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Charity embroiled in row over Royal Mile statue

This news post is 11 months old

The group, A Statue for Elsie Inglis, has been criticised over its sculptor selection.

Campaigners fighting to erect a statue of well-known feminist on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile have been forced to pause the process following a row over which artist has been selected for the job. 

Trustees of the charity, A Statue for Elsie Inglis, have faced heavy criticism from artists online after commissioning a male sculptor who had not entered a submission to make the statue.

A competition had been announced to promote an emerging artist who was inspired by Dr Inglis’ life and work, but open calls were suspended before trustees commissioned royal sculptor Alexander Stoddart to produce the work. Mr Stoddart had not entered a submission.

Social media pages for the charity have now been deleted, with trustees publishing a short public statement. 

It reads: “The reaction to our decision has comprised both positive support and negative but what’s concerning is the level of vitriol directed by some of the contributors, which is bordering on the defamatory.

“Given this position, the trustees have taken the decision to pause the process and reflect on both the positive and negative feedback received, particularly from our supporters to date, to consider our options and will make further comment after this period of reflection.”

Dr Elsie Inglis, a suffragette and medical pioneer who established hospitals for poor women and children in Edinburgh, is one of the city’s best known feminists, and the planned bronze memorial would be erected near the Royal Mile hospital she helped set up. 

East Lothian-based artist, Natasha Phoenix, estimates she invested 650 hours on her proposal for the statue, adding that the competition should not have been suspended. 

She told the BBC about 25 artists had been working on designs, ading: “It’s another action that’s not transparent, hasn’t been explained and shows a complete lack of comprehension as to how the general public feel about this. 

“The trustees are acting in a bubble of their own making and imagining that this furore on social media will just disappear.”

Trustees claim the decision was made following a viewing of the Queen’s funeral cortege up the Royal Mile during the period of mourning, saying: “The statue needed to meet with the historical consciousness of the Royal Mile.”

In late September, they tweeted: “The call to artists has been suspended indefinitely owing to considerations that have been brought to the attention of the trustees in recent weeks. This information has therefore rendered the brief as published suboptimal to ensure the successful outcome of the project at design scheduling and budgetary levels.”

The BBC has claimed that Mr Stoddart - the King's Sculptor in Ordinary in Scotland - is still to take on the commission.

Author of a book on the lack of women statues, Sara Sheridan, added to the questions over the choice of sculptor. 

She wrote on social media: “It’s incredible after such a long campaign that we are going to see the first statue of a non-royal woman in central Edinburgh. I was excited to be introduced to the work of the contemporary artist who was going to be honoured by winning the cancelled competition. 

“I’m sorry that isn’t going ahead as it negatively impacts the strong community that has built around the campaign and negates the opportunity to add a fresh visual voice to Edinburgh’s built environment. For me, raising of a statues to Elsie Inglis was about recognition of her achievement and her values as a suffragist and an early female doctor. The cancelling of the competition and the statement yesterday from Mr Stoddard about his view on Elsie has taken off that shine. 

“It is with great sadness that I no longer feel it would be authentic for me to actively campaign for this cause. I would, however, reinstate my support if the trustees can resolve the situation.”

Born in 1864, Dr Elsie Inglis a Scottish doctor, surgeon, teacher suffragist, and founder of the Scottish Women's Hospitals. 

The doctor went on to set up 17 Scottish women's hospitals for injured soldiers across Europe during World War One, as well as setting up maternity services for poor women in Edinburgh, before her death in 1917.



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