Part of the artwork by Mark Titchner that will go up on Camden's new offices
Published: 13 February, 2014
EXCLUSIVE by DAN CARRIER
CASH-STRAPPED Camden Council has spent £100,000 on a piece of public art for its new office block in King’s Cross, sparking fury among campaigners fighting cuts to public spending.
The artwork by celebrated Turner Art Prize nominee Mark Titchner will be attached to the top of the council’s new headquarters – known as 5 Pancras Square. It will be lit up at night with the words “Not For Self But For All”, a translation of Camden Council’s Latin motto.
But the bill for the artwork, which will reach £130,000 in total as it includes two other pieces for the ground-floor reception, has been criticised by union leaders who have repeatedly marched against budget cuts and staff pay freezes.
Unison co-chair Phoebe Watkins told the New Journal the council should consider leaving the space blank – like the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square – until a time when council finances were healthier and it did not have to make cuts to services.
She said: “This comes at a time when we are losing jobs hand over fist and more job cuts are coming next year. It sticks in the throat of the people working harder and longer hours to provide services, and it sends the wrong message to service users. They are cutting back left, right and centre, but have commissioned something that could pay for five jobs to deliver frontline services.”
Anti-cuts campaigner Kim Sparrow, based at Kentish Town’s Crossroads Women’s Centre, said it was “insulting”. She said: “Mothers, children and the disabled are going without food and heating to pay council and bedroom taxes we can’t afford so that arrogant councillors can bask in luxurious surroundings of their new Town Hall.”
Leader of the Opposition Lib Dem Councillor Keith Moffitt added: “We backed the plan to build the offices, but this was never part of it. It is the wrong way to be spending money at times like this. It could have gone towards lunch clubs or longer opening hours for libraries.”
Mr Titchner, who was unavailable for comment, has a back catalogue of art that uses politically oriented slogans.
A Town Hall report says the art will have a lifespan of “up to 20 years.” It adds that “its starting point... is the concept of self-governance and responsibility to the wider community”.
Mr Titchner was chosen after being interviewed at the Town Hall in October from a shortlist of three. Mr Titchner’s proposal was then chosen by officers in the Arts and Leisure Department.
Town Hall finance chief Labour councillor Theo Blackwell said he believed that a recession did not mean art should be neglected.
“The total budget will include artists’ fees, materials and production and involving local people in the artwork concepts,” he said. “5 Pancras Square will be an important community facility for our residents for years to come, and installing public art will give it a lasting and distinct locally relevant identity. We are working with residents so the end product celebrates our area and communities.”
The decision to build new offices – and sell the Town Hall annexe in Euston Road – was the subject of internal rows among the Labour group when the project was originally proposed. Several Labour councillors tried to persuade the cabinet to drop the scheme, worried by the prospect of cutting the ribbon on new offices for officers while cuts in spending were ordered elsewhere.
But those behind the new building insisted it would save the Town Hall money in the long run, and will be paid for by the sale of underused and ageing buildings. The new unit will include public swimming pool and a replacement library.
Cllr Blackwell added: “Like the new building itself, the public art will be at no additional cost to taxpayers. By selling some of our old and inefficient offices and moving the majority of staff to one site we are able to fund all the costs associated with the new building.”