The Portishead Public Art Programme grew from a planning requirement under the 106 Agreement between the developers (Crest Nicholson and Persimmon Homes) and North Somerset Council. This ten year project, originating in 1999, fulfills a commitment by the developers to promote culturally rich and sustainable forms of urban life. The importance of Public Art to the overall scheme was clearly identified at the outset within the site’s Master Plan.
The programme is distinguished by the developers' pledge to far exceed a 'tick box' response, as illustrated by the words of Crest Nicholson's Design Director, Paul Talbot:
"Rather than put our heads in the sand and offer tokenism we tried much harder."
Stuart Clamp, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Art, Media and Design at the University of the West of England (Bristol), and Director of Continuum Public Arts, was appointed as Lead Artist / Consultant to establish working guidelines and an operational framework.
Mark Hallett, Project Director for Crest Nicholson, describes their approach:
"'Public art was viewed with suspicion particularly by house builders as yet another planning hurdle. So I met up with Stuart and instead of seeing it as an obligation that we'd just get through, we'd actively go out and embrace it as a positive obligation. We spent quite a bit of time formulating a detailed strategy, but didn't want it to become prescriptive; it was clearly a strategy of how to do something. It was an approach and a philosophy that was quite new ground for us."
Stuart Clamp drew up the 'Portishead Quays Public Art Strategy' (November 1999), which identifies and sets out the aims of the project, breaks down the working processes and documents/records achievements of the programme to date. This was a breakthrough approach for NSC, as Kedrick Davies from the Council's Urban Design team points out:
"It was the first time North Somerset Council had a comprehensive strategy dealing with a large site."
Richard Dowding, North Somerset Council's Strategic Projects Officer, echoes this point:
"These are the most comprehensive and imaginative public art proposals related to a development project yet seen in North Somerset and will set standards for others to follow."
The Portishead Public Art Strategy is informed by research into best practice in similar dockside redevelopments such as those in Swansea and Cardiff, which share the Bristol Channel with Portishead. Key to the strategy is recognition that public art:
- Contributes to and enriches local distinctiveness, uniqueness and identity and ensures an historical and cultural legacy for future generations
"Our aim is to make a contemporary version of an archeaological site; the embedded fossils are bronze images all relating to the site specifically." Sculptural Garden, Robert Fearns
- Humanises environments and involves and strengthens communities
- Sends a positive message to both existing and new communities, creating both desirability and a sense of shared ownership - inclusivity not exclusivity
- Can help integrate new developments into existing communities by establishing common ground
“The inspiration for this work came directly from the physical and historical context of the dockside in which it is placed. The form of ht work reflects the shipping bollards that still exist along the old quayside. Superimposed is a male head looking out to sea and above is his female counterpart facing the opposite direction. This makes reference to the dichotomy that was always present in seafaring communities. Ship to Shore was a type of communication used to connect the two.” Jon Buck
- Gives opportunities to professional artists to demonstrate their skills and vision in relation to specific sites that invite innovative solutions. Open opportunities within a structured and supportive framework
"I wanted the commission for the Ashlands area to be peacefully content... a very precious state." Precious, Carol Peace
- By making social space integral to the living experience, it engenders ownership and identification thus contributing to a real sense of place -'people not public / place not space / homes not houses'
- Contributes to a wider cultural environment and engenders civic pride
- Creates unique and visually stimulating places, in turn encouraging economic and sustainable regeneration
An underlying concern of the strategy is to:
"give meaning and context, identity and focus, to public spaces and by doing so enhance the quality of experience for both the existing and new communities, thereby connecting people with place." Portishead Quays Consortium Public Arts Strategy - Ashlands and East Dock
"The sculpture I have made for Portishead is an ultimate view of the relationship between man and his environment... in this situation both figures relate in harmony and are communing as one." Man and Animal, Giles Penny
In order to arrive at a strategy document with such a 'joined-up' approach, Stuart Clamp consulted with the following parties:
Mark Hallett: Project Director, Crest Nicholson
Paul Talbot: Design Director, Crest Nicholson
Alison Postlethwaite: Landscape Architect, Derek Lovejoy Partnership
Claire Watts: Landscape Architect, Derek Lovejoy Partnership
Kedrick Davies: Urban Designer, North Somerset Council
Tina Speake: Urban Design and Conservation Assistant, North Somerset Council
Sue Haysom: Portishead Town Council representative
Tean Kirby: North Somerset and Portishead Partnership representative
Alison Scott: Arts Development Officer, North Somerset Council
Fiona Matthews: Arts Development Officer, North Somerset Council
Maggie Bolt: Public Arts Director, Arts Council of England South West
"Essentially a piece about regeneration and hope." Timelines, Marianne Forrest