What is the ICONS England project all about ?
ICONS Online, the organisation behind the ICONS website, is asking everyone who lives in England - from all different communities and backgrounds - to help create an online collection of cultural icons, from Stonehenge and the SS Windrush to the humble cup of tea. Together all these icons will make up a kind of living portrait of England. Visually exciting, the ICONS website (www.icons.org.uk), launched in January 2006, is a valuable resource for us all. ICONS Online’s aim is to make it stimulating, educational and entertaining. We hope it will encourage people to find out more about our icons, visit cultural institutions and participate in new cultural activities.
What about Wales, Scotland and Ireland? Why are they left out?
We would love to compile icons for Wales, Scotland, Ireland and elsewhere. At present, funding has only been provided for England but we will be working to get funding for similar initiatives in other parts of the UK (and possibly beyond).
Will ICONS just talk to museums and art galleries?
No, the idea is to involve everyone. ICONS will be a collaborative project, inviting the public and assorted sporting, cultural and heritage institutions to help decide which icons will be explored on the site. We want anyone who can to contribute anecdotes, information and ideas about them.
How much will it cost?
The budget assigned to the project is £1 million. This will cover all of the costs involved in developing the site, marketing it and providing service. This funding lasts until February 2007, but the site will remain live indefinitely, and we plan to generate sponsorship and other forms of revenue to allow it to continue to grow indefinitely.
What happens after the site is launched?
We will build up the site bit by bit, as nominations are received from the general public and from groups. Icons that get through the nomination and selection process will be researched and presented on the website at different stages between now and February 2007.
Why should money be spent on promoting cultural icons rather than funding new cultural projects? What is special about this project?
Of course, we fully support spending money on new cultural projects. It is vital to encourage new productions, installations, artists, writers, sculptors, film-makers and photographers. But housing and staging all the wonderful things created by artists would be foolish if we did not encourage people to go and see them. Many of us have heard of things like the Magna Carta or Stonehenge, but sometimes we don’t know very much about them and often we have not seen them either. ICONS can help people to discover and explore these things further. We also want to signpost people to museums, galleries and other venues to encourage visits and participation that might not otherwise have happened. As well as helping our children to learn, ICONS will also stimulate interest in England generally. The website will be a valuable asset in promoting our attractions to a growing international tourist market. This earns vital cash for our nation.
Who’s involved in creating ICONS England?
We hope that you will be involved. You can help nominate icons and by joining the debate about icons already nominated on the site. We want to hear your icon stories and anecdotes as well. In addition, there is an ICONS Online staff made up of writers and designers and a voluntary Advisory Board. Another key element will be the creative working partnerships we are forming with a range of museums, galleries and other cultural and heritage organisations. ICONS Online itself and the associated ICONS website are being incubated by Cogapp, a firm specialising in creative online and cultural projects. The project is commissioned by Culture Online, a project of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.
Who’s it for?
It is for everyone. We want it to reflect the things that are important to each and every community in England. England is a multicultural and multilayered society and we want ICONS to reflect this too. The imaginative presentation of cultural icons should engage and excite even the most reluctant student and the most web-phobic as well as the die-hard Stonehenge fans, fervent railway-enthusiasts and well-read museum curators.
How will the icons be chosen?
An ICONS Advisory Board has been set up to help us make these decisions. but their choices will be based largely on nominations from the public. Every nomination will be considered by the Icons team, who will present recommendations to the Advisory Board for final approval. Nominate an icon here.
People can’t be icons apparently. Why not?
We felt there might be a problem here because of how celebrity status can muddle things. Any icons list would be likely to be unfairly dominated by those in favour or fashionable right now. Their elevation to iconic status could not have stood the test of time. For those who are no longer alive and whose iconic status is assured, we plan to consider the things that made them famous or noteworthy. So the list will not include Shakespeare himself, but might include the First Folio of Shakespeare. Similarly, we are likely to consider nominations for Stephenson’s Rocket rather than Mr Stephenson, and for Constable’s Hay Wain rather than for Constable himself.
Are you concerned about accusations of being "little England"?
Quite the contrary, we hope. One of the surprises you will find is how much of what we associate with England comes from somewhere else… We also want to tackle the controversial aspects of cultural icons nominated as well as the more comfortable associations we may have with them. The idea is to stimulate debate. Even familiar subjects like a cup of tea will stir things up because, of course, it isn’t English at all in origin. Neither are Punch and Judy, who started life in southern Europe. Even the best-known stone in the Crown Jewels is the cursed Koh-I-Noor, which came from the Maharajah of Lahore. We will tell the stories of tea-clippers and bone china and Italian puppet-theatre and murdered Mogul emperors that lie behind the icons we hold most dear.