An ambitious proposal to create a major new public artwork and ‘Gateway to the North’ in the heart of Sheffield City Region has been shortlisted for funding via the Northern Cultural Regeneration Fund (NCRF).
The artwork by Alex Chinneck, titled Onwards & Upwards, forms the centrepiece of plans to revitalise the Don Valley Corridor, linking Sheffield and Rotherham, transforming the area into a cultural destination with popular appeal that is open and accessible to all.
A mile-long trail of sculptural chimneys that border, bridge and illuminate the Sheffield and Tinsley Canal and River Don will provide the main attraction, recalling a time when dozens of chimneys populated the landscape. These towering symbols of industry, re-imagined by the artist, promise to test the limits of modern design, engineering and manufacturing, and provide a showcase for the capabilities of the City Region.
With a combined height of 152 metres, the chimneys will be spectacular cultural beacons drawing people and investment to the City Region, and promoting greater use of the waterway for health, recreation and commuting.
Planned public realms works will improve access to the site from multiple entry points, facilitating its enjoyment by residents of Sheffield and Rotherham whose boundary the artwork crosses, and enhancing its tourism potential. Further plans include the provision of picnic areas and flexible, outdoor event space, plus a seasonal visitor hub, designed by the artist.
Sheffield City Region’s Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) selected the project from a shortlist of four, to go forward for consideration by the NCRF. The decision opens up the possibility of between £3m and £4m investment in the scheme, maximising its potential as a catalyst for regeneration.
Sir Nigel Knowles, chairman of the LEP, said: “In putting forward this project, we are seeking to build on the artist’s talent for creating extraordinary sculptures that celebrate the intersection between art and industry, and that speak to new audiences.
“Chimneys symbolise industry and these ‘reimagined’ chimneys communicate our towering ambition, resilience and talent for reinvention. Our vision for Onwards & Upwards goes far beyond the immediate challenge of creating the artwork, to the creation of a destination and a catalytic regeneration project.
“Our request to the NCRF will enable us to realise the most ambitious and impactful version of this scalable trail and to fund a series of public realm improvements that are essential to realising its wider benefits.”
The NCRF aims to encourage sustainable cultural regeneration and to bring lasting benefit to communities that have suffered from historically low levels of cultural investment. A temporary public artwork by Alex Chinneck, to coincide with the launch of Onwards & Upwards in September 2017, drew 5,000 visitors to the Tinsley site over five days, proving its potential to engage the local community and to attract interest from further afield.
The location and nature of the artwork means that it can be glimpsed from the motorway or train but only seen and experienced fully as part of a longer visit.
Onwards & Upwards is being backed by partners including Sheffield City Council and Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, the Sheffield Cultural Consortium, Yorkshire Water, E.ON, British Land, the Canal and River Trust and the University of Sheffield.
The commission was born out of the demolition of the Tinsley Cooling Towers and is expected to generate increased investment and economic growth across the region, by creating a new Gateway to the North.
A total of £15m is being made available by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport through the NCRF. All 11 LEPs in the north were eligible to submit one application of up to £4m each.
Councillor Mary Lea, cabinet member for culture, parks and leisure at Sheffield City Council, said: “Since appointing Alex Chinneck as the artist in residence for our Tinsley Art Project, Onwards & Upwards, we have been delighted with the energy and vision he has brought to the area.”
“This project has truly transformative opportunities, creating a tourist attraction that will breathe new life into this historic stretch of Sheffield waterway.”
“Alex’s work would belong to everybody – the Tinsley community, the people of Sheffield City Region and the whole of the UK. This funding would bring Onwards & Upwards brilliantly to life.”
Helen Featherstone, director of Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust, said: “This ambitious project will have a really positive impact on Sheffield City Region and its communities. Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust is thrilled to be a partner in ‘Onwards and Upwards’.
“The universal symbol of industry, the chimney, is very fitting and relevant to Sheffield and the surrounding area. It once littered the skyline of the city and is also familiar to many migrant communities who came to work in the Steel Industry and have made Sheffield their home.
“Alex Chinneck’s vision is carefully considered, it celebrates the industry of the past and showcases excellence in art and the ingenuity of engineering that exists today.
Successful bids will be announced in March 2018.