Belfast Telegraph

Why someone is taking a rise out of us with costly street art

By Lindy McDowell

With the available pot of spare public funding shrinking faster than a Fianna Fail Cabinet is now any time for Belfast to be having a ball? Especially at a cost of nigh on half a million quid?

The ball in question (two if you're being precise) is Rise - a massive new piece of street art which will be plonked on the Broadway roundabout to inspire and uplift motorists as they sit in traffic jams or trundle past on the pothole-patched approach routes.

If you can imagine the metallic version of a giant ball of wool inside another sphere surrounded by steel reeds you have an approximation of the end look.

It's the work of artist Wolfgang Buttress who explains that the 40 metres by 30 metres steel structure will light up at night and will represent a "new sun rising over the reeds". (New dawn for troubled city - there's an original concept.)

It would be fair to say that thus far his Rise hasn't exactly captured public imagination.

It's reported that a recent public meeting to discuss the sculpture had to be cancelled because nobody turned up.

Nobody.

Hardly excitement at fever pitch, then.

The sculpture will be situated in a part of the city where that half a million quid could so easily be put to all sorts of constructive use. Fixing the roads rather than beautifying the roundabout ...

There's the Royal Victoria Hospital in the same neighbourhood that might be a better target for any spare dosh floating. Or local schools.

In fairness, it's an argument you could make at any time. (Taken to its clinically logical conclusion would we ever be able to justify public expenditure on artworks when practical need can be argued to override same?)

But in the midst of the worst recession in living memory it does seem particularly pertinent.

The counter argument of course, is that art is about more than cash cost.

Certainly, no one's suggesting that this place couldn't do with a bit of tarting up. And Broadway roundabout is as good a spot to start as any.

But on the question of what goes where shouldn't we all be taking more of an interest?

Art - including street art - is always subjective. In terms of what Belfast already has to offer what I like is the more figurative work of Ross Wilson, whose bronze sculpture includes the famous CS Lewis tribute in the east of the city, the glorious St Luke in the west and the more recent Angel in the north at Tiger's Bay.

It's not that I have anything against coiled steel per se but for some reason we do seem to have an awful lot of it in Belfast.

The Thanksgiving Angel (the wire woman guarding the bridge at Lanyon Place) created by Scottish artist Andy Scott has deservedly won a place in local affections. She even features on souvenir shop T-shirts. Interestingly, her £300,000 cost was raised through both private and public contribution.

Less loved by far is a more recent steel work - the Spirit of Belfast - an ugly tangle of flat, disjointed guttering that now complements bleak, litter strewn Cornmarket. What did we ever do to offend the artist, New Yorker Dan George, to provoke that £200,000 statement?

So do we actually care about what's 'adorning' our streets? And the attached price tags?

It's time we had a serious debate.

Is art work like the half a million pound Rise truly uplifting?

Or, at that price, just risible?

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