Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 December 2014

I can't take this any more... top sculptor quits after red tape stalls project for years

Monument to An Unknown Woman Worker in Belfast
Monument to An Unknown Woman Worker in Belfast

One of Ireland's best known public space artists has reluctantly walked away from a project commissioned by the Department for Social Development, seven years after being awarded the contract.

Cork woman Louise Walsh – whose works include the Monument to An Unknown Woman Worker in Belfast as well as public art works in Terminal 1 at Heathrow Airport and at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast – was commissioned by the DSD in January 2006 to create a sculpture to commemorate the 300-year history of women factory workers in Londonderry.

Now her sculpture of A Wheel Of Sewing lies rusting on its side at a Derry engineering factory.

Ms Walsh said: "I was commissioned to do the project seven years ago and still it hasn't gone on public display.

"The site chosen was the King Street roundabout in the Waterside area on a sloping site overlooking the River Foyle.

"But after researching the project, interviewing former women factory workers and designing the sculpture and having it made, I was then informed in 2008 that the Roads Service was refusing planning permission for the DSD's project. I was then told that another site had been found, the Harbour Square site beside the city's Guildhall.

"Because that is a flat site on the opposite side of the river from the original site, it required the redesigning of the sculpture.

"The original budget for the project was £90,000 but now, because of delays caused not by me, that price has risen to £155,000.

"The Wheel Of Sewing cost £60,000 to create. I was paid only £40,000 and had to fight for the shortfall.

"I told the commissioning body that because of the redesign work involved in locating the sculpture in a different site and because of the increase in the price of metals over the years, that an additional £65,000 is needed to complete the project.

"I have been travelling to Belfast and to Derry for numerous meetings at my own expense... but the only answer I received was that the original price of £90,000 is the only budget available," she said.

"I have never before had to walk away from a project. I have devoted seven years of my professional and personal life to this.

"I wanted to create a sculpture to commemorate the majesty of the Derry factory women in acknowledgement of the incredible contribution they made to the life of this city, but all the way it has been one fight after another with various Government bodies," she added.

A spokesman for the DSD said: "The commission for the Factory Girls Public Art Project invited the appointed artist to identify a suitable site for the project and create an appropriate artwork for that site.

"The appointed artist identified the King Street roundabout as a suitable site (for the artwork) and proceeded to design and partially fabricate a piece of art for the roundabout.

"Since the King Street roundabout was not going to be feasible site for the project, efforts were put into identifying a suitable alternative site. A number of options were explored... but the artist felt that a site behind the Guildhall was the only option which was prominent and prestigious enough to meet the purpose of paying tribute to the factory workers.

"However, planning permission has not been secured for that site.

"Therefore, the department intends to meet with the city council and the artist to decide whether the current sculpture should be reworked to enable it to be located behind the Guildhall – subject to planning permission being secured and public procurement guidance being followed – or to locate the sculpture, after some minor reworking, to another suitable location within the city."

Timeline of events

2006: Louise Walsh awarded commission for sculpture commemorating Derry factory women.

King Street roundabout in the Waterside identified as a suitable location for artwork.

2008: Road Service refuses planning permission for site because of traffic and road safety impact.

Harbour Square near the Guildhall identified as possible alternative site, but so far has no planning permission. Meanwhile, cost of artwork spirals from £90,000 to £155,000.

2013: Artist Louise Walsh says she no longer wished to be involved with project after seven years of "swimming against a tide of bureaucracy".

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