Intersect #3 brought together a lively panel discussion in the Council House with Cllr Ed Ruane, Andrew Walster Coventry City Council, Canon Kathryn Fleming from Coventry Cathedral and Emma Harrabin City of Culture Trust about bringing the Knife Angel to Coventry.
The angel’s creator Alfie Bradley spent 2 years designing and building the sculpture with the support of all 43 UK police forces, knife crime charities and action groups as well as the families that have been directly affected. In Coventry, Cllr Ed Ruane sparked the idea the angel had to stand tall in our City and with the support of 16 businesses working with a short lead time, the angel came.
Ed started the discussion with passionate words of his motivation for bringing the knife angel to Coventry. “We have lost youth centres…..combined with police cuts and with no back up system in place, knife crime is a problem. It is increasingly normal in our lives.” There have been several high-profile attacks in the city but it was the fatal stabbing of Jaydon James that confirmed Ed’s belief. The knife Angel had to come to Coventry.
Andrew Walster stepped up with the idea that the Knife Angel should stand beside our existing angel, St Michael. He pitched the idea to Kathryn to host the statue outside the Cathedral. Kathryn loved the symbolism of the Angel; that something beautiful can come out of pain and destruction. Having hosted the funeral of Jaydon Kathryn felt it was an artwork which would connect the City. “It invites us all to gather our thoughts, consider the choices we make, and to commit to making something better.” Over 45k people agreed with her across the time the Knife Angel was present. Phenomenal visitor numbers that brought people to the cathedral that would never usually come.
Emma Harrabin said although the City Council were the driving force, the 2021 Trust team connected with the angel’s theme of youthfulness. Emma cited a word association project run by ‘Youthful Cities’ in Canada. Youth are a driving force in cities but word association to the word ‘youth’ voices ‘violence’ and ‘crime’ rather than ‘dynamic’ ‘open’ and ‘curious’. “The 2021 team want to challenge the negativity around youth. The voice of young people has to heard.” She also added “The City of Culture programme for 2021 is going to be a movement not a programme of arts. We need to see social change in the city.”
The many strands of organisations and business working together from inception to bringing the Angel to Coventry made it a great topic for Intersect. The actual cost of bringing angel should be around 20K. However with donations of time, materials, marketing and money from 16 different businesses (including Buckinghams 5-6K concrete base and Cadent suppling lighting which will now tour with her)it came without one single organisation having to pay the full amount. Ed added with the business support it is more than gifting money. For business as well as arts organisations he said “It is your City of Culture, stamp your mark. If your HQ is in Coventry what are you changing in your business practice that you can shout about.”
The panel revealed that conversation and having connected voices in the City can transform an idea into reality. It was by far from easy, particularly from the Council side. As with all large organisations there are people who flash paperwork, the need for strategies and boundless red tape at any opportunity. However, Andrew said the Angel is testament that you can make something happen. His approach was “we are going to do something different, are you ok with that?”.
The Knife Angel has forever left her mark with ‘Coventry’s Fourth Plinth’ forever in the ground outside the cathedral. Let conversation continue to find a way to make something happen on that or elsewhere in the many spaces around the city. They are our public buildings and there to be used by public members of the City. The perfect grey canvas to make our very own! The panel referenced the new restaurant scene as being great but other areas remain dark and unused, if people don’t feel safe at night then we have to look to change the environment. How also are we reaping the wellbeing benefits of arts and culture within our own workplaces?
In short, doing things differently and making impactful things happen is not easy. But with tenacious passion for an idea that can connect with collaborators and communities anything is possible. Let’s keep the conversation going, utilise the powerful label of City of Culture, find partners not through what we do now but what we want to achieve, and we’ll break through the red tape and sceptics together.
Life is never easy but we all still live it.