31.1/ Art

Some years ago I visited Holstebro. This once poor, agricultural town in north-west Denmark is now a prosperous, bustling centre of industry and education with a public work of art on almost every street corner.  This is the story I was told. 

The mayor of the town council, a postman by day, became firmly convinced that art could help bring about change. He drew money out of the town’s cofres, went to Paris and bought a Giacometti statue. This was subsequently erected in Holstebro’s main square.  At the unveiling of this statue many were astounded at the cost and critical of the mayor’s choice.  “How can this emaciated shape be a symbol of our town’s regeneration?”  The mayor unperturbed simply shrugged his shoulders.  “I am only a postman”, he answered.  “People who know about these things tell me that one day this artist, Alberto Giacometti, will be world famous and his work worth a fortune”.

The town council was welcoming in its policies particularly towards innovative and start-up companies.  Each time a company or business did set up in the town, a condition was that a work of art should be donated, most usually a street sculpture, for the benefit of all.  A stroll through the town’s pedestrian precincts nowadays shows that the council’s investment and its policy have been a great success. 

I was told this story with a chuckle by Eugenio Barba, the director of a now world-renowned, hugely-respected, experimental theatre company.  He added that when he was invited to make Holstebro his base, he and his nomadic companions gratefully accepted.  They moved into an empty farmstead, closed the door and didn’t appear again for a year despite complaints to the mayor that there should be at least one show of some kind as repayment for the courtesy.  The mayor just shrugged his shoulders saying he was merely a postman but that people who knew about these things told him one day this company would be internationally sought after.  People from all over the world would travel to Holstebro to see them at work . and watch their performances..

The salient question is to what extent did art help achieve this transformation?  Does art really have such power and influence in our lives?

I shall cogitate and give my considered judgement in my next post.  In the meantime feel free to comment...

Alberto Giacometti, 'Woman on a cart. ' Stock photo

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