Individual commissions – Islington Memorial, John Maine, London Borough of Islington

Theme: developing a new commemorative approach for a place

Islington Memorial, John Maine RA, 2006. hoto: courtesy John Maine RA

Islington Memorial, John Maine RA, 2006. Commissioned by LB Islington. Arts consultants: ArtOffice. Photo: courtesy John Maine RA                   

Best practice in: adopting a contemporary approach to a memorial.

Key facts and figures

Site: Islington Green, Angel, LB Islington, 2006

LB Islington

Funding source for commission:
LB Islington provided funding for the memorial as part of the overall redevelopment of the Green. The budget for this component of the project was c £120,000 (one quarter of the overall budget). Funding for a parallel programme of commissions by young artists was provided largely through Arts Council England Grants for the Arts.  The budget for the parallel programme was £40,000.

Artist: John Maine          

Art consultancy: 

Landscape architects: J&L Gibbons

Construction Contractors: Calabasas Ltd

Project Management: Lucy Riley, Stephen Crabtree

Project overview
In 2004, the Green Space and Leisure division of LB Islington was granted Council Committee Approval to develop proposals for the improvement of Islington Green in Angel, north London.

The London-based landscape architecture and urban design firm, J&L Gibbons, were engaged to restore and redesign the landscape.  As part of this process it was decided that a new war memorial should be commissioned, to take the place of a seventy five year old temporary memorial that had become unsafe and needed to be removed from site.

Art consultants ArtOffice were appointed to lead the commissioning process for the memorial. The artist’s brief was developed in consultation with, amongst others, the Royal British Legion, and was to create a memorial with timeless and inclusive appeal, that wouldn’t refer to any one particular conflict.

A shortlist of five artists were invited by the art consultants to submit detailed proposals to a panel that also included J&L Gibbons, a member of the British Legion, an Islington Council planning officer, and conservation experts (to ensure that the chosen design would last). The panel awarded the commission to artist John Maine RA.

Public consultation was an important consideration given the emotive nature of the brief and the fact that Islington Green lies in the heart of a busy area of shops, restaurants, cafes and bars. In particular, J&L Gibbons felt getting responses from young people was key to creating a sense of ownership to ensure a well-cared for space in the long-term.

A supporting programme of commissions by young artists exploring the themes of war, conflict and remembrance, was also delivered. These projects engaged with local individuals and groups in a variety of different ways, helping to root the scheme in the present and ensure it was seen as relevant to the diverse communities in the area.

Aims of the commission

  • To be an integral part of overall improvements to an important green space at the heart of Angel Islington town centre, complementing the redesign of the landscape to create a high quality public space.
  • To provide the local community with a new memorial that would last and could act as the focus for remembrance services.
  • To provide a memorial relevant to contemporary Islington, offering an alternative to a traditional memorial design and to evoke a more universal acknowledgement of war and remembrance.

Commission description
John Maine’s work is sculpted from granite and recalls a memorial wreath on a grand scale.  The circular motif is also intended to act as a sign of inclusiveness and to signal that the Green is a space for contemplation open to the whole community.  The surrounding landscape design by J&L Gibbons complements the memorial, through hard landscaping to remove redundant walls and uneven tarmac, level the ground around the trees, and introduce a new pathway system to makes the space more accessible, as well as through sympathetic planting.

The supporting programme of commissions were made by artists Adam Dant, Claire Waffel, Duncan McAfee, Deborah Levy and Brent Darby. These included Claire Waffel’s portraits of Islington veterans and refugees, and Duncan McAfee’s Me-mo-ran-da – a collection of wartime songs recreated and sung by Islington choirs in 2006.

A thorough selection and public consultation process, and the introduction of a parallel set of commissioning opportunities for artists to explore the subject matter of remembrance, war and conflict, ensured that there was a programme of active engagement with the local community during the commissioning process.  This led to the project becoming well understood and appreciated among a broad constituency of local people prior to installation and the completion of the landscaping programme. Work of high quality and substance has been installed on the site; the space is popular and well used by the public; and no vandalism has occurred to the memorial.

Key factors for success

  • A supportive and forward-thinking approach adopted by LB Islington, who chose to commission a contemporary memorial of relevance and with appeal to a diverse local community.
  • The creation of a selection panel embracing all stakeholders, including representatives from the British Legion, the local authority and conservation experts. This ensured that all viewpoints were clearly heard and a durable design was chosen.
  • The close working relationship between the art consultants, artist and the landscape architects, which was particularly helpful in ensuring clear communication on the overall vision for the project during the public consultation process.
  • A thorough public consultation process, and additional engagement through the supporting programme of commissions. This helped forge a sense of ownership with the local community, as well as ensuring the scheme had both current and long-term appeal. 

Stephen Crabtree, Greenspace, Projects and Development Manager, Islington Council, 222 Upper Street, London, N1 1YA  Email:

References: Art and Remembrance, Isabel Vasseur and Sophie Brown (eds.), ArtOffice Publishing, London, 2007.