Lochaber councillor savages Inverness public artwork as ‘glitzy propaganda’

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Councillor Andrew Baxter, who chairs Highland Council’s Lochaber Area Committee, has fired a scathing broadside at the local authority after £300,000 of public money was spent on a piece of public art for Inverness.

The attack from Mr Baxter, who intends standing down as one of the four elected local authority members for Ward 21 (Fort William and Ardnamurchan) at next May’s elections (see page six) came after this month’s opening of The Gathering Place on the bank of the River Ness in the city.

The collaborative team of Sans façon and KHBT was tasked with creating an artwork that ‘reconnects the city with the river, drawing out its stories, engendering a sense of place and creating access to the river’.

A short walk upstream from the centre of Inverness, The Gathering Place is described by the council as creating a sense of place that ‘draws your attention to the nature and character’ of the River Ness.

NO F43 artwork 02
The  contour of stone transitions from bench-like platform to a pier.

Framed on both banks, Clashach stone encircles a portion of the river along the water’s edge.

The  contour of stone transitions from bench-like platform to a pier where it reaches out to offer views upstream in the direction of Loch Ness and back towards the castle and heart of the city.

Iain Munro, CEO at Creative Scotland commented: ‘The Gathering Place will bring people together and create a space for contemplation and reflection.

‘The impressive new work of art from award-winning, world-renowned artists, Sans façon and KHBT will enrich the riverscape for both residents and visitors.’

Inverness Provost, Councillor Helen Carmichael, said: ‘The Gathering Place provides hope for the future as we continue through a recovery from the pandemic. People are once again able to meet up, interact and start to feel more of a sense of normality returning to their lives.’

The City’s River Ness Public Art Project was conceived by the city committee to encourage the public along the River Ness and The Gathering Place is the first public art commission, funded by Creative Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Highland Council and the Inverness Common Good Fund.

The Gathering Place is part of the River Connections Public Art Programme with multiple art works commissioned by Highland Council’s ICArts Working Group, with overall £758,350 of funding support from Highland Council (£106,000), Creative Scotland (£305,600), The City of Inverness Common Good Fund (£280,750) and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (£66,000).

But Mr Baxter was scathing in his condemnation of the project, commenting: ‘Ladies and gentlemen! The hard-pressed council taxpayers of the Highlands! Sit back and enjoy the latest glitzy piece of propaganda from The Highland Council.

‘You can gasp with delight as they reveal how a reported £300,000 of public funds has been spent on this folly. Sorry, I forgot the corporate line – I mean magnificent example of public art that will attract hordes of visitors to Inverness for the benefit of all the Highlands.

Councillor Andrew Baxter No F07 Andrew-Baxter
Councillor Andrew Baxter.

‘Have I got the correct language Highland Council press department? I wouldn’t want to go off script and suggest this is a crass piece of marketing that will stick in the throats of all those residents that think that this is indeed a magnificent monument.

‘A monumental waste of money at a time when the council continues to plead poverty and warns of further cuts to services.’