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£100k for a sculpture is money poorly spent

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 16/09/2016

Part of the purpose of public art is to provoke discussion and interest in cultural activities. As the latest piece of sculpture - inspired by the River Farset, from which Belfast derived its name - is to be unveiled tonight, it is already dividing opinion
Part of the purpose of public art is to provoke discussion and interest in cultural activities. As the latest piece of sculpture - inspired by the River Farset, from which Belfast derived its name - is to be unveiled tonight, it is already dividing opinion

Part of the purpose of public art is to provoke discussion and interest in cultural activities. As the latest piece of sculpture - inspired by the River Farset, from which Belfast derived its name - is to be unveiled tonight, it is already dividing opinion.

One reason is the £100,000 cost of the project. It is also one of seven large-scale installations that come with a total bill of £900,000.

While everyone will have differing opinions on the artistic merit of these public works, there will be greater consensus - and concern - over the price at a time when money is in short supply.

Even the arts sector has suffered severe budgetary cuts in recent years.

Many people will wonder how these projects can be given the go-ahead in this economic climate and given the competing demands within the same sector, never mind in wider society.

The largest and most complex piece of public art in the city, the RISE installation at the Broadway roundabout - immediately given the somewhat derisory nickname of 'the Balls on the Falls' - cost an astonishing £400,000 and has divided opinion ever since, even if it has become something of a landmark, especially for visitors to the city. It has to be accepted that public art can give a city or town a certain sense of style, but there will always be many who feel that the expenditure involved should take into consideration the economic context of the time and place.

This newspaper carried a report yesterday about how many pensioners are having to dip into savings and pension pots to fund private healthcare because of the NHS's lengthy queues for treatment.

And today we reveal how the cost of funerals here has more than doubled in the past decade to more than £3,000. Spending on paupers' burials, for those without relatives or whose relatives cannot meet the cost, has also risen sharply.

It could be argued that public money - even National Lottery funding that goes towards many public artworks - should be directed towards the areas of greatest need in society, rather than on projects that may lift the spirits or exercise the mind.

Could more money not be put into the Social Fund to give families struggling to meet funeral expenses a more generous helping hand, or towards keeping down the cost of municipal burial plots, or even to improving the health service? That is also a thought-provoking argument.

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