Can public art really revive the most dismal place in Scotland?

The reviled new town of Cumbernauld pins hopes on giant sculpture costing £250,

Jonathan Brown
Sunday 23 October 2011 05:36

The post-war politicians, planners and architects who built Cumbernauld had a utopian vision: for future generations to create a happier, more gracious life away from the filthy tenements and sectarianism of decaying Glasgow. And in the 1960s and early 1970s the people answered their call, relocating in their thousands to enjoy the wide open spaces, plentiful jobs and modern homes.

Recent history however has proved a cruel judge of that dream and the Lanarkshire new town has found itself one of the most reviled places in Britain. The home of the UK's first shopping mall has been named Scotland's most dismal place and likened to Kabul. In 2005 the shopping complex was nominated by the public for destruction as part of Channel 4's Demolition series.

But Cumbernauld is fighting back. Yesterday, a vast galvanised steel woman named Arria was erected in the sporadic sunshine at a hillside cemetery. It is hoped she will be a symbol of change for the town. Created by the Scottish artist Andy Scott, whose works include the celebrated Heavy Horse on Glasgow's M8 and the Thanksgiving Square Beacon in Belfast, the 33ft female figure, with a retro hairstyle suggestive of the town's 1960s new arrivals, will be seen by 70,000 motorists on the A80 each day.

Arria cost £250,000 of public money and is intended to help reverse the town's negative stereotypes. The name was selected by local people and is taken from Arria Fadilla, mother of Emperor Antoninus who built the nearby Antonine Wall.

The real sign of public acceptance, as with other public statues, will come with the acquisition of a nickname.

"It is a great idea," said Geraldine Reilly, a 31-year-old civil servant in Cumbernauld. "People don't see the good things about the town like the people or the beautiful countryside on our doorstep – they just see the shopping centre. This is a great place to bring up kids."

Others were not so convinced. Billy Zanieri, 44, unemployed, said: "It has been a waste of money. Housing is very bad here and the money could have gone on schools." And beautician Amanda McGuinness, 25, believed it was impossible ever to love Cumbernauld. "It needs burning down and rebuilding – especially the town centre. It needs new shops, new restaurants and new bars – something to liven the place up at night."

Naming rights...

When a public artwork receives a nickname, it is a sign that people have come to know, if not love, the work.

Molly Malone, Dublin

The statue of the celebrated fishmonger is alternatively known as the Trollop with the Scallop or the Tart with the Cart. Dubliners have demonstrated a disrespectful genius in re-christening their public artworks. Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square has been dubbed the Queer with the Sneer while even the lofty James Joyce brandishing his walking stick has been called the Prick with the Stick.

Angel of the North, Gateshead

Antony Gormley's imposing 20-metre figure soaring above motorists on the A1 is known to Geordies as the Rusty Flasher.

Thanksgiving Square Beacon, Belfast

Andy Scott's symbol of hope cost £300,000 when built in 2007 and is now a popular attraction. Locals refer to it as Nula with the Hula, the Bell with the Ball or the Thing with the Ring.

Draped Seated Woman, Stepney, east London

Henry Moore’s famous bronze once sought to beautify the concrete towers of Stifford Estate. Residents warmed to the old girl christening her Old Flo. She now resides in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park though some want her brought back to the redeveloped East End site in time for the Olympics.

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