Last summer, as we walked along the Thames after an opening at Tate Britain, my friend Megan Piper first shared her idea for The Line. She talked about a sculpture walk that would provide an opportunity to exhibit work that is currently hidden from public view. The great appeal of the idea was how relatively easy it would be to make happen. As an artist, I am used to the fact that the vast majority of my work is in storage. Her idea was not to commission work, but to provide an opportunity to present existing work that is currently stored, and unseen. Any artist, collector or museum can only ever show a small proportion of artworks that it possesses at any one time.
Megan, a young art dealer, has been working with Clive Dutton, an urban-regeneration expert, on a very simple but brilliant idea to create London's first sculpture trail. Subject to raising the necessary funding, The Line will open this summer.
The Line will provide the opportunity to release existing works that are currently unseen, and by so doing create a three-mile sculpture walk in east London connecting the O2 on the Greenwich Peninsula with the Olympic Park in Stratford.
The plan is to site 30 world-class sculptures as stepping-stones between these two sites of urban transformation. The Line runs through an area that was once the centre of London's industrial revolution and the main shipbuilding centre in southern England. It opens up a fresh new perspective on London. The canals and waterways offer up secrets that are unavailable to road users. They give a sense of uplift and discovery. Around every bend you are met with another facet of the fast-changing cityscape.
The area is being revitalised but it is also rich in history. One can see kingfishers in the reed beds at Cody Dock (believed to be named after Buffalo Bill Cody whose wild west troupe stayed there), the spectacular Victorian gasholders, the film studios at Three Mills (the House Mill remains the largest tidal mill in the world) and Henry VIII's hunting lodge. The River Lea and its associated canals are one of London's best-kept secrets. There are wide towpaths that are lit by night and views of London that are rarely seen.
The route of the walk broadly follows the Greenwich Meridian, hence the project is called The Line. There is also an appreciative nod to the High Line in New York that has done so much to transform how people view Manhattan.
Artists, collectors and collections are invited to submit works for this proposed three-year exhibition. The deadline for submissions is 14 March 2014. A panel of experts and local residents will make the selection. It is our plan that the whole process of fundraising, submission and selection will be repeated every three years, so that The Line becomes a permanent addition to London's cultural offering.
In terms of location, where better to do it than in a part of the UK that experiences some of the lowest levels of resident participation in the arts? It is an area that doesn't have any of the museums or galleries that the rest of London enjoys.
This area is one of the youngest and most culturally diverse places in the country. It is an area that is changing quickly, with multi-billion pound developments planned or underway. The Line will give London an additional significant cultural attraction, a further boost to tourism and it will give the local community something really special – the introduction of modern and contemporary art to their waterways. One of the most important things about this project is that it will be free for everyone.
I was immediately excited by the brilliantly simple concept and have lent my enthusiastic support to Megan and Clive. Although we have the great support of local residents who share our ambition for this project, The Line is dependent on receiving the necessary funding.
This is a project for everyone and so we need everyone to help make it happen. Two crowdfunding campaigns are being launched to make The Line possible. The first phase has already been launched with a target of £146,000 (spacehive.com/theline). Both individuals and organisations can support this project. Megan and Clive are also looking for corporate sponsorship. Perhaps the banks – which overlook The Line from nearby Canary Wharf – could help make this happen. Over £3m is needed to fund the project for three years – for the sculptures to be transported, installed, insured and made secure.
Provided the necessary funds are raised before the spring, the sculpture walk will open this summer. While The Line will bring something culturally unique to London, it will also do much more. It will show the calibre of art that is currently unavailable for public view and it will demonstrate that it can be sited in ways that can inspire and improve the quality of city life.
For more information, visit the-line.org. To support the crowdfunding campaign, by pledging £2 or more, visit spacehive.com/theline