It has dominated the seafront at Weston-Super-Mare for the last couple of months but now See Monster has closed its doors. The former offshore platform turned art installation divided opinion from the start and even caused controversy.
Funded by the government, it cost millions of pounds, but was also hugely popular. So was it a success and what will be its legacy?
When the 35-meter structure was first announced, there was a bold vision from the organizers.
It aimed to inspire conversations about renewable energy, the British climate and even aspired to transform perceptions about how to dispose of aging industrial infrastructure.
With four levels and hosting a wild garden of plants, herbs and trees, as well as an amphitheater and waterfall, it was certainly spectacular with ambitions to match.
Two months late, it’s fair to say, there was a lot of pressure when it finally opened to the public on September 23rd.
But from then until the close on Nov. 20, love it or hate it, it certainly sparked conversations.
More than half a million people have interacted with the installation and it has brought more people to Weston-super-Mare seafront than ever hoped for, North Somerset Council said.
Executive Member for Placemaking and Growth, Mark Canniford, said: “Businesses have reported that tens of thousands more visitors have come to the city centre, with The Sovereign, based in the high street, seeing over 50,000 shoppers plus enter through their doors.
“Locally it was definitely worth it, nationally [the cost] It’s a question for the government and a question for our MP, but locally it’s had a huge impact on our local economy and it’s been great.”
The project was the brainchild of Leeds-based design and events company NewSubstance and was part of the Unboxed: Creativity in the UK festival.
North Somerset Council is currently looking into the economic impact See Monster has had on the town, with a report due for release later this year.
But if you talk to business owners, most seem to agree that it was good for the city.
Clare Morris, who runs the local shop, Good and Proper Zero, said: “It has been fantastic. I have loved coming myself and seeing all the extra visitors we have had in the shop.
“I have a lot of extra outdoor seating, and you can see they’re not regulars, and they’re not locals, and it’s been a joy to see it evolve.”
Owner of the fish and chip shop, Sue Waterhouse, added: ‘We’ve been very busy. Lots of people have traveled to the See Monster, mid term for sure.
“We often chat with them and they say if they’ve been awake, some people have been queuing for two or three hours sometimes.
“It’s definitely the best year we’ve had in the seven years we’ve been here, this time of year, for sure.”
Initially, See Monster was supposed to open from July.
While the delay was heavily criticized locally, the organizers were keen to stress that it was a “world first” and perhaps, given its scale, it was inevitable that it would run into some problems.
But there were also those who welcomed the delay and suggested how this, combined with the good weather during autumn, could help extend the tourist season.
Weston’s Business Improvement District chairman Paul Batts said the waterfront businesses and those further back in the city have welcomed people from “all over the country and even overseas.”
“It’s been a huge talking point locally and getting people from Weston talking, which is also important,” she added.
While there was skepticism among some at first, Mr Batts said he believed the tipping point was a drone show that drew tens of thousands to the waterfront.
“There was a palpable awe when those drones lit up and the monster was lit up in all different colors,” he said.
“It’s changed a lot of people from ‘what is this about’ to ‘wow, this is a world first, not made anywhere else’…and it’s really cool, there’s literally nothing else to compare to it .”
Unboxed Executive Director Phil Batty said, “This stunning installation has captured the imagination of local people and visitors to Weston, extending the season and boosting the economy of this great seaside city.”
However, not all have been won.
See Monster’s individual cost has not been disclosed, but Unboxed – which ran 10 large-scale public arts engagement projects across the UK – has received widespread criticism over its £120m cost to the taxpayer.
Unboxed is now being investigated by the government’s spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, with the results of its investigation expected in the coming weeks.
Weston resident Mandy Moore said: “I don’t think it’s worth it.
“Taxpayers pay for it. It’s nice to see, but I think it could have been spent in other ways.”
Her daughter, Abby, added: “I don’t think much about it to be honest.
“The views are beautiful, but it’s a bit random.
“He’s brought a lot of people to Weston, but other than that I don’t think he’s done much else, and now he’s trying to pay all that money.”
Niccy Hallifax, project director at Newsubstance, who was behind the See Monster project, said: ‘We’ve had thousands and thousands of people come here…from all over the world to experience something that has never been done before. .
“And also, when we were doing the launch processes, it was during Covid and it kept a lot of us, hundreds and hundreds of us, in the industry, when we couldn’t afford otherwise, so for me it was definitely worth it. .”
See Monster will be dismantled in the coming months and 100% of it will have to be recycled.
“All the greenery will create a new waterfront area of the park…so there will be a legacy for See Monster,” Ms. Hallifax said.
While See Monster is unique, if I were forced to compare it to anything, it would have to be Banksy’s Dismaland.
The dark attraction arrived in Weston-super-Mare in 2015 and has been a huge success.
Tourism chiefs said it brought more than 150,000 paying visitors and £20m to the city.
But one of the things she was criticized for was that she didn’t leave “a legacy”. She was there and then she was gone.
Look around town now, and you could be forgiven for not knowing it happened.
Ms Hallifax said she hoped that would not be the case with See Monster.
In addition to a new community garden created on the Beach Lawns from See Monster plants, Ms Hallifax said the most important legacy would be the impression it would leave on the thousands of young children who visited it.
See Monster has welcomed more than 70,000 schoolchildren, youth, scouts, youth groups and students on field trips focused on science, technology, engineering, math (STEM), climate, environment and culture.
Schools across the UK were also invited to take part in the All Aboard See Monster assembly, where pupils aged between 7 and 11 were able to virtually board the offshore platform to learn about reuse, the cycle of water and the fantastic British climate from the scientists and artists who created See Monster.
“This is important to point out,” Ms Hallifax said.
It would be children who would be most affected by climate change, she said, and as such she hoped the project had convinced them of the benefits of reusing and how much it could improve where it was, she added.
See Monster is now to go down and was always designed to be a temporary installation.
It was a platform for conversation and “now it’s been done, and it’s time for it to continue differently,” Ms Hallifax said.
If See Monster’s lasting legacy is to educate the next generation, it may be some time before we can truly know how successful it was.
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