Stella Ioannou is Director at Lacuna – Creative Projects Consultancy, the artistic director of Sculpture in the City. This annual urban sculpture park set amidst the iconic architecture of the City’s insurance district has become one of the Square Mile’s cultural highlights. Every summer, the City of London Corporation, in partnership with local businesses, unveils a brand-new selection of artworks by internationally acclaimed and emerging artists. The 10th edition of Sculpture in the City opens to the public on 15 June 2021, with 18 new works across the Square Mile.
What was your vision for Sculpture in the City when it was founded in 2010?
When I was approached back in November 2010 to look at how to introduce contemporary sculpture to the area the brief was to deliver one artwork on site for 3-6 months as an experiment.
From the onset it was about the unique urban character of the area which is defined by the iconic tall buildings and treating it as an outdoor gallery space. There is an assumption that everyone who works in the Square Mile sits behind a desk but the insurance district, which is where the project is located, is an area with insurance brokers shuttling between their offices so the streets are always alive and that’s not to mention the thousands of visitors and tourists walking around looking up in awe.
Over the years it has grown in scale and support and defined the area as a destination to see contemporary sculpture. It makes me smile to think that this all started with the relatively simple mission to deliver one artwork and today, ten editions later, we have installed a total of 130 artworks, worked with over 2,500 young people through our education programme and are constantly developing new initiatives to animate this unique space and challenge the idea of what public art can be.
Do you see the relationship between businesses and art becoming more symbiotic through the work of Sculpture in the City?
Put simply Sculpture in the City would not be what it is without the incredible support of the local businesses who have been there from day one on this incredible journey. We started off with three local businesses supporting the project and today we have 12 Partners and eight Patrons. Sculpture in the City is a great example of how business and culture can work together to deliver something which is more than the sum of its parts and speaks very much to the work of the City of London Corporation’s Culture and Commerce Taskforce, of which I am proud to be a member.
Your Partners Board for SITC consists of members of big corporates within the community of the Square Mile. How involved are they in the development of ideas and what do you think they have learnt about the artistic process?
We are very lucky to have Partner companies who are fully committed to the area and the project and what’s great is that they all come to the table with their own unique experience of culture. Partners are always heavily involved in the development of ideas and take an active role in approving the artworks. Over the past ten years the Partner’s enthusiasm has challenged us to develop the project further while the project has offered them the opportunity to develop stronger relationships among themselves.
How did you adapt the way you work over lockdown? Were you able to continue to support and engage artists?
Absolutely! We are all a resilient lot with a mission to deliver and whilst Zoom calls are not the ideal way of working – we still managed to connect digitally in order to put together this new edition. During lockdown, the ninth edition remained in place and was one of the only ‘Covid-secure’ cultural experiences the public could enjoy, given that it’s all outside and free to view. This highlights the importance of bringing our streets to life with great public art.
What tangible benefits are there for city workers and companies to engage with public artwork?
What’s great about Sculpture in the City is the fact that we change our artworks each year which keeps things fresh and dynamic. I love it when I get messages from City workers who have seen the new artworks for the first time and want to tell me what they think about them. We provide a moment to stop and admire a piece of art on your daily commute or if you’re in a rush even a glimpse of an artwork should brighten your day.
For the tenth edition we will once again be using unusual locations and even fixing artworks to buildings. The project keeps the area alive and changes how the spaces look and feel through the different artworks we have shown over the years. One of my favourite things to do is go and watch how city workers respond to the artworks on the first Monday following an installation weekend.
What do you love most about your job?
There are so many things I love about what I do but if I boil it down to just one thing I’d have to say watching people engage with the project, and of course taking the opportunity for a chat with them and to hear what they think!
What change would you like to see in the Square Mile in 2021?
I’d love to see the streets busy again and even more culture for people to enjoy. The Square Mile is such a special place, full of historical gems such as the Roman Amphitheatre and the Mithraeum as well as contemporary art at the Barbican Art Gallery and of course Sculpture in the City.
The City of London Corporation has established a Commerce and Culture Taskforce, of which I am a member, to bring businesses and creatives together to ensure that the Square Mile is able to re-emerge from the pandemic with culture at its heart.
The past year has shown us the importance of creativity and outdoor spaces to our wellbeing. My hope is that we don’t lose sight of these important aspects of our life – and that Sculpture in the City can serve as a reminder of our connection to both great art and the great outdoors.