The Brownhills Miner was part of the ‘Gateways’ project, a Walsall-wide initiative to improve the visual impact for people entering and travelling through the Borough.
Brownhills was awarded SRB (Single Regeneration Budget) funding in the round awarded to Walsall Borough.
After a series of meetings with the SRB committee and much background work, the project began in 2004. The Miner was finally installed on 17th May 2006.
The Team’s job during the two-year process was to make sure the public art project was a success and was delivered on time and on budget. Our focus on local people’s needs, hopes and aspirations was fundamental to how we approached the task.
The Team’s thinking about public art goes like this: Public art needs to be excellent. The ideas that make up that excellent piece of art need to have come from a deep conversation between local people, who will live with the finished work and know that their ideas are contained within it; that they have had a hand in its conception and creation; that the work is about them, their place and their history.
As well as working with an excellent artist, to make the process effective, the conversation between the artist and the people needs to be brokered, or hosted, by skillful and committed community artists who understand the needs of the artist but more importantly can bring out what the people want to say and sometimes challenge the artist to listen more closely or to reinterpret their understanding of what has been said to them.
We cannot stress how important is this role in the process of making public art in places like Brownhills. It is the attention to detail in this part of the process in which lies the success or failure of the whole project. The Team has used this approach consistently on other successful public art projects across Walsall.
Commissioning this way of working which led to the creation of Brownhills Miner was a brave act by the committee, especially Chairman Doug Birch and Council Officer Steve Lewis, as it was on them that the full force of any failure would fall.
In order to create something extraordinary risks must be taken, but the risks and how to manage them were discussed fully in the committee before the project got underway.
Artist John McKenna and our team of community artists (Glen Buglass, Claire Downes and Sam Hale) worked with a range of community groups, using a variety of art forms, to find out what makes Brownhills ‘tick’. Mining came out as most important at every session we held. From seven year-olds to eighty-seven year-olds people wanted to talk about the Brownhills mining legacy. John’s thoughts, designs and drawings inspired by the consultation sessions were developed further with guidance and input from the committee, who became the project’s enthusiastic steering group. Ideas came and went but soon the idea of the Miner sculpture began to emerge. A final round of consultation workshops was delivered to make sure that this piece really was one that people wanted to be made and erected in their town. In late summer 2005 it was signed off, (once the right Davey lamp and the right working cap for Brownhills miners had been researched and designed to Doug’s satisfaction!) and John left for his studio in Scotland to start making the sculpture.
The Brownhills Miner sculpture has never been attacked, spray painted or otherwise molested in all the years it has been on site. It has become the iconic image for Brownhills and has appeared in many regional publications and on TV to represent the town and the Black Country. It was the centre piece of a much-needed regeneration of Brownhills which has been successful in improving the town as a place to live. The Team believes this much-loved sculpture is a good example of what, at its best, SRB funding achieved in Walsall.