Article published: Wednesday, August 15th 2012
Artists fed up with Manchester City Council’s “undemocratic” decision to restrict the choice of the new Peterloo Massacre memorial to just three people have vowed to install a DIY monument of their own – a 15ft tall Liberty Cap outside Manchester Central Convention Centre.
The sculpture, inspired by an ancient symbol of freedom in the days of the Roman Empire and a revolutionary icon in the early 1800s, will be raised tonight to commemorate the working people cut down by soldiers when they marched for the right to vote in 1819.
Once in place, campaigners from the Peterloo Massacre Memorial Group will hold a candlelit vigil until midnight to ensure the memorial is in place on the massacre’s anniversary date of Thursday 16 August, before gathering at the site of the massacre outside the old Free Trade Hall at 1pm to lay a wreath.
The cap will then reappear at the annual commemorative rally on Sunday 19 August outside the convention centre, where it will be surrounded by flowers and messages in the hope it will be left unmolested for as long as possible.
Over the past five years campaigners have kept up pressure on the council to ensure a prominent, respectful memorial in keeping with the spirit of the Peterloo marchers is chosen to commemorate the event.
Revelations emerged last month that one of the options under consideration was to dedicate a proposed set of bronze gates across Library Walk in commemoration of the event. The move sparked strong opposition, and provoked campaign chair and Manchester artist Paul Fitzgerald to ask how gates could be appropriate to commemorate “civilians who gave their lives struggling for democratic freedom?”
Campaigners say they have since received verbal assurances from council leader Sir Richard Leese that the gate proposal has been dropped.
The decision to commission the memorial however will now rest with just three senior councillors; Leese, culture executive Rosa Battle and the town hall’s city centre spokesperson Pat Karney. Two council officials, regeneration head Pat Bartoli and head of Cultural Strategy Frans Toms will act in an advisory role.
“The key issue now is that it’s a democratic process, or we might all drop dead of irony”, said Fitzgerald. “You can’t have less people then the number who died making this decision.”
In a letter to campaigners, Leese said any chosen artist would need to have a “track record” of “working with and involving a wide range of interests”. He added, “We do not propose to prescribe either the form or the location for the memorial, other than it should be in the area where the events 16 August [sic] took place, and whatever the form, should be a piece that can be used to tell the story.”
Fitzgerald said the campaign would continue to push for a prominent memorial, saying “we insist that a range of short-listed designs by professional artists be displayed for all to see, and subjected to a recorded and published indicative public vote, before the final choice is made. Anything else flies in the face of the meaning of Peterloo itself- democracy.
“The Council need to remember they were elected to represent, not to dictate.”
The Liberty Cap will be first erected on the plaza outside Manchester Central Convention Centre at 9.30pm, Wednesday 15 August, and will return at the annual commemorative rally at 12pm Sunday 19 August.
“Peterloo – soldiers on the rampage”, a commemoration in words and song, will be performed at 3pm on Sunday 19th August at the People’s History Museum, Left Bank, Manchester city centre.
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