Earlier in 2012, Offaly County Council embarked on a commissioning process for a new ‘gateway’ sculpture for Birr, as recommended under the Birr Public Realm Plan.
Artists were invited to submit proposals which would create an innovative response to Birr’s cultural and environmental heritage and create an iconic focal point for the public living in and passing through Birr town. The chosen location is the Tullamore road into Birr, close to the junction at Woodlands.
30 submissions were received from artists all over Ireland and the UK and the selection panel (Rachel McKenna, Emma Nee Haslam, Jock Nichol, Michael Fortune, Frank Heslin, Cllr. Michael Loughnane and Cllr. John Carroll) shortlisted four to create models for public display.
The models were on display in Birr Civic Offices in May and the public were invited to make comments on the proposals. Arts Officer Sinead O’Reilly said, “We were delighted with the responses people gave, some of the models evoked strong reactions and the panel considered these carefully. The proposal chosen was the one that most people responded positively towards, intimating a strong sense of curiosity and aspiration and one which also would prove to be durable and timeless.”
The chosen sculpture is entitled ‘Looking to the Future’ by Meath artist Ann Meldon-Hugh. The artist said of her proposal, “I want to reflect the lively contemporary arts and culture of Birr, the figures surrounding the sculpture will reflect musicians, singers, dancers and sporting figures swirling around the central column; the figure on top, looking through a telescope, acknowledges Birr’s scientific heritage and a symbol of looking to the future.”
Following the selection process, Offaly County Council entered into a rigorous Health and Safety procedure with the artist to ensure all subcontractors were compliant. “This delayed the process of being able to go public with the result of the commissioning process” continues Sinead O’Reilly, “but we are happy that this has all been satisfied, and in particular that we are able to use a local contractor and Banagher Concrete in the making of the work”.
The artist wishes to meet and chat with interested groups and individuals at Birr Theatre and Arts Centre on Thursday December 13 th between 3pm and 6.30pm.
Ann Meldon-Hugh remarked, “The final figures reflecting life in Birr have not yet been decided and I want to make sure I have not missed anything, so I am really keen to discuss the sculpture with people in Birr before it is made”. Earlier the same day, the artist will meet with senior students in St. Brendan’s Community School in Birr to discuss the sculpture with them. The sculpture is likely to start construction on site over summer 2013.