Snowy Farr Statue Unveiled

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012. 11:03pm

On the 7th of August 2012 I watched the unveiling of a statue of charity fundraiser Snowy Farr outside the Guildhall in Cambridge.

It has been reported the statue cost £50,000. In my view spending this sum of public money to commemorate a fund-raiser doesn’t make sense, it amounts to somewhere around half of what he raised through his activities. This is money which has been raised by taxes on Cambridge’s housing sector at a time when large swathes of the city’s population are struggling to afford somewhere appropriate to live.

Mayor Shelia Stuart gave a speech in which she said the statue was “funded by housing developers”, she stated “the funding we have can only be spent on public art work”. I thought her wording was slippery as she gave the impression the money was given willingly by developers when in fact it is a tax, which the Liberal Democrats running the city council have decided to levy, and dedicate to public art, adding to the many factors which make housing expensive in Cambridge.

If we are to have a statue I think an opportunity has been missed not to continue the work of Snowy Farr and include a coin slot in, or near, the statue allowing people to continue to make charitable donations. Onlookers at the unveiling said this idea had been popular, but rejected by the council on the grounds of cost of collecting the donations.

Perhaps if, or when, an explanation of the statue is placed on the wall of the guildhall this missing feature can be added.

As for the statue itsself I think it is very gaudy and quite a contrast to its surroundings. To me it says “dolly mixtures”. I think its astonishing councillors plan to leave it in such a prominent position. I was surprised when it appeared out the front of the Guildhall, in the middle of the pavement, rather than as was being suggested previously, to the side.

Notably the executive councillor currently responsible for the statue, Liberal Democrat Rodrick Cantrill, was not present at the unveiling. The statue, which I described to the Cambridge News at the unveiling as a “carbuncle”, adds to Cantrill’s other additions to the city’s public spaces which include mushrooms on Jesus Green and a windmill on Midsummer Common. To my knowledge Cllr Cantrill has avoided being photographed by the press next to any of his contributions to the cityscape.

Following the unveiling I considered the statue’s climbability. An ascent looked quite practical to me, and I asked the Mayor Stuart if she thought drunk people would climb it in the evenings. She responded

“We hope so.”

I suspect the statue may be the source of many headlines in the press over the coming years. Will people climb it and get injured, will pigeons take to it and deface it, will the potential scrap value of an aluminium mouse make either the mice, or even the whole statue attractive to metal thieves?

The commission proposal, from artist Gary Webb, is available on the City Council’s website.

On maintenance the artist wrote:

The sculpture will be incredibly robust and made out of aluminium and bronze. I’ve worked on outdoor commissions before using these materials and think they’re ideal not just for their appearance but also strength and zero maintenance issues. The blots are all marine-grade and rust proof. The sculpture is at an angle and has weeping holes so that rainwater can slide right off. The base is painted in anti-grafitti paint. The coloured shapes are heavy duty powder coated aluminium, which makes it extremely hard to scratch or damage, even if someone tried to do so intentionally. The sculpture can just be left to its own devices and can be exposed to the elements with no maintenance or damage issues.

The commission proposal also shows us taxpayers some of the other artworks we’ve paid for by the artist, in similar style. One of the previous works we’ve bought appears to be in an internal courtyard at a Home Office office block, at least Cambridge’s is accessible to the public.

10 comments/updates on “Snowy Farr Statue Unveiled

  1. Lucy

    I saw this statue yesterday shortly after the unveiling. I’d not known what Snowy Farr was known for being a relatively recent Cambridge resident and this statue does little to enlighten me on that. I had expected to be disappointed upon seeing it having seen your tweeted sneak preview but was actually more disappointed when I saw it for real.

    I agree with you that the placing is an issue, this is a very busy thoroughfare and I can only see it being an obstacle, if not also causing further disruption if people stop to look at it (like the corpus christi clock).

    I hope some explanation is placed nearby soon.

    I’ve also noted that a bench has been removed from behind the statue, I wonder if this will become a permanent removal?

  2. Mike

    As an Oakington resident for many years my impression of Snowy may be slightly different to those in the town centre. This may be why I’m still trying to convince myself that this isn’t a stunt set up by Viz, or a new episode of Brass Eye. Almost worthy of Python. I thought the sculptor trying to explain it was particularly amusing.

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    Someone has put a handwritten sign on the statue base saying “for charity”, there are currently a couple of coins on top.

  4. Richard Taylor Article author

    The Cambridge News report on the unveiling shows they’ve been misled by the Mayor’s slippery words, they wrote:

    The memorial was commissioned by the city council and funded using money given to the council by developers.

    The funding was not “given”, it was raised as a development tax.

  5. Richard Taylor Article author

    The day after the statue was unveiled the council put a sign on it:

    Collecting boxes for donations to Snowy Farr's charities are located in the Guildhall Reception

    The sign (click for large image) states:

    Collecting boxes for donations to Snowy Farr’s charities are located in the Guildhall Reception

    It looks as if the sign has been printed of a on a piece of A4 paper; I would be surprised if it has been produced by the artist as it doesn’t look very in-keeping.

    Snowy Farr Statue - Mouse

    Coins left on the statue:
    Snowy Farr Statue Coins

    It looked to me as if the council had been clearing coins from the statue during the day, as I passed a couple of times, and there were different collections of coins.

    Collecting boxes in the Guildhall:
    Snowy Farr Statue Collecting Boxes

    Snowy Farr Statue

  6. MsCCrumb

    “I thought her wording was slippery as she gave the impression the money was given willingly by developers when in fact it is a tax, which the Liberal Democrats running the city council have decided to levy, and dedicate to public art, adding to the many factors which make housing expensive in Cambridge.”

    I think your comment is pretty disingenuous as well Richard. Whether or not a developer contribution for public art is levied by the Council will have minimal (and I suspect none at all) bearing of the cost of housing in any new development.

  7. Richard Taylor Article author

    If, and how, the tax affects house prices is a subject of debate; the Liberal Democrats levying the taxes argue there is no effect and the market price of housing will be unaffected by costs involved in the provision of housing.

    There are so many factors involved, many of which are changing over time, there is no simple answer.

    What we do know is that developers only build when its profitable for them to do so. Development taxes for things like public art can eat into that profitability, making developments less likely to happen, preventing an increase in supply of housing which would be expected to reduce its price.

    The sums involved in public art taxes are huge, they’re set at 1% of the development costs, and amount to tens of millions in Cambridge. Public art tax at the recently approved North West Cambridge site alone was ~£3.5 million*.

    I would rather development taxes be limited to things which are required to enable a development to go ahead; ie. for the funds be used to remove obstacles which would otherwise prevent permission being given. In the North West Cambridge case for example I would have liked councillors to say a high quality, safe, cycle connection to the city centre was required, and to allow the developer to pay for that via taxes. Instead we saw tiny sums allocated to improving cycle safety off-site, and millions levied for public art. Used properly development taxes have the ability to promote development, allowing it to take place where it otherwise would not be able to. Our councillors though treat development taxes as “free money”.

    Clearly development taxes are extracting money from somewhere, and the part of the economy getting hit is the housing sector.

  8. Richard Taylor Article author

    Cllr Pitt used the question and answer session at the full council meeting in February 2013 to ask if a plaque could be installed to explain the statue and say how donations for guide dogs for the blind can be made.

    Cllr Cantrill, the executive councillor responsible, gave a non-committal answer.

  9. Richard Taylor Article author

    The Cambridge News is running a story in which I am quoted, described as “Richard Taylor, a political activist of Milton Road” : Calls to move now ‘tatty’ £50,000 Snowy Farr statue in Cambridge just one year after it was unveiled.

    I noted the artist’s promises about the durability of the statue, made in his commission proposal, and reproduced in my article at the top of this page.

    My full comments from which the statement attributed to me in the newspaper article was taken were:

    If the sculpture turns out to be not fit for purpose, and not to the specification described, we should go back to the artist and ask that he put them it right or give us our money back.

    I was surprised when the sculpture appeared out the front of the Guildhall, in the middle of the pavement. Perhaps councillors will now move it out of the way round the side as it is deteriorating so it doesn’t continue to blight the historic market square.

    The statue was funded by development taxes; we need to elect councillors who will ensure what we buy with these taxes lasts as long as the new homes the money relates to, otherwise in a few years time we’ll still have the new homes but not any of the things intended to mitigate their impact on the city.

    Hopefully councillors will learn from their mistake here and ensure any future public art, statues and memorials they commission for the city will last for more than a year.

    Councillors have still not responded to repeated calls from the public to add a plaque to the statue explaining it and letting people how they can donate to the charities Snowy raised money for.

    One caller to Andy Harper’s Mid Morning Matters show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire has just (as I’m writing this!) said she’s raising cash for a new Snowy Farr statue: “one that actually looks like him”.

    Ex Mayor Shelia Stuart is quoted in the Cambridge News article as saying the deteriorating finish ought be fixed and states she has asked for that to be followed up.

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