Croydon’s crass council has been accused of another act of cultural vandalism, after “losing” a significant piece of mid-century street art from the site alongside the “award-winning” (try not to laugh) Fairfield Halls.
The art installation, in a modernist, geometric style, was the work of influential landscape architect Peter Youngman – one of the designers of post-war new towns Cumbernauld and Milton Keynes – and had been a permanent feature of College Green, the open space between the Halls and Croydon College, from 1976.
Look for it today, though, and over the other side of the council developers’ hoardings, which have been in place for five years for a disastrous piece of property speculation, and the sculpture is nowhere to be seen.
The Fairfield Halls, the council-owned arts centre, was closed in July 2016 for what was supposed to be a two-year, £30million refurbishment.
The venue was to be comprehensively modernised, making it fit for 21st Century acts, and audiences. When it eventually re-opened, more than a year late, in September 2019, it was still unfinished and the works incomplete.
Since then, because of covid, the venue has been open for little more than six months, while the bill for the works has soared to nearly £70million, and been dubbed “a fiasco” by The Stage.
But as the Halls have emerged from the enforced hibernation, regulars and supporters have noticed key heritage elements from the pre-“refurb” Halls to have mysteriously gone missing.
Inside Croydon has reported previously how the grand Concert Hall, renowned for its excellent acoustics, has somehow “lost” two Steinway grand pianos, together worth around £80,000. The pianos are thought to have been flogged off to help pay some of the Halls’ previous management’s debts.
Some smaller items, such as a bust of Croydon composer, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, were supposed to have been carefully curated and locked away for safekeeping in the Museum of Croydon – though why they have still not yet been dusted down and restored to display at the Halls has never been explained.
The refurbishment and the property development on College Green next door was all conducted under the auspices of the council’s loss-making builders, Brick by Brick. It was they who came up with plans for the demolition of the Arnhem Gate heritage structure which linked the College’s site and had shielded the multi-storey car park from view from the main road and green.
That break with Croydon’s historic link to twin town Arnhem was compounded when they demolished the Arnhem Gallery to build “The Wreck” performance space.
Under the designs of Brick by Brick’s expensively commissioned architects, The Fairfield Halls, the borough’s largest arts centre, now has no dedicated gallery space.
Across Wellesley Road, the Queen’s Garden’s public space has been significantly reduced to make way for blocks of private flats, while its centrepiece fountains have been demolished and removed.
Now, the Youngman work has vanished, perhaps never to be seen again.
Local residents who identified the absence of the artwork have challenged the council on social media.
Oliver “Shit Show” Lewis, is the Labour-run council’s cabinet member for art and shit. He once agreed to a £50,000 grant for a performance involving defecation and urination in the Town Hall.
Earlier this month, Lewis was asked publicly what had become of the Youngman piece.
“Can you confirm that this public sculpture which is an important part of Croydon’s rich culture and heritage is currently preserved in its original location?” the council was asked from a residents’ Twitter account.
Lewis’s cushy day job is working for The Campaign Company, the PR consultancy that was founded by David Evans, now the general secretary of the Labour Party.
As a council cabinet member, Lewis receives nearly £40,000 per year in allowances from Croydon’s cash-strapped council.
A fortnight since he was asked about the Youngman artwork, Lewis has failed to provide any answer to members of the public he is supposed to serve.
Croydon is London’s borough of culture in 2023…
Read more: Conflicts of interest, incomplete contracts, unlawful payments
Read more: £30m Fairfield Halls project never went to competitive tender
Read more: Brick by Brick has paid nothing to council
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