Olivia Poloni talks with our UK based curator Guy Noble to learn more about Guy, his work and much more.
Olivia: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work (within and out with T projects)?
Guy: Hi, I’m Guy and have been working with T Projects for the last two years to assist in the delivery of an arts strategy and public art commissioning for the new hospital on Jersey, in the Channel Islands. I have a background in arts and health having established and worked on various arts in hospitals projects across England.
I originally trained to be a teacher of art, but my interests lay more in working with artists to deliver creative projects and exhibitions. I’m passionate about the role arts have in addressing health inequalities and the importance of creativity to learning and challenging the world around us.
In my personal time I volunteer as a chair of governors at a local secondary school and have revived my passion for life-long learning and making through attending various ceramic courses. The results of which I am not willing to share!
Olivia: Could you tell us more about your role and interest in public art? What do you see as the benefits?
Guy: My role in the commissioning of public art can vary tremendously depending on the complexity of the project. In some cases I’m responsible for the whole strategic development of a public arts strategy which involves researching best practice, examples of public art within the given location, liaising and speaking with stakeholders, providing opportunities for engagement and responding to feedback, establishing delivery and procurement framework, recruiting and interviewing artists, contracting artists, contractors and wider specialists such as engineers, managing expectations of both client and artists and being a conduit for information, finalising fabrication details, and overseeing installation of work.
I also get involved in the evaluation of the impact of the public art on the local communities, as well as ensuring the on-going care of the artwork.
The benefits of public art are varied and, if done correctly, can be life changing. The arts help to create communities and connections and enable the sharing of stories that can reflect different perspectives and understanding. They can uplift an area encouraging cultural tourism. They can provide job opportunities for a wide range of professionals. They can provide an identity for an area. Within arts and health care the arts can:
Reduced stress experienced by patients, families and staff
Reduced drug consumption or pain medication
Reduced recovery times
Shorter hospital stays
Improved patient management
Improvements in clinical outcomes
Enhanced quality of service
Improvements in job satisfaction, staff retention and wellbeing
Olivia: What do you consider the risks, or downsides, of public art to be?
Guy: The downside of public art is when it becomes ‘plonk art’. Where a council, developer or commissioner buys art off the shelf or commissions an artist without proper engagement with the community it’s intended. Even when there has been good consultation there also needs to be consideration for the life of the artwork. Maintenance and care of public art is crucial to its legacy and pride within a place. This is not always budgeted for.
Olivia: What opportunities does public art bring to projects or to society more generally? Guy: Given my expertise in the health sector I would argue that public art has a major role in addressing health and social inequalities. Over the past 20 months I have seen at first hand the role that the arts can play in supporting people through the covid pandemic. I’m working on a commission at the moment which aims to bring 20 or so hospital Trusts together in a reflective, restorative art commission that celebrates the staff working for the National Health Service.
Olivia: What do you consider to be the most challenging aspects of commissioning public art?
Guy: There are many challenging aspects of commissioning public artwork, from ensuring clear communication from all stakeholders to overcoming building constraints, to realising an artist's ideas. However, for me, it is often the funds that remain the most challenging aspect. Too often I have worked with people who expect artists to work for free or at a reduced rate. It’s my role as a curator to challenge this and advocate for the artist and artistic ideas.
Olivia: What is your favourite example of public art, either in the UK or globally and why?
Guy: One of the most impressive public art pieces I have experienced was part of the Word War One Centenary celebrations. On 1 July 2016, thousands of volunteers took part in a modern memorial to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ was a UK-wide event commissioned by 14-18 NOW, conceived and created by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller in collaboration with Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre. Produced by Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the National Theatre, in collaboration with 26 organisations.
The success of this piece was that it occurred in everyday places such as train stations for a moment in time. It shows you that public art does not need to be a physical permanent artwork but can be fleeting transitory and yet still powerful.
Olivia: What is your least favourite example of public art, either in the UK or globally and why?
Guy: A statue entitled ‘The Don’ by Uruguayan sculptor Pablo Atchugarry is possibly the worse examples of public art within Cambridge (my hometown). A work that the artist denies being his and as being dismissed by the public art officer as “the poorest quality work.” This for me demonstrates a failed commission as the dialogue with council, artist and developer has broken down and the result is some plonk art that means little to the public that pass it daily.