Gathering rust: a tribute to Derry women’s industry
A sculpture designed and then reworked by Louise Walsh to commemorate the city’s famous ‘factory girls’ may never be put on public display
Before doing any further design work, however, Walsh sought an assurance from the department that it would pay the scoping costs for the new project and guarantee that – in the event of planning permission being granted – a budget of £95,000 would be available to refurbish, fabricate and install the sculpture.
The department says it has already spent £72,000 on the Factory Girls project; £50,000 of this went on fabricating the artwork, while the artist’s fees and expenses accounted for another £20,000.
A spokesperson stated that the DSD would fund the artist’s design fees if it could establish that planning permission could be secured for the overall redevelopment proposal at Harbour Square. But it could not guarantee extra money without a robust estimate and analysis of the project cost. If the artist’s total costs exceeded £135,000, a special case would have to be made to senior management, in accordance with government-accounting rules.
In April, Walsh officially withdrew from the project, although she continued to correspond indirectly with the DSD via Derry City Council. She refused a DSD request to rework her concept drawings for submission to a pre-application discussion with planners.
“To make the proposal to the level the DSD wanted needed money. They weren’t coming up with it. What I’m saying is, ‘Let’s talk when you’ve got a budget to make this piece. If you don’t have a budget, stop torturing me.’”
Last month, however, Walsh allowed her drawings to be put forward for consideration, without doing any more work on them. The DSD says that at a meeting on June 25th, the planners requested further design work before they could reach a decision.
Walsh says she feels “battered” by the process and is adamant that she won’t commit any more effort or time without a guarantee that funding would be available to see the project through.
“Work like this needs generosity and magic. It needs people saying, ‘C’mon, we’ll get it made. Let’s try this, let’s try that.’ Instead, it’s been negative. Like pulling teeth. Whether it’s government agencies, DSD, city council or planning – there’s a lack of cohesion. There’s a culture running through our institutions that is obstructive, rather than conducive to getting good things done.”
Seven years after awarding the Factory Girls commission, the DSD says: “The project is only at the initial proposal stage, as there is no detailed design, no cost estimate and it has not yet been established whether the proposed piece of art could secure planning permission at this location.”
However, it “remains committed to erecting a piece of public art” to commemorate the women’s key role in the city’s social and economic history. Derry City Council – the only conduit now between artist and department – says it’s happy to assist, in any way it can, to move the project forward.
Several hundred people have already signed an online petition, calling on the DSD to “rescue” Walsh’s sculpture. Meanwhile, the huge wheel – the centrepiece of her dream – gathers rust, panels of fretwork lie in a garden in Donegal, £72,000 has been spent, and the contribution made by legions of shirt factory workers continues to go publicly unmarked.