Arts phoenix to rise where Sheffield’s Tinsley Towers bit the dust

Artist David Cotterrell above the site by the M1's Tinsley viaduct where a new art installation,funded by E.ON, has been commissioned. Picture: Scott Merrylees
Artist David Cotterrell above the site by the M1's Tinsley viaduct where a new art installation,funded by E.ON, has been commissioned. Picture: Scott Merrylees
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They remained a towering reminder for anyone heading North that they had arrived in God’s Own Country - until they were blown up seven years ago. Now details of the largest art project to be commissioned in Sheffield in recent times have been unveiled to transform the area close to where the Tinsley cooling towers once stood.

Yesterday saw the launch of a brief for an artist to create a “significant” work, a “thoughtful consideration” of the landscape in which the towers stood, once the heart of Sheffield’s heavy industry and now the meeting place for road, rail, tram, bus and footpaths.

Tinsley Towers being demolished

Tinsley Towers being demolished

David Cotterell, who has been working with the community to develop the brief, said the landscape offered huge possibilities - a meeting place “where vectors cross.”

Artwork - or artworks - they could link in with features such as the Five Weirs Walk and Trans-Pennine Trail.

Mr Cotterell, Professor of Fine Arts at Sheffield Hallam University, said: “The assumption that public art has to be a monument rather than environment is something we are trying to challenge.

“It could be the Angel of the North, or it could be a trust that has £50,000 a year to make excellent theatrical performances or something that’s more discrete and encourages people to feel privileged to walk the canal network - it could be structures embedded in audio in the ground.

Anything that makes the area interesting is not a waste of money.

Sheila Sunderland

“It’s to try and encourage people to be aware of the fact that there’s more than one way to respond to this landscape and more than one community here.”

At one point the council had wanted to raise £4m for the artwork, including the £500,000 donated by E.ON. But the difficult financial climate put paid to that.

Tinsley-born Sheila Sutherland, a member of the board overseeing the project, said seeing the towers go down was the “saddest day” - especially when the north tower failed to crumple.

Mrs Sutherland points out that whatever comes in their place “does not have to be huge to be dramatic to have an impact.”

And she hopes the launch of the brief will stimulate discussion: “There were people saying this morning on the radio that what the area needs is two big cooling towers. People will always say whatever you do it’s a waste of time and money.

“I think anything that makes the area more interesting is not a waste of money. It will make the area more interesting and that can only be for the good. It is very much lacking art this side of the city.”

She added: “I don’t think the city and the area is very much aware of the art project. I’d just be thrilled if gets people talking about what is art and what it’s like in everyday life.”

One site the artist won’t be able to pick is the actual site where the towers stood, as that is considered too close to the motorway. The applicants will be shortlisted, with three invited to talk to the steering group, who will make the final decision.

Once appointed they will spend time working with the local community “to make sure their understanding knits with local understanding and common ground is established,” said Mr Cotterell. “It requires an artist that won’t simply be producing something off the shelf but will really critically engage with the site and their own practice.” The scheme is linked with the wider regeneration of the lower Don valley, including a new Bus Rapid Transport link road to relieve congestion at junction 34 of the MI, which is due to be completed next summer.