A controversial new public art installation has finally been unveiled at the River Ness in Inverness, Scotland. Proposed in 2018, the stone-built pier is part of Highland Council’s £758,350 River Connections Public Art Programme.
‘The Gathering Place’ takes inspiration from the shape of an amphitheatre, with two curved pathways framing the banks of the river. The collaborative team of Sans façon and KHBT worked together to create a piece that “re-connects the city with the river, drawing out its stories, engendering a sense of place and creating access to the river“.
Yet from the very start, the design attracted criticism from some Inverness residents who were concerned it would spoil the riverside. Helen Smith, of campaign group OpenNess, claimed the design also does not reflect the history of the river, adding “people think the river is a nice, natural-looking area and that they can enjoy seeing a lot of wildlife near the town centre.”
The new pier was in fact a replacement for a similarly controversial plan to install a £300,000 giant see-saw-like structure in the same place three years ago. Highland councillors swiftly vetoed those plans, after a petition gained over 2,000 signatures from disgruntled locals. The giant see-saw design gently tilted, which some critics said would place public safety at risk.
Discussions at the local authority about the new design caused long delays in construction, as well as the outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020. Councillors are now requesting ‘The Gathering Place’ improves its accessibility by widening part of the site to accommodate a turning circle for wheelchair users.
Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson concluded that art can be divisive, “but every city I know has art embedded in it.“
The long-anticipated project has been funded by £305,000 from Creative Scotland, £250,000 from the City of Inverness Common Good Fund, £66,000 from Highlands and Islands Enterprise and £106,000 from Highland Council.