Making Energy Visible – Transition Newton Abbot’s energy sculptures

A little while ago, Faud Al-Tawil took me on a tour of Newton Abbot’s energy sculptures. I wanted to know what he felt were the main benefits of organising a public art project around an energy theme. I was particularly interested in how it brought the group together, simulated discussions and also maybe most importantly raised the local council’s an dlocal people’s awareness of what Transition Newton Abbot wanted to achieve. The following piece is was emailed in by Faud and outlines some of the challenges they’ve encountered!

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Back in late 2009 the TNA Energy group was riding high embarking on one of our early projects, Newton’s Cradle.  This involved an energy assessment and retrofit measures to our Town Hall.  Capital for this was raised through a grant provided by one of our Devon County Councillors.

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We quickly realised that not many people would be aware of this work and its impact unless we went out and told them about it.  The usual press releases and stalls were good, but somehow limited in terms of who listened and how they’d relate to the subject of Energy, not a priority for most people.

The idea of putting the message out there through Art came from one of the Energy group’s ‘bolder’ members.  An artist herself, and having just put a sculpture outside her front door, suggested doing something radical.  Quite a conceptual challenge for the more ‘sober’ engineers in the Energy group.

Still we took the plunge and set about putting a plan together.  As the autumn of 2015 approaches, we are about to deliver the last piece of that plan.  Not that we had anticipated such a long journey, it’s just that these collaborative projects take their time.

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A small team spent a day in the workshop playing with ideas and materials, the result was a prototype of a sculpture inspired by Chris Amey’s original.  This turned out to be such fun that we wanted more. We were now hooked on the endless possibilities of using Public Art to get our Energy message out there.

Off we went ‘selling’ the idea to others including Phil Rowe, the Town Clerk.  We knew it was meant to be because within a couple of weeks we got a phone call that a 150 year old cedar was being ‘taken down’ as it could threaten nearby residential properties.

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Our concept was to place the 3.5 m tall sculptures at the main approaches to Newton Abbot(road & train station) so that people coming to town would see them. Later, in the town centre, they’d have an opportunity to find out more from the info board next to sculpture sited centrally in the Golden Lion Square.

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The overnight action of five teams of 3-5 volunteers on the 5th Nov 2012 was the climax of a very interesting and exciting journey.  The story of this journey up to the installation of the sculptures at the approaches is detailed at http://www.transitionnewtonabbot.org.uk/?page_id=770.

Since then, Transition Newton Abbot has made the most of the sculptures.  Organising walks, talks and lots of publicity.  The journey itself was wonderful on so many levels, would we do it all again?

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Of course the full concept had not been achieved, the critical central piece of the jigsaw was still missing.  So it was panic stations when we got the message that Golden Lion Square would be ready to receive its sculpture in the autumn of 2015.  Three years is a long time for people and materials to move on and be lost.

All was not lost, we found everything and gathered some of the old team to create the sculpture and its info box.  It’ll be a good feeling when these are finally installed, maybe even this autumn.

Take a trip to Newton Abbot, see if you can spot the Energy Sculptures.

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