Public Art in Scotland’s New Towns

Jamie Locke-Jones
Monday 29 November 2021
Industry Glenrothes. Copyright Peter Goldsmith.

Earlier this year, actor Mark Bonnar set off on a voyage of discovery around Scotland’s post-war new towns. His mission? To make a film for BBC Scotland – Meet You at the Hippos – about the public art which is part of the fabric of all five towns. Mark’s interest in the subject stems from the fact that his father, artist Stan Bonnar, made Glenrothes’ famous concrete Hippos, which are to be found dotted around the Fife town. Stan was an assistant to Glenrothes’ first Town Artist, David Harding, in the late 1960s, before taking up a similar role in East Kilbride. In his first presenting role, Mark takes a trip down memory lane, and a sideways look at how Scotland’s new towns filled up with concrete animals, totem poles, decorated underpasses and mysterious “standing stones”. It all leads Mark to a deeper understanding of his father’s approach to creating art, while helping him grasp the context and legacy of Scotland’s new towns, the town artists and their work. 

Mark Bonnar, right, in conversation with PhD student Andrew Demetrius inside ‘Henge’ in Glenrothes. Copyright Objective Media Group.

School of Art History PhD student Andrew Demetrius has acted as programme advisor on the film, which draws on some of his research on the public art of Scotland’s new towns. Although the new towns were carefully planned as part of the post-war socio-economic reconstruction programme, they were nonetheless experimental in many respects, not least by embedding artists within their architecture departments in an effort to humanise the often stark and repetitive new urban environment. Andrew’s work aims to record the development of this often-overlooked genre of public art, to consider its socio-political context and value to local communities, and to establish the artistic legacy of those involved. It is hoped that projects such as this film will build on his research to bring about a wider acknowledgement of the importance of new towns in the story of Scottish art, and encourage further discussion and activity to preserve this late modernist heritage.

This is an ambitious and creative production that blends documentary with a playful personal journey, interviewing academics, artists and residents to tell the artistic and social history of the new towns in a way designed to appeal to a broad audience, not just those interested in concrete sculpture. 

Meet You at the Hippos will broadcast on 30th November on BBC Scotland and will then be available on BBC iPlayer for 30 days:

Stan and Mark Bonnar with the Glenrothes Hippos. Copyright Objective Media Group.

Meet You at the Hippos is an Objective Media Group Scotland production for BBC Scotland. All Images used with permission, copyright Objective Media Group.

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