Jeremy Deller Peterloo monument unveiled amid disability row

By Kevin Core
BBC Radio 4

Image caption, Manchester City Council unveiled the memorial without fanfare on Tuesday

Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller's Peterloo Memorial has opened to the public amid ongoing discussions over accessibility.

The circular, stepped £1m monument marking the 200th anniversary of the massacre has been the subject of complaints from disabled activists.

Manchester City Council said it was resolving issues with disability experts.

Jeremy Deller told Radio 4 addressing accessibility had been "enlightening".

His vision for the monument had been a work of art for the public to use as a gathering point for protest.

Deller said of the efforts to address accessibility: "It's just having a discussion with people. Understanding what the problems are and how to resolve them.

"As a process for me, it's been quite enlightening. [The accessible solution] will become part of the memorial. It might even become a feature of it."

The six foot-high work bears the names of victims of the 1819 massacre, and at its summit references other state attacks on civilians including Tiananman Square and Bloody Sunday.

The day of the 200th anniversary will be marked on Friday with an open air event.

Disability activists like Dennis Queen have called for protest groups to show solidarity with their cause by not going to the top of the monument until they too can access it.

She said the current design relegated disabled people from being active participants in protest and democracy - to merely spectators on the sidelines.

She added: "I think it will definitely be a better monument at the end of this process.

"[Jeremy Deller] has a social conscience that's why he's the person that's designed this and I think he's quite curious to find out what will work. That kind of awareness is encouraging."

Image source, Jeremy Deller/Caruso St John Architects
Image caption, The stepped monument will have improved wheelchair access

The memorial, near the Manchester Convention and Conference Centre, marks the site of the 1819 massacre, in which 18 people were killed and hundreds injured.

It includes the names of towns from which protestors travelled, names of the dead and at its summit a compass points toward other locations where the state has killed citizens.

Councillor Luthfur Rahman, Manchester City Council Executive Member for Culture, said an innovative and imaginative interpretation of the design brief for the memorial placed a greater emphasis on interaction than they had envisaged for a public artwork, which meant not enough consideration was initially given to accessibility.

He added: "While the memorial will initially go on public view in its original form, in the time for the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Memorial, it will be modified to ensure equal access.

"How this is best achieved is something which we are finalising in liaison with disability access advisers but we are determined that the solution will be of the highest quality and make a positive contribution to the memorial's appearance as well as its design."

The Art of Now Jeremy Deller's Peterloo airs on Thursday, 15 August at 1130 on BBC Radio 4.

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