A steering group has overseen and monitored the commissions, acted as a forum for debate, and maintained dialogue with the community. The steering group comprised different areas of expertise including technical and artistic, and maintained close links with the local community. Within the group the lead artist / consultant was responsible for overseeing the commissioning process and acted as the link between the artists and the steering group. Specialists and other representatives were co-opted to the steering group as required.
The following quotes illustrate the process by which the steering group was established:
"We've had a range of people on the steering group and as particular projects have come on stream, we've voted to temporarily co-opt relevant specialists, from the parks department and highways, or school teachers, architects and landscape architects. It's participation in the widest sense." Richard Briggs, MD, Persimmon Special Projects Western
"It was an exercise in how to structure a group, a representative group to select, appoint and commission an artist. The lesson from the Portishead scheme I applied to another scenario in North Somerset very successfully." Kedrick Davies, Urban Designer, North Somerset Council
The steering group was responsible for briefing and interviewing artists and approving artworks. Establishing a successful working model within the steering group meant creating a dialogue which took on board the various perspectives. As mutual confidence in the partnership working of the group developed, so did its aspirations.
Members of the steering group have commented on its development as follows:
"One of the key things is the process. If you get the process right you can relax about what is eventually delivered on the ground because it will be a reflection on the general consensus. There have not been any major disagreements within the steering group even though we are all individualistic in our views and approaches. When it came to judging and assessing things, there was a great deal of synergy. Again I can only say that it was a consequence of the process." Kedrick Davies, Urban Designer, North Somerset Council
"Initially there was a lot of suspicion, particularly as the strategy was couched in vague terms. It took quite a while to get over that suspicion - everyone from residents to local councillors and planning officers. But now there is a trust in what we have done because we have fulfilled our obligations." Mark Hallett, Project Director, Crest Nicholson
"It's been one of the most constructive committees I've ever been on. We had all these portfolios and going through them it was amazing how unanimous we were, because we all come from such different backgrounds." Sue Hayson, Portishead Town Council
A significant feature that contributed to the success of the Public Art Programme was the devolution of decision-making powers to the steering group, which could not be vetoed by any of the major stakeholders. This engendered a culture of teamwork and mutual co-operation, minimising bureaucracy.
"The Local Authority agreed that the steering group would have powerful consent authority. We didn't want works of art to go through a steering group, then a committee of planning officers, then a council meeting. I don't think you'd get anything very innovative going through that route." Mark Hallett, Project Director, Crest Nicholson
"The steering group, its relationship with the Authority, and the processes it utilises to secure delivery, should be used as a model elsewhere." Kedrick Davies, Urban Designer,
North Somerset Council
The steering group also provided a forum for tackling and diffusing potential tensions between developers, local authorities, community and artists. Sue Haysom from Portishead Town Council comments:
"There is a capability of working with developers, as distinct from there being a 'them and us'. I'm not naive about developers wanting profits but you can work together, and if you do there are most definitely mutual benefits."
Artist Rick Kirby concurs:
“I was impressed with the developers and their attitude to both artists and artworks. I think they're proud of what they got - it has changed my mind towards developers."