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Cambridge City Council

Conclusion of public art project 'To The River' announced

7 November 2022

CAMBRIDGE City Council and artist Caroline Wright have announced today (Monday 7 November) that the permanent ‘Selvedge’ sculpture on the Mill Pond riverbank, proposed as the final element of the wider To The River project, will not go ahead. The decision is due to a combination of factors which impacted the project since it was commissioned in June 2018.

The artist’s residency on the To River Project was initially intended to be two years but, due to various delays – such as Covid-19 lockdowns halting momentum in engagement projects plus increasing costs of materials and resources – the residency took place over four years.

During the residency, the artist engaged a diverse group of Cambridge residents and developed six art projects that hundreds of people directly participated in, including:

  • Knit for the River – hundreds of local residents knitted squares of undyed wool that were formed into and installed as supports for the riverbank.
  • Raverat’s River digital map – which people can still use to take a guided tour of Gwen Raverat’s artistic influences around the River Cam.
  • Several riverboat workshops for families, a curation at Pride 2019 and a project with MA Print students from Anglia Ruskin University.

A budget of £120,000 was agreed for To The River project, funded by Public Art Section 106 developer contributions which are ring-fenced and can only be spent on public art projects. To date, £70,000 of the To The River project budget has been spent on the artist’s residency and associated participatory art projects.

These participatory projects contributed to the concept for the Selvedge sculpture, bringing together the lens of forgotten women’s work through its siting adjacent to Laundress Green (in view of several vistas captured by Gwen Raverat); through the inclusion of the Cambridge lace design used in University gowns; and acknowledging the polarised value and access boundaries in the city. Selvedge would have been the final artwork of the To The River project. As this work is not going ahead, the unspent budget will be reallocated to other future Public Art projects.

Over the extended project period, changes to the river’s health became an increasing local concern. When the council consulted on the Selvedge concept this spring, the majority of feedback focused on concerns related to the health of the river and whether any sculpture should be installed on the river at all. Only 20% of feedback directly addressed the proposed sculpture design, with 10% showing support for the sculpture, and 10% against.

The full consultation report has been published and can be read online.

The combination of practical considerations and delays, alongside the sense that the local community would not support a sculpture being sited on the river, led all parties to agree that the project should now conclude.

Cllr Alex Collis, Executive Councillor for Open Spaces, Food Justice and Community Development, said: “I want to thank Caroline for her work, getting to know the river, and helping many people to feel an increased sense of connection and care for the Cam.

“Environmental responsibility was always at the heart of the project and Caroline and our public art team worked closely with the council’s Nature Conservation team to ensure the proposed sculpture and related works would not have harmed the river in any way.

“However, we know that the health of the river has become an increasing concern in recent years and this was one of the main messages that came through in the consultation – offering an example of how art can instigate critical debate on important subjects.

“We have heard people’s concerns about whether installing a sculpture on the river feels like the right thing to do and, balancing this along with the other practical factors that have impacted the project, we have agreed that the project should conclude at this point.”

Artist Caroline Wright said: “The residency was a wonderful opportunity to engage hundreds of people along 10 miles of the river. We unearthed hidden narratives about the river, developing together several live and participatory arts projects and moments along the way. I am grateful to everyone who contributed creatively to these including the Raverat’s River digital map which can still be accessed online, our Knit for the River knitters who collectively made huge coir supports for the riverbank, and those who took part physically in FLOW in their kayaks, rafts or swim suits.

“Through these examples of public art we built community cohesion and engagement, a sense of care and ownership of the river, and supported and enabled critical debate on important subjects, such as the health of the river.

“I’m really appreciative to the small but dedicated Public Art team at the Council and all they do to ensure art reaches the people of Cambridge, through Section 106 funds. Having concluded the valuable community engagement aspects of To The River, and with the changing priorities within Cambridge, we have agreed that it is right to step back from delivering this final sculptural element.”