Alex Hartley

Artist gets £500,000 of taxpayers’ money to transport vast lump of Arctic rock… and take it on a coastal tour of Britain

The Arts Council is spending a staggering £500,000 on floating a huge piece of Arctic rock more than 2,000 miles from Norway to England.

Once in the UK the newly-named Nowhereisland, which is the size of a football pitch and was only ‘found’ because of the partial melting of a glacier, will then be sculpted and toured 500 miles around the south coast.

The project, which forms part of its 2012 Cultural Olympiad, has been hailed by artists as an important and innovative way of looking at the dangers posed by climate change.

But critics have branded it a ‘complete waste of public money’.

Emma Boon, from the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: ‘It’s absurd taxpayers struggling with rising bills are being asked to pay for a piece of the Arctic to travel around the south coast.

‘This sort of frivolous spending by unaccountable quangos like the Arts Council must stop, we simply cannot afford it.

‘With behaviour like this, taxpayers might wonder whether the Arts Council is aware of the parlous state of our country’s finances.’

On a local internet forum, several people also vented their fury.

One person wrote: ‘A load of rocks will be loaded onto a barge and towed at great expense around the south coast of England. In my opinion it is a real waste of other peoples money.’

Another posted: ‘What a stupid idea. If anyone wants to see a chunk of rock from the Arctic just head north of Bristol and have a look at any piece of granite.

‘I can’t stand these hypocrites who bleat on about climate change and then proceed to tow a huge chunk of ordinary rock around on a barge to raise awareness. What a load of cobblers.’

And another forum member commented: ‘Will this new island have a Tesco?’

Bristol artist Alex Hartley, 48, came up with the project after discovering a new island, which had previously been buried under a glacier but was now showing because of receding ice, on the Svalbard Peninsula in Norway in 2004.

He became fascinated with the area after realising he was the first man to walk on the island.

Seven years later he returned with a team of 18 volunteers to cut out the six ton section of rock, load it onto a schooner, and is now taking it back to Britain.

Called Nowhere Island, and granted independence as a new nation after it reached international waters yesterday, Mr Hartley said that once he was back in the UK he would sculpt it and tow it around seven ports next summer, making its first appearance at the Olympic sailing regatta in Weymouth.
‘We have just declared out statehood. This moment marks seven years of work inspired by a simple question: ‘What if an Arctic island went south in search of its people?’
– Artist Alex Hartley

The initiative is also supported by the Situations Arts team at the University of the West of England at Bristol.

Mr Hartley, who hopes the project will highlight the dangers of climate change by giving ordinary people a chance to become citizens of his new nation, said: ‘My plan is to take a part of the island into international waters and declare it as a micro-nation so people can register to become citizens.

‘We already have more citizens than the Vatican and hope to overtake Liechtenstein and possibly even Monaco in the future.’

More than 2,000 people have already registered as citizens, and those who sign up to its website can help form its laws and constitution.

He added: ‘The island will appear off Portland on July 25, 2012, for the opening event of the sailing Olympics and then make a six week journey around six or seven ports and harbours.

‘We really need this to be a project about involving the public as much as possible and we will have an embassy on shore which will follow it around explaining it to visitors.

‘We have just declared out statehood. This moment marks seven years of work inspired by a simple question: ‘What if an Arctic island went south in search of its people?

‘The story of Nowhereisland has begun to capture the imagination of people around the world.’

He admitted it was an ‘awful lot of money’ to spend, which meant it was his ‘responsibility to make sure we create the most ambitious and epic project.’

‘The money the government decided to give us is for culture and is not interchangeable with money for hospitals or anything else,’ he said.

‘It would otherwise be spent on cultural projects – given to opera, for example – and I would argue that what we are doing engages many more people.’

An Arts Council spokesman defended the spend and said: ‘Nowhereisland provides a test-site for the formation of a new nation, inviting us to consider and debate some of the key issues of our time – including migration, nationhood, global responsibility, human rights and climate change, by becoming Citizens.’

Phil Gibby, Arts Council Director for the South West, added: ‘This is an exciting moment for our flagship arts project for the Cultural Olympiad in the south west.

‘The declaration of the Nowhereisland nation is a thought provoking moment that I hope will capture the imagination of many more people.’

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