In my hometown of Ashford, Kent at the moment there is a big public art program running alongside the redevelopment of the town centre. This has attracted the kind of small-town criticism that I assume it was partly designed to provoke and has involved a number of interesting artists, doing all kinds of things that you can read about here. The Daily Mail newspaper did try run a story on the project, but luckily that fizzled out before they had a chance to develop a ‘political correctness gone mad’ or Princess Di angle.
Whilst the vast majority of the criticisms levelled against this scheme have been along the lines of ‘why spend the money on art when you could spend it on schools / hospitals/ bus stops / arresting young people’, there has been very little public engagement with the content or quality of the art involved. These pictures are of a building that has been covered in paper (perhaps a little derivative in 2007?) and then made into a giant canvas for graffiti artists. In principle, I think this was a great idea. It is in a prominent location on the town’s ring road and opposite the train station. Potentially it offered a ‘way in’ to the scheme for lots of young people and was participatory in nature – all these things go in it’s favour. My problem with this is that the final product is so bad. Given a wall this size, why turn it into a giant tag? There are plenty of artists out there working in this style who are producing work that is about more than its creator (have a look at this as a high-profile example) and that respond in a more meaningful way to the building and its environment. It is definitely a wonderful thing to have art in the public realm in a place like Ashford, where aesthetic considerations have always been way down the planning and development list, but the fact that is its public shouldn’t be an excuse for a lack of discussion based on judgements of quality.