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Artist continues to speak out against Preston sign’s link to cotton trade

Posted on - 7th February, 2023 - 12:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Arts, Preston Council, Preston News
Preston sign in Avenham Park Pic: @sallyartyfarty
Preston sign from behind in Avenham Park, showing the ropes that have become controversial Pic: @sallyartyfarty

A local artist is continuing to speak out against the Preston sign’s link to the cotton trade.

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When the sign was unveiled in spring last year, Preston City Council said it was designed to “symbolise the rich history of the cotton and textile industry in Preston”.

However artist Tim Saunders said at the time that he couldn’t understand why the cotton trade was chosen to be celebrated. He carried out an art intervention by adding chains to the sign to represent the industry’s link to slavery and exploitation.

A Council worker removed the intervention shortly after it was installed, allegedly saying art isn’t allowed in Preston without permission.

Read more: Art intervention protest against new Preston sign’s ties to slavery and exploitation

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In a bid to fully understand the thinking behind the sign, Tim says he contacted various people at the Council over the following months, including submitting a Freedom of Information request.

Tim told Blog Preston: “It became clear that it had not been the designer David Cox Architects’ intention to link the sign to the cotton industry. Their design was based on the blue and white colours of the city, and the ropes were incorporated as a means of allowing interactivity.

“There was no apparent reference to the public statement given by the Council that the sign was intended to ‘symbolise the rich history of the cotton industry’.

“Even more shocking was the written admission that – when deciding to connect the sign to the cotton industry – the Council gave no thought to the role of slavery, worker exploitation or child labour.”

The Preston sign with chains added for Tim's art intervention Pic: Tim Saunders
The Preston sign with chains added for Tim’s art intervention Pic: Tim Saunders

Tim says he subsequently contacted Head of Culture at the Council, Timothy Joel, asking him to correct the Council statement that the sign was linked to the cotton trade.

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“I told him that to not correct the record would be being wilfully blind to the issues,” said Tim about his message to the Council man. “I stated that it was now clear the interpretation given to the press was clearly the Council’s and not the designer’s so it was up to the Council to act.”

The matter was referred to Leader of Preston City Council, Councillor Matthew Brown, who responded to artist Tim’s call to action.

In an email exchange seen by Blog Preston, Cllr Brown said: “There is no public description of the sign, only references to the design concept in early press releases and statements.

“The rope feature was included to make the most of the design on a three-dimensional, interactive level, representing Preston’s cotton weaving history.

“Cotton had such a profound impact on Britain, changing its fortunes and facilitating innovation and new ideas. It became the centrepiece of the developing industrial revolution, which impacted the country socially, economically and culturally for generations.

“It does not feel appropriate or necessary to have a public description of the sign. I would much rather focus on all the positive work we do in our City celebrating our diverse community.

“All our work with these groups is positive and inclusive, and nobody else has suggested that the rope that forms part of the design or the sign represents slavery and the slave trade, as that clearly was not part of the design considerations.”

Preston sign at Bus Station Pic: @onethirtyeight_photography.jpg
Preston sign at Bus Station Pic: @onethirtyeight_photography.jpg

Tim said: “I find the Council Leader’s statement deeply concerning.

“I am left wondering why – given it is only a simple matter of correcting the statement made to more fit the actual design – the leader seems so determined to keep with the initial imbalanced view, and why it was made in the first place.”

When asked for a comment on Tim’s claims, a spokesperson from Preston City Council said: “Members of the Council and the architects have previously engaged with Mr Saunders in depth regarding the Preston sign and believe the matter to be resolved.

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“The sign, as an interactive art installation, has been well received across the city in its various locations.”

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