Exeter, Devon UK • May 21, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Arts & Lit Can Public Art Save the High Street?

Can Public Art Save the High Street?

Lucy Aylmer discusses the presence of public art on the high street.
5 mins read
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Lucy Aylmer discusses the presence of public art on the high street.

The decline of the high street has reached epidemic proportions in towns across the country as reputable retailers ranging from Marks and Spencer’s to Houser of Fraser are being forced to shut-shop and terminate trading. Blame has been thrown at unfair tax discrepancies between e-tailors and retailers, burgeoning growth of online shopping- and even Brexit’s income squeezes have been cast into the debate.  

Surely it would be considered ‘backwards’ to supress e-tailor growth in order to ensure the buoyancy of physical retailers? Using this methodology would disenable the evolution of society and technological innovation, the latter being something we should nurture and champion in society; e-tailorgrowth has allowed people to generally have higher disposable incomes, which subsequently has generated more spending and boosted the economy on a local and national scale. Providing a new obstacle to e-tailors might also provide one for customers too. So, howdowe solve the problem of the declining high street? 

I strongly advocate for the use of statues and other public art in alluring people to physical shops. There is a promising trend of people prioritising experience of the purchasing of consumer goods, this has been further investigated by Forbes who have discovered that 78% of millennials would prefer to spend money on an experience. 

“The angular yet streamlined sculpture creates an imposing façade that draws in the attention of pedestrians, both tourists and locals alike.”

Exeter city offers an eclectic mix of public art ranging across a wide myriad of time scales. Take the Exeter Riddle Sculpture; an ode to Anglo Saxon Exeter riddles dating back 960 AD. The angular yet streamlined sculpture creates an imposing façade that draws in the attention of pedestrians, both tourists and locals alike. Perhaps it is the reflective texture and mirror like quality that appeals to our narcissistic nature as one catches a glimpse of themselves in the mirror and in doing so, picks up line of poetry along the way. 

Located in the middle of the Cathedral green is a grand statue of Richard Hooker, seated on a slightly weathered pentilicon marble throne, perhaps a subtle reflection of the rain that blesses Exeter for six months of the year. Hooker, whose birthplace is Exeter, was a highly esteemed 16thcentury theologian and priest whose sculpture depicts him tightly gripping his most acclaimed piece of work: Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polite. Inspiring and influential, Hooker firmly believed in religious tolerance and living harmoniously within society. 

These brief encounters with history, dotted around Exeter highlight the fusion of both the past and the present. From the unassuming riddle sculpture blending modern art practices with historical contexts, to Hookers Renaissance style sculpture, embedding surprisingly contemporary messages of tolerance. 

Such vibrant and inspiring histories can help galvanize the people of Exeter to take pride in their high street and appreciate the rich cultural history stitched into the landscape; this is an advantage that online shopping does not have. Emphasising the cultural and historical qualities can pave the way for high street rejuvenation. 

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