Vision for Dunedin: city bursting with public art

Dunedin Public Art Gallery director Cam McCracken pictured by Derek Ball's kinetic sculpture outside the Dunedin City Library. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
Dunedin Public Art Gallery director Cam McCracken pictured by Derek Ball's kinetic sculpture outside the Dunedin City Library. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
Dunedin Public Art Gallery director Cam McCracken can see a Dunedin that people remember for its public art.

He sees a city bursting with art, a place like Wellington or Brisbane where it features as one of the most discussed aspects of a visitor's experience.

He also sees public art being something developed in league with the community, in a public and transparent way.

A Dunedin City Council committee voted last week to adopt the Public Art Framework 2017-2022. All it needs to put it into action is approval at a full council meeting on Tuesday.

The new model would mean public art was led by the council, using the experience of staff in the arts area and beyond, but it would also allow community involvement through a ``public art lab''.

Late last year, the council indicated it was ready to get back into funding public art, after slashing the budget in 2012 and putting on hold any new works while its policy was reviewed.

The programme was one of the casualties that year of a council cost-saving drive to keep rates down in the face of shortfalls in dividends.

It followed criticism about the last work installed in Dunedin, Harbour Mouth Molars, in Portsmouth Dr, and a local political storm around the controversial Haka Peep Show, a phallic piece of public art in the Octagon.

Mr McCracken said this week there had been ``some difficult moments'' with previous commissioned works.

The council had been working since last year on the framework, a ``holistic look at the way we might approach public art'', and what might be possible in Dunedin.

Public art commissions could be expensive but did not have to be, he said, and could be developed as part of infrastructure.

``There are artistic avenues, if you are actually looking for them, that can fit into an infrastructure build.''

He described the framework as a blueprint for the council, setting out how it could approach public art.

Regan Gentry's Harbour Mouth Molars, in Dunedin. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
Regan Gentry's Harbour Mouth Molars, in Dunedin. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
That approach was not about conceiving just one art work at a time, but thinking about a suite of works, perhaps three or five, what they might look like and how they would fit together.

``One of the opportunities we've got is to potentially use the harbour.

``We could do something that could draw people to Port Chalmers, or we could do something that drew people to Portobello.''

An example would be the redevelopment of the coastal walkway in New Plymouth, which includes sculpture and artwork, including the well-known Wind Wand by Len Lye.

``It's places people want to spend time, parts of our city we want to attract people to more. Public art can be part of that.''

There could be a plan for a series of works over a decade.

Mr McCracken said works might reference the settler history of Dunedin, or be an interactive work for children, or something that reflected the Ngai Tahu story.

``If we're talking about one art work, that might not satisfy everyone's aspirations for public art,'' but with five or six there could be a more cohesive plan.

``In a nutshell, that's the approach that I would like to take, and the council has signed up to.''

Mr McCracken said there was $100,000 of funding available this financial year for public art projects.

Separately, through the Art in Infrastructure Policy, creative components would be incorporated into key `above ground' infrastructure projects, he said.

``This cost will be met as part of those individual projects.''

He hoped the momentum of the programme would generate additional support from the likes of community trusts and lottery boards.

``This is about what's possible in Dunedin, about our context, about our economy, about our size and scale. This is a very creative city, full of entrepreneurial and creative types. There's a lot of energy here, and what we want to do is harness that.''

Asked about the decision-making process for what is commissioned, Mr McCracken said the council wanted to work in a more public way.

That would be done through ``public art labs'', set up in spaces like the library, art gallery, marae or university campus, dedicated spaces where people could pass by and see information about potential sites and works.

``We'll do that in a very transparent and public way, and take the public with us.''

Asked how an artist with a good idea might get a commission, Mr McCracken said he was not sure yet how that might develop.

``We might call for some public submissions about what we should do, we might have a competition, we might just shoulder-tap a small number of people.''

Mr McCracken hoped the process of working with the community and public art labs would begin early next year.

Mr McCracken said his vision for Dunedin under the framework was one where people talked about the city in terms of its public art, as people who visited cities like Wellington or Brisbane did.

``What I would like to see happen is people start to describe Dunedin in terms of its really incredible public art.''

He would also like to see locals' civic pride extend to public art.

``It will be another point of difference.''

``It is a reason to stay another day.''

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