Sheffield’s Going Public art scheme will ultimately make art more accessible, argues Hannah Williams

By October 19, 2015



As the public art sector is increasingly financially squeezed, with cuts especially impacting regional and northern collections, Sheffield is leading the way in finding radical new solutions to ensure art remains accessible to the public.

One such effort comes from Museums Sheffield’s Going Public scheme, which displays private works in public venues around the city. Joining with Sheffield Hallam, Sheffield Cathedral and Site Gallery, the project brings works from some of the most prestigious and esteemed private art collections in Europe to the city centre.

Works by Sarah Lucas, Marcel Duchamp, and Maurizio Cattelan will be displayed for all to see for free, with perhaps the most controversial piece, the Chapman brothers’ Cyber Iconic Man, displayed at the Cathedral. The piece depicts an upside down naked figure, its blood splashing unceasingly into a bucket, the drama of the work amplified by the ornate surroundings of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit. The Cathedral is also host to pieces by Turner Prize-nominated Goshka Macuga, whose large tapestry, depicting world leaders and refugees, places political themes front and centre.

There has been some concern that the project is perpetuating the idea that art is the reserve of the privileged, and that a reliance on private benefactors can only lead to more restrictions on the types of work available to the public. Whilst Going Public aims to widen the reach of works that may otherwise never have been seen by the general public, it does nothing to challenge the fact that the artistic landscape is now heavily reliant on the charity of moneyed collectors. However, there is no way of avoiding the reality of the current cultural landscape – further cuts are expected, and their effects will continue to be felt in the coming years.

Going Public ensures that art is still available to the public, and the placing of the works in central spaces emphasises the importance of art in everyday life. As Sebastian Montabonel and Mark Doyle, the organisers of the project, recently said in an article by The Guardian,

“One of the goals was really to connect to the local community, which was why we were so broad in the sites we chose, and opening it up to a broad range of people who might not otherwise encounter this art. We are only showing a tiny fraction of each of these collections but the impact they are going to have is going to be extremely powerful, both visually and politically. I still think we underestimate the power of art.”

Extra steps have been taken by the organisers in order to be certain that private interests would not affect the art displayed. These include choosing a select number of benefactors already known for their contributions to public galleries and cultural schemes.

The project will also include an October summit that seeks to discuss the future of public and privately funded art and the increasing reliance on philanthropy, and which will be attended by the culture minister, Ed Vaizey, and head of museums at the Arts Council, John Orna-Ornstein. The findings of the report will then be shared with art and cultural institutions around Europe, placing Sheffield at the centre of the discussion about the artistic landscape.