CITE and the Irwell Sculpture Trail, Northwest England (2004)

Interview-feature with CITE / Irwell Sculpture Trail director Hope London Morris.

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 1 March 2010
This interview first appeared in Sculpture, 23(3), pp. 22-3 in April 2004.
Based in Greater Manchester, CITE is a new public art commissioning and advisory agency that advocates art in the public realm, especially in the context of urban and rural regeneration. CITE’s work includes public art strategy, project management, and artistic direction for public art commissions, including those for the 30- mile-long Irwell Sculpture Trail (IST)—28 projects completed to date since its inception in 1997—which extends along the River Irwell. The locations vary from rural Lancashire to former industrial sites leading to Salford, a former mill city next to Manchester and the inspiration for artist L.S. Lowry’s early 20th-century depictions of the realities of industrial life.

In addition to its Sculpture Trail work, CITE has undertaken other activities, including the development of a public art program for St. Helens, a town in the region, and ongoing work for the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive to improve public transport through artwork at tram and bus stations. One of these projects involves the renovation of the Salford Central Station, a listed building, with an estimated £200,000 (approximately $300,000) budget for contemporary art (scheduled to begin in 2004).

In this interview, CITE Director Hope London Morris, a former arts management consultant and previously Director of Castlefield Gallery, discusses the program. She’s a native New Yorker, with an MFA from Brooklyn College, who moved to Britain in 1987.

R.J. Preece: What are the main challenges in running a public art commissioning agency and sculpture trail?

Hope London Morris: I think the first thing is running any not-for-profit arts organization. The challenges are probably somewhat different from those in the U.S. because of the donor culture, which is not as developed here. Having said that, I think the challenge is still the same— sustainability. Taking artistic integrity as a given, the challenge is financial sustainability. I wouldn’t call it “fundraising.” We don’t go out and ask people to contribute money. It’s a very different approach. We build a viable organization. We’re getting involved on a political level with people whose business it is to transform the environment—urban, rural, and infrastructural, particularly transport infrastructure and waterways (including canals from industrial times). Getting involved like this, we are able to influence policy. We are able to advocate for the importance of public art and design in the regeneration of the region.

R.J. Preece: How would you characterize the artists who have installed work on the Irwell Sculpture Trail?

Hope London Morris: There’s a huge range—from recent graduates to people at the top of their profession. I think the idea was that the work would attract people to the trail— to walk on it and explore it. So, it’s very helpful when you have internationally recognized artists whose work people may want to see. It’s also important that you have people who get involved with the communities. These people may be, in some cases, less well-known. But the work may become a well-loved part of the local landscape. It’s curated, but in my view, it’s eclectic and quirky in some ways. They are not afraid to experiment. One of my favorite pieces is the gigantic picture frame, In the Picture (1997). It’s funny, and you can sit on it and have a picnic. This is in stark contrast, for example, to the Tilted Vase, which is very much a monumental bronze. Or to a Minimalist piece like Rückriem’s work.

R.J. Preece: What decision-making processes do you think people underestimate in designing, producing, and installing a public artwork?

Hope London Morris: Politics—and I think sometimes people, including the general public, underestimate the kind of planning and logistics involved in creating an enduring project. There are a lot of things that people don’t see, and the whole question of maintenance is a big one. For example, Tilted Vase has a fountain aspect that was extremely complex in engineering terms. You get kids putting liquid detergent in it all the time— because then they get to see the bubbles. These things can cause terrible problems and incur large costs, which people may underestimate.

R.J. Preece: Do you think there are any advantages/disadvantages in being an American in the British art world—in terms of access to opportunities?

Hope London Morris: That’s a very tricky question. There are both. In terms of advantages, for example, I can work in places like Scotland and Ireland without being resented as an English person. I’ve done this as an arts consultant— it’s true. It goes both ways. I think some people, sadly, can generalize and have preconceptions about people of different nationalities and ethnic groups. Sometimes, if they like Americans, it works in your favor.

R.J. Preece: What advice do you have for artists who are interested in pursuing work in the public realm but have yet to make the move?

Hope London Morris: I think you’d do the same thing that you do when pursuing any new market. It really is a professional development and marketing issue.

R.J. Preece: What are your future plans for the Irwell Sculpture Trail/CITE?

Hope London Morris: At the moment, we’ve just secured the basic funding to acquire and refurbish a building on the River Irwell in Radcliffe, which will become headquarters for CITE and artists’ studios. We’ve created a new base for ourselves right in the middle of the Sculpture Trail. This project exemplifies our core values about arts-based regeneration. We will be working with an exciting range of artists and project managers— most of our projects will be realized in collaboration with project managers— and be creating an identity for the Irwell Sculpture Trail that didn’t exist before.