The tourist board website Go Lakes ran an entertaining April Fool featuring the Cucumbria, a building to rival the London Gherkin as part of plans to turn Carlisle into the new financial hub of the north.
But joking apart, Cumbria – indeed, the entire north west – truly does need and deserve a new iconic monument. Maybe it would be a functional building like the Gherkin; maybe it would be “just” a structural work of art, our own Angel of the North West. Whatever its form and purpose, design has to be at the heart of the project.
Anthony Gormley’s monumental Angel of the North is 20 years old this year. According to Gormley, the significance of an angel was three-fold: first, to signify that beneath the site of its construction, coal miners worked for two centuries; second, to grasp the transition from an industrial to an information age, and third, to serve as a focus for our evolving hopes and fears.
After initial resistance and controversy, the Angel is now well loved, and is considered to be a landmark for North East England. It’s been listed by one organisation as an “Icon of England”, often used in film and television to represent Tyneside.
So taking that as a point of inspiration, what should we want for an icon of North West England? Along with Gateshead, Falkirk has two, and Yorkshire Sculpture Park has loads of them. Here in the Lakes we do have Grizedale, the UK’s first forest for sculpture.
But as we are catapulted into the limelight on an international stage, shouldn’t we be celebrating our new UNESCO World Heritage status with our own beautiful sculpture?
Darren Henley, chief executive of Arts Council England, says awareness about the county’s “unique” offering must be raised. Cumbria is one of the “most exciting and creative places” in the country – but more must be done to help locals appreciate what is on their doorstep.
“Cumbria’s natural environmental riches continue to provide the inspiration and how they should be blended with the talents of contemporary artists training locally. There are strong economic benefits to investing in arts and culture,” he added.
With an area rich in art and culture it seems like a very natural and appropriate case to make. Renowned artists and sculptors have lived and breathed the drama of the Lake District for hundreds of years and thought it the best place for their life’s work.
Ruskin, Coleridge, Wordsworth; artists like Beatrix Potter, the Heaton Coopers, Ophelia Gordon Bell, and then Kurt Schwitters, Josefina de Vasconcellos, Andy Goldsworthy and Anthony Gormley, have graced our countryside with inspirational creativity.
The Great Place: Lakes and Dales project which aims to create a “sustainable, resilient, creative community and economy, which will retain and attract younger people and business to the area to influence, support and create our future economy” identifies that areas rich in arts and culture are preferred habitats for young people and families to live in.
It will take more than just architectural and artistic innovation. Twenty years ago the Gormley masterpiece cost £800,000 to construct, with most of the project funding provided by the National Lottery. We need investment, along with a competition to find the most startling and dynamic piece of work worthy of our region.
My own inspirations from around the world includes Anish Kapoor with his simple and monumental pieces. This could be a modern interpretation of the Bowder Stone with reflections of the landscape. Or perhaps an environmental statement in reaction to plastic waste, or a beautiful figure rising up out of a lake.
Controversial? Yes, of course. But inspirational art often is and it goes with the territory of being on a world stage.