An outdoor art performance featuring a man walking up and down a staircase in Preston’s Flag Market has been called an “absurd” waste of public money.
The city council is paying artist Martin Hamblen hundreds of pounds to perform his “stop-motion animation” in front of puzzled shoppers.
Dressed in a suit, he is spending up to six hours a day on the Harris Flights, taking two steps forward and one back.
Mr Hamblen explains his performance as “a positive message – regardless of life’s struggles, people carry on with their everyday endeavours.”
He likens it to “climbing a metaphorical mountain”. But the Taxpayers’ Alliance sees it differently.
“It’s absurd that families struggling with the rising cost of living are being forced to pay for this piece of art,” said chief executive Matthew Sinclair.
“Exhibitions like this might be of interest to some people but if that’s the case then private funding should be sought.
“Councils are having to make necessary spending cuts and this sort of thing should be first for the chop, so that frontline services can be prioritised.”
Mr Hamblen was artist in residence at St John’s Shopping Centre last month, where he built a tunnel through an empty shop using striped planks.
He was recruited to perform his piece called “29,028” as part of this summer’s Harris Flights programme of theatre, dance, live music, poetry, science, film and sport staged on a temporary staircase, built from the Flag Market up to the Harris Museum.
The artist, who originally costed his work at £1,000, eventually agreed to accept £500 for his performance at £7.45 an hour – equivalent to the Living Wage.
Preston Council, which commissioned the work, says the stairwalker project is just one of many things it is doing to help revitalise the city centre.
“The feedback on the Harris Flights so far has been fantastic, with more than 60 different free acts for everyone to enjoy, and we have all ready seen a 90 per cent increase in visitors to the Harris Museum and Art Gallery,” said a spokesman.
“All our employees and artists we engage are paid at least the national living wage in line with our commitment as a living wage employer.
“We have also had artists volunteer to perform and the Harris Flights is a great opportunity for local people to showcase their talents.
“Whether someone thinks a particular act is art or not is a great debate to have. But we saw from the Guild that there is a real appetite for arts and culture in Preston and people want to see the legacy continued. At the same time, we must do everything we can to support the high street by providing a unique offer that shoppers cannot get online.
“By committing to a programme of free arts, culture and events, we are giving people a reason to come into the city centre by creating a culturally vibrant atmosphere.”