If it was good enough for Queen Victoria… The Lowry announces five £35k artist commissions

Susie Stubbs

As The Lowry puts out a call for artists for its new public art trail, we catch up with the art centre’s David Smith, to find out more

Artists, designers and makers – listen up. The Lowry, the Manchester Ship Canal-side arts centre that this year celebrates its tenth anniversary, wants to give you some cash. Yes, it comes with strings attached. Yes, you will have to work hard to earn it. But the five commissions, each worth £35,000 and which will see five public artworks form a new ‘heritage trail’ down at Salford Quays, are not to be sniffed at.

Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and as part of a project called Unlocking Salford Quays, these new artworks will reflect the unique history of Salford Quays – the location for The Lowry and Imperial War Museum North, soon to be the new northern home of the BBC, and a place whose industrial past is forever signalled by the great sweep of water that secured Manchester’s role as the hub of the Industrial Revolution – the Manchester Ship Canal.

Salford Docks, re-branded as Salford Quays in 1984, were once among the busiest in the UK. They were opened in 1894 by none other than Queen Victoria but, like so much of industrial Britain, began their long slide into decline in the post-war years. They closed for good in 1982, were bought two years later by Salford City Council and then became part of one of the largest urban regeneration projects in the UK – which is where The Lowry and its new commission picks up the historical thread.

The chosen artists will be commissioned to work with former Quays workers, current residents and local history buffs in the creation of the new public artworks. On top of that, they’ll be working with local ten year-olds, a group of kids chosen to reflect the tenth anniversary of The Lowry itself, a building whose construction was one of the milestones in the regeneration of the once derelict dockland.

‘The heritage of the area is difficult to uncover,’ says David Smith, the arts officer at The Lowry tasked with overseeing the project, ‘and we saw our tenth birthday as an opportunity to both add to the cultural landscape of the Quays and empower local people to discover their history. On top of this, the issue of the heritage of the Quays is particularly pressing due to the rapid and continuing regeneration of the area. Although this regeneration is fantastically positive, there is a risk that the rich industrial and social history of Salford Quays will be lost. Unlocking Salford Quays aims to highlight and preserve this incredible history for future generations of visitors.’

This sort of project is not unusual for the Heritage Lottery fund, which allocates around £180 million every year to such schemes. But it is, says Smith, testament to the historical significance of the Quays that the ‘HLF has dedicated so much time and money’ to this particular series of public artworks.

The final trail will comprise five outdoor works of art dotted across the Quays. The Lowry hopes to have them in place by October, meaning that from this autumn visitors will be able to meander between them (with the aid of maps and possibly guided tours) and, along the way, gain an insight into the industrial, social and creative past of this corner of Greater Manchester. ‘Alongside the public art, between October 2010 and January 2011, there will be a series of live “animations” which will bring the history of the Quays to life,’ says Smith. An exhibition at The Lowry is also planned, as well as a project website – we’ll keep you posted as details firm up.

All this comes at a point when the former dockland is undergoing its biggest development in almost a decade: Media City opens next year (complete with new tram stop, huge public piazza and footbridge connecting it to the Trafford side of the Ship Canal), while the War Museum is forging ahead with its plans to improve the landscape immediately surrounding the Daniel Libeskind-designed building.

For now, though, The Lowry is focusing on the artists. If you fancy your chances, put down that Easter egg and get your application in: the deadline is next Friday (9 April).

Images (top to bottom): The Lowry, Susie Stubbs; the exterior of The Lowry, courtesy the venue

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