth, as well as changes that will arise due to climate change and the biodiversity emergency. Public art should support and enable critical debate on these subjects.  

In a recent public consultation [see note 2] which helped inform the new vision, 90% of respondents agreed that public art should be accessible, that artists should be paid appropriately and that local communities should benefit from it. In addition 92% agreed that public art adds distinctiveness and character to the city, and contributes to its sense of place. 

The new strategy will inform the development and delivery of public art through the planning process, and also the uses of the remaining ‘S106’ funds to be allocated for public art in the city. Going back many years, the council has secured S106 funds, including for public art, from developers to help mitigate the impact of local development in Cambridge. S106 money is ring-fenced and cannot be used for other purposes. Around £300,000 of ringfenced funding for public art is left, which needs to be assigned by August 2027. 

Cllr Anna Smith, Leader of the Council and Executive Councillor for Communities, said: “Public art is so powerful. As a young person growing up, we didn’t have the funds to visit the big galleries. My first experiences of public art were in Harlow, visiting my grandparents, seeing the Henry Moore family group statue every time we went into town. As a child it fascinated and challenged me, and gave me a lifelong love of modern art. So I know personally how transformative accessible public art can be. 

“This new manifesto will lead to new works of art that people throughout our community will be able to participate in and enjoy – something that really enhances life for many people in Cambridge. I hope that it will help us to create new art that will have the same impact on a young person today, as the art in Harlow had on me.” 

The proposed strategy: ‘The Cambridge Perspective – a Manifesto’ will be considered for adoption by councillors at Environment Scrutiny Committee on 24 March.