Hove Plinth Project: Part 1

How did the campaign to erect a plinth to display public sculpture on Hove seafront come about? Hove Civic Society are heavily involved, were they totally responsible for the idea?

Well, we are going back nearly three years now, but the initiative came from Hove Civic Society. The idea for the project came out of a chance meeting between Peter Seddon and the Chair of Hove Civic Society, Helmut Lusser, when they were both standing in the queue at the local swimming pool and Peter was looking through some of the work he had completed as Project Manager for the PMSA Sussex Recording Project. He had created little Sculpture trail leaflets for Chichester and for Brighton. Helmut peered over his shoulder and said, ‘That looks interesting.’ They started talking, Peter showed him the Brighton trails and naturally Helmut immediately asked, ‘What about Hove?’ They agreed not much had been happening in Hove in terms of public sculpture over the last hundred years and decided they would to do something about it.

So it was Helmut who introduced the idea to Hove Civic Society?

Yes, and it appealed to the Society because there is now a real interest in improving the urban environment in Hove in different ways. Having been a more traditional sort of organisation, looking at planning proposals and such things, it has moved forward and is becoming much more proactive in terms of campaigns such as the Victorian Tree Heritage and energy conservation.

How did you move the project forward?

Well, actually I am married to Helmut and behind all this was the fact that we travel abroad and have seen so much fantastic public sculpture in countries in Europe and we have both felt for a long time it would be good to be able to see similar work here. We had already talked about this, but after Helmut’s chance meeting with Peter we met up with the Seddons to talk through ideas. Peter’s wife, Jill, had also worked on the PMSA’s National Recording Project and together with Anthony McIntosh they wrote the PMSA’s Public Sculpture of Sussex volume. We decided to set up a sub-committee of the Hove Civic Society which I would convene and Peter and Jill were co-opted to join this initial working group. We also brought in Hazel Reeves, who is an established local sculptor and a few others.

We started to think about how we were going to achieve this project and were looking for inspiration. One of the first things we did was to go over to the Cass Foundation at Goodwood, where we met with Wilfred Cass. He very kindly took us around and we talked about our idea. He advised that personally he feels it is good to change sculptures around because people sometimes stop noticing them. That made us think about the Fourth Plinth Project and we thought that could be a model. So we began to consider the idea of having changing sculptures and, at that stage, Wilfred Cass intimated it might be possible for us at some point to have a sculpture on loan from the Cass Foundation. As a result of this meeting, we started to work on the idea of combining loans and commissions around the idea of the Hove Plinth and, of course, Hove has an excellent heritage in terms of Victorian public sculpture.

But there hasn’t been much public sculpture in Hove since has there?

No, there has been some at the Brighton end, but this initiative intends to put Hove on to the public sculpture map, so that it is not just the poor relative.

Are there any plans for the temporary commissions exhibited on the plinth to become permanent public installations in Hove?

Yes, that’s the whole idea, we would find permanent positions in Hove and Brighton for any sculptures that are commissioned, once they have been exhibited on the plinth for 12 to 18 months. We are working closely with Brighton and Hove City Council and they are very much behind the whole idea. One of the key things we have managed, which took about a year and a half, was to get planning permission from the Council for the site of the plinth. Of course, we had to be very careful with the design and materials because the plinth is being installed in a conservation area.

Why did you choose that site?

At the bottom of Grand Avenue in Hove, we have Thomas Brock’s Queen Victoria and the plinth is going to be erected in a line straight down from this on the promenade because we wanted to connect it with Hove’s sculpture heritage. The promenade is so well-frequented, particularly at weekends and on sunny days, it becomes a kind of playground. There are also a pair of Victorian seating shelters, which do need a little bit of attention, and they flank the stairs going down to the promenade there, so it is an absolutely ideal location for the plinth.

And the design of the plinth, how did you decide upon it and on the dimensions? Did you use the Fourth Plinth as a template?

Millimetre, a local firm worked on the design for us. The Hove plinth will be smaller than the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, but will also follow quite a traditional design because it is within the conservation area and actually a traditional design is quite forgiving. It is slightly rectangular which allows for different types of sculpture, it could have an equestrian statue for example. The height and other dimensions were determined by the fact that we didn’t want people to be able to climb up on it, but there were other considerations, we didn’t want it to be too big, nor too small. Millimetre constructed a small scale mock-up model so that we could get an idea of the plinth’s proportions in its surroundings on the promenade. The other important aspect is that we are going to have an intelligent plinth with broadband and power installed, so it can be interactive and bring Hove into the 21st century. We have been working with some students on the University of Brighton’s Digital Media Art course and they have come up with several technological suggestions for us to explore.

How are you intending to light the plinth?

We have lighting in the small landscaped area with granite cobbles just around the base of the plinth and there will be lighting on the top of the plinth on the platform.

The plinth hasn’t been erected yet, has it? What materials will be used in its construction?

No it isn’t up as yet, we are still raising the money. We’ve already had some pro bono pledges, so the foundation and the basic construction of the plinth, the concrete core, not including cost of the cladding, which is worth about £25,000 is being provided free by a local property firm. The cladding is going to be Romanstone, which is a limestone similar to Portland stone. It is hardy for the marine climate and will be a pale beige colour. We are still raising the funds for the cladding.

How successful has the fundraising campaign been so far and what methods have you used? I notice for example that you wanted to attract founder members, do you have any yet?

Not as many as we would like, but the fund raising has been quite successful in a general sense, because we’ve raised just over £10,000 from the public and we have also received an Arts Council/ National Lottery grant for £10,000 to cover the call to artists for sculptural proposals. Then we’ve had some very generous pro bono pledges, as I mentioned, which will cover the basic construction of the plinth. The engineering consultancy which for the whole construction would amount to about £8,000 or £9,000 is also being given free. So with pledges and money, we’ve raised just over £50,000 which we are very pleased with.

We have four founder members at present; we held off a little with the founders’ appeal because we decided we would go ahead with a call to artists and choose the first three proposals that would go on the plinth. We would then commission maquettes of the winning proposals and use them as a way of fuelling the funding effort. We have just produced a funding leaflet to go alongside the exhibition of shortlisted artists next week. There will be a variety of packages which people can take up in order to support the project. We think we shall be able to interest some corporate bodies to sponsor sculptures outright which they can then have. We have also made some good contacts with developers here in Brighton and Hove and there are several developments which are likely to happen over the next few years, some of which are quite close to the plinth site and we would hope to have a conversation with the developers which will be, ‘Can we have a sculpture on the plinth for a year which can then go into your development?’

Does local planning encourage sculpture to be incorporated into development?

We have made strong links with the planning department and planning legislation is constantly shifting. There is less obligation on developers now, but Brighton and Hove has a policy of encouraging art as part the planning of developments.

When do you expect the first sculpture to go up on the plinth?

We have set ourselves the target of Spring 2017. The call to sculptors for proposals responding to the current and/or historical context of the seafront went out in March this year. There will be a shortlist of ten proposals, from which three winners will be selected. We shall commission maquettes of these three sculptures to be ready by the end of September and that would give us a year to collect enough money to get the project going. We want to have sufficient money to build the plinth and to have at least a couple of years’ funding for installations on the plinth, although, of course, that could include a loan as well. The first three we select will be the initial commissions and we are telling the artists that the timing of those and which one goes up on the plinth first will be dependent on how the fundraising develops. We are not selecting a first, second and third, they will all be equal winners, but it will depend on funding when their particular sculpture goes up.

The short list is being announced on 8 June, are the selected proposals then going on display?

Yes, they will be exhibited at the Jubilee Library in Brighton from 8 – 13 June and at Hove Central Library 15-20 June. We are also planning a weekend exhibition on the seafront at the planned site of the plinth on 20-21 June.

What happens then?

The selection panel will meet at the end of June to choose the three winners and the three artists will then each receive £2,500 to deliver a maquette.

Finally I understand that there is some exciting news concerning the project?

Yes that’s right. We already have Sir Timothy Sainsbury as the project’s patron, but now we are delighted to announce we have just appointed the sculptor, Philip Jackson to be our artistic patron. He is very positive about the project and is being most helpful.

Main Image: Ilustration of the proposed plinth on Hove Esplanade (photo: courtesy of Hove Civic Society)

If you would like to contribute to the Hove Plinth Campaign donate here

Hove Plinth Project

Aurora Corio