I’ve spent some time reflecting on Cllr Tony Ball’s statement that he made regarding “Progression” (see my earlier post “Progression” and “The Woodsman”: A Tale of Two Sculptures):
“We are not against the art – but the cash should be from private sponsorship.”
I realised I didn’t know anything regarding the financial provenance of “The Woodsman” and whether or not Basildon Council had commissioned it, assisted with transportation costs, paid for its installation etc. I decided to email Vin Harrop, heritage director of Our Basildon, and ask that question. His response was fascinating:
“Dave Chapple on behalf of the then Basildon Arts and Design Initiative (BADI) gifted the finished work to the people of Basildon. It took him 5 months to complete, working for nothing from June 1995. He was 63 years old at the time and wanted to work on that scale before he got too old. Dave spent three days a week and never missed a day, each day he was surrounded by scores of people inquisitive to know what he was doing, if he had cut down the tree and how much it was costing. Dave always replied “not one penny”. People were visiting Dave on a regular basis offering gifts in particular food, so you can see he built up quite a rapport with all those using St Martin’s Square. This is why we use the term ‘People’s Artist’, for he was a man of the people (born in Vange) who created his art for the people of Basildon.
Basildon Council gave permission to install scaffolding in front of the Basildon Centre and covered the hire of a lorry to transport the fallen tree from Langdon Hills, and Dave’s public liability- about £300 in total. The scaffolding was provided as part of a sponsorship deal- other funds were sought but they (BADI) were unsuccessful.”
So here we have it. Unlike “Progression”, which was paid for from public funds, “The Woodsman” cost nothing except the £300 for transport and liability insurance. I have since been told that BADI may have actually raised that £300 also.
It would seem that even when a work is sponsored from private funds, the Conservative administration is not interested in maintaining “the art”. I don’t know if that makes Cllr Ball “against the art” – it does, however, leave a bad taste in the mouth to see the landmark carving of a local artist mouldering on its side in Wat Tyler (I understand it now has a tarpaulin over it).
“Hardcore Carvers” are a group of independent artists and entertainers who specialise in making large wooden carvings (often with chainsaws). They treat their external oak sculptures yearly with teak oil.
B&Q’s cheapest teak oil is currently £5.16 a litre.
The Sporting Village is costing £38 million.
It makes you think about the balance of priorities.
I am trying to set up a meeting for artists, craftspersons and other supporters and have left a message on the facebook Save the Woodsman Poacher site. There is an email address for people to say whether or not they would like to attend a meeting and I will then be able to judge if the potential venue will be big enough. It is email@example.com
Sadly the fate of The Woodsman is typical of what I expect from local tory administrations. They seem to have no idea just how important art and the arts generally are to the health of a community. Like Dave Chapple I was born here. At the time this was a rural community. I have watched the town grow and become urbanised. Throughout this time there has been a tension between these two aspects of this area. Dave’s public sculptures remind us of Basildon’s rural roots and of the fact that the present town is blessed by having ready access to large areas of some of the most fantastic countryside anywhere in Essex. His sculpture reminds us that it is something to be celebrated and protected at all costs.
Tory administrations however accord little value to art and the arts. They closed the Towngate theatre at a stroke at the very time it was bringing great productions to the town and through outreach work drawing in large numbers of our young people, bringing drama and dance to them in a very exciting way. It has re-opened now under the present administration but they are not willing to subsidise it in the way they are sport – witness the millions of our money that is going to subsidise the sporting village. Art, sculpture, theatre, dance, music are every bit as important as sport in producing a vibrant, creative and healthy community and as such needs to be supported and promoted. Public works of art need to be looked after and readily accessible to the community. That there seems to have been no designated annual maintenance programme for The Woodsman shows the casual attitude towards it. I want to see this particular piece of Basildon’s heritage restored to a suitable site in the centre of town where people will be brought close to it, where they wonder about it and its origins and about the skill and commitment of its creator.