City Matters: Innovative new public art is changing perceptions of the “Square” Mile

Roger Gifford
THE attentions of many City workers will naturally be turning to exotic destinations as we enter the holiday season. When it comes to choosing a cultural hotspot to visit this year, however, it may be worth looking closer to home – and not just because of the unusually warm British summer of the last few weeks.

London has long been recognised as a hub for world class arts and cultural events. But the important role of the City has sometimes been overlooked – it does more than just provide support. The Square Mile is anything but “square” these days, and efforts to encourage innovative public art – as well as investments in internationally recognised artists – are helping change perceptions. The sight of dinosaurs roaming alongside the Gherkin, or a magnetic ball of shiny objects, may seem incongruous at first glance. But they are part of an arts and culture cluster that makes the Square Mile, for me, such a vibrant environment.

The annual Sculpture in the City initiative (of which these remarkable designs are part) provides a unique attraction for workers, visitors and residents by showcasing some of the world’s top artists on their doorstep. The Blue Trees environmental art installation near St Paul’s is another innovative example.

Providing a programme of creative public art that evolves alongside an area that is constantly changing like the City is a huge challenge. That is why the City Arts Initiative was established in 2011 to ensure a coherent and consistent approach to delivering high quality projects.

And high quality has long been synonymous with music and theatre in the City. The Guildhall School of Music and Drama’s new Milton Court Concert Hall will further add to this reputation when it is officially opened in September. The cutting edge facilities at Milton Court will provide a fitting platform for the next Sir George Martin, Daniel Craig or Tasmin Little to emerge from the school’s prodigious production line.

During my overseas business visits, it has been clear that institutions like the Barbican, the Museum of London, and the City of London Festival play a major role in attracting people to work here. As well as adding to the broader quality of life, they are also a repository of expertise and experience that is in demand across the globe as countries recognise the harmonious connection between business and the arts, and develop their own cultural offering. Sharing these skills through partnerships can help the City remain at the forefront of the international creative arts industry.

I believe that investment in the arts is an investment in the wider community. The Barbican, the London Symphony Orchestra and other City organisations’ outreach programmes look after 300,000 people from our neighbouring boroughs every year. A vibrant City arts and culture cluster is both an international attraction, and an asset in which we will continue to invest.

Roger Gifford is Lord Mayor of the City of London.