University appoints a champion for public art

The University of Leeds has signalled a commitment to public art with a new key role aimed at highlighting its extensive collection.


Public art is higher on the national agenda than ever before – the phenomenally successful First World War commemorative work Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red by ceramic artist Paul Cummins attracted five million people to view the display of 888,246 poppies at the Tower of London last year.

As the University of Leeds’ first Public Art Project Officer, Professor Ann Sumner is relishing the challenge of raising the profile of the University’s extensive range of public art.

A new campus art map and smartphone app are planned, as well as a lively summer programme of public engagement activities involving student placements and campus tours.

“The University of Leeds has an ambitious plan for public art, and it’s my aim to raise the profile of everything that the University has to offer,” she said.

“We already have some great public art on display, and a major new commission by award-winning artist Simon Fujiwara will be unveiled this summer in front of our new undergraduate Laidlaw Library.

“The Leeds campus itself is unique, with so many diverse architectural buildings. As well as churches and a cemetery, a new 5m sculpture at the heart of our campus, by Yorkshire-based artist Keith Wilson, is our most recent addition. It was unveiled by Tate Britain Director Penelope Curtis last October.”

Professor Sumner, who joins the team at the University’s Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery, has extensive art gallery experience within the university sector.  She worked at the University of Bath’s Holburne Museum and the University of Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery in the 1980s and 1990s. From 2007, she was Director of the Barber Institute of Fine Art at the University of Birmingham for five years and Barber Professor of Fine Art and Curatorial Practice, as well as previously being Head of Fine Art at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff. Most recently she was Executive Director of the Bronte Society and remains a Visiting Professor at the University of Birmingham.

She is also a Trustee of the Methodist Art Collection; sits on the Academic and Curatorial Committee for Ironbridge Museums Trust and on the Advisory Committee for the School of Art, University of Aberystwyth. She is also President of Bath Evening NADFAS.

She said: “I’m looking forward to collaborating with colleagues across campus and beyond, and I’m exploring partnerships, funding and research topics which will culminate in workshops, study days and a conference.”

Staff and members of the public are being invited to select a favourite piece of campus art for a monthly post on the gallery’s blog. Art historian Ben Read has this month selected the University’s famous Eric Gill First World War memorial.

The University is finalising a new Public Art Strategy, an ambitious programme focusing on public art that spans a wide range of the University’s activities, including research, student experience, communications, fundraising, audience development and building partnerships locally, nationally and internationally.  Full details of the strategy will be announced later this year.

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