An MP from Devon has spoken out against the colossal £500,000 spent on the Arctic island Olympic arts project, denouncing it as an “extraordinary folly”. While the Arts Council argue that this “remarkable visual sculpture” would open up a debate on global warming, Geoffrey Cox, Conservative MP for Torridge and West Devon believes that such funds would be better spent on community arts projects.
Artist Alex Hartley and 18 volunteers have excavated around six tonnes of material from a newly exposed island in Norway on the Svalbard peninsula. This has been possible because of a retreating glacier. This excavated material will be turned into a piece of art named Nowhere Island, and will be transported on a barge around the coast of the South West for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.
It is one of 12 arts projects funded by the Arts Council as part of the Cultural Olympiad to run alongside the sporting events in 2012. But Mr Cox believes that his constituents will to find it “quite astonishing” that, during a period of recession, when thousands of people are without work and the country is on the “brink of bankruptcy”, that the Arts council would spend half a million pounds “digging up earth from somewhere in Norway and floating it down the South West coast”.
Mr Cox is keen to stipulate that he is not against spending money on the art in principle, but would much prefer these sorts of funds to go towards “grass-roots community arts centres rather than this extraordinary folly”.
The head of Arts Council England in the South West, Phil Gibby, maintains otherwise, believing that, while it is “absolutely vital to invest in vibrant arts projects in Devon”, the Arts Council should not have spent this money on them. Or him, this is this is in fact £500,000 well spent since “we reckon more than a quarter of a million people will engage with it”. This would make the price of the piece around £2 per head, or less.
The artist Alex Hartley also believes in the value of his project, given that “London won the chance to host the 2012 Olympics on the basis that they would reinvigorate the Cultural Olympiad”. For him, Nowhere Island fits this brief, the available resources having been spent in “the most ambitious and most engaging way.” Thomas Keane © ArtLyst 2011