Public Art: what’s what; who does what; who gets what.


Tauranga has seen media scuffle, flurries of verbal and written activity about its “public arts” and it’s all on again with a series of talks and workshops around the place in coming weeks.

I’m a lay person bobbing around the fringe of “the arts community”. I ‘ve been known to mix up artists Nic Clegg with artist Nick Eggleston – they’re both English? As a teenager I thought Paganini was a ballerina. I buy art objects from the Salvation Army and The Warehouse and I get my books from the Tauranga City Library.

I started visiting the old Auckland City Art Gallery, the old Museum and the surrounding Domain sculptures as a school student because at that time there was absolutely nothing else available or open in weekend downtown Auckland. As a naïve University student I made sure I visited the Elam Art school exhibition of penis sculptures more than once.

When I took my toddler daughter to the Auckland Art Gallery for the first time an attendant walked behind us all the time exhorting me “not to let her touch the paintings” Poor man, he was a generation too late. I used to pat the seated bronze sculpture on the head every time I came into the gallery. I did my bit internationally and visited “galleries” but what I’ve got in my treasure box is a multi-coloured marble I found in a cobbled gutter in Paris.

Coming down to Tauranga has been a bit Alice-like. Sometimes I’ve wondered what planet I’m on. The Museum scuffle has been more depressing than entertaining. I don’t have a television so I’m almost looking forward to the forthcoming workshops and I suspect ensuing venomous debate relating to public art.

On Friday afternoon in the shadow of a hotel wall I sat beside Owen Dippie opposite the beginnings of his huge Harrington House work. The work references Botticelli’s Venus. It was amazing. The size, the rough outline and then the half-painted face. It was this partial painting which exemplified Dippie’s talent. As we talked I kept looking at his long tapered, fingers covered in shiny blue paint. There was a spot of blue paint on the side of his nose. He was tired from the heat of being up there in the cherry picker in the sun; “I start at 5am”

I talk to Owen about his forthcoming American trip. He tells me he’s leaving Tauranga – I understand. It’s sad I understand. Dippie tells me he organised the privately owned locations and funding for his works around town; no-one gave them to him.

I told Owen my story about the young Australian woman who came and asked me “where she could buy a copy of that painting”. That painting is the Dippie, Goldie-evocative mural on the side of a Tauranga building. Coincidentally Gow Langsford had a Goldie in their 2013 Tauranga Arts Festival exhibition. In our tatty work clothes, late at night we ran in and looked at an original Goldie. Blown away says it all.

Owen’s work is not “public art” within the definition given at the Tauranga City Council facilitated pre-Christmas workshop. Public Art is art which is in, on, at, performed at etc territorial authority owned land and buildings. Dippie’s works are on privately owned buildings which can be seen from public spaces. It’s no different from the mural on the wall of the bar/nightclub just down on Willow Street. Only the content and style are different. It’s the same as a residential house and garden that can be seen from the road. Privatelyowned, publically viewable.

I’m not certain who “owns” the wall the Angels Wings opposite Starbucks in downtown Tauranga are painted on. What I do know is “the public” love them. I drive past one summer’s evening and there are three young locals photographing each other. Similarly, my contact with “the public” about The Hairy Maclary Waterfront Sculpture Project is that “the public” loves it as a project.

So issue number one for me has to be that what ever policy is decided for “public art” actually takes cognisance of the public and public taste. Departing Tauranga Art Gallery Director Penelope (Penny) Jackson, her team and the Art Gallery Trustees in my opinion have managed to walk the tightrope of acknowledging “public taste” while consistently providing challenging and educative exhibitions of art and creativity. So any policy and public arts selection group needs ongoing community input. We who confuse Nik Clegg and Nick Eggleston are most probably not going to be keen on funding the cardboard wrapping of other people’s art works as a major public art installation. Private galleries and competitions can do that.

Issue number two for me is we all need to be very clear what issue number one is all about. It’s about who is getting paid to do or for “public” work. Tauranga is a very small pond and realistically the opportunities for paid artistic work locally are restricted. Do I think only Tauranga based artists should be considered to produce public art in Tauranga. I don’t think so. I do however think that any public arts policy should have as a factor to be considered (but not an exclusionary factor) the association of a potential creative with Tauranga.

So often did I hear The Hairy Maclary Sculpture Project should have gone to a Tauranga artist that I finally made an appointment with Tracey Rudduck-Gudsell to check the process by which The Weta Workshop had been selected. In future it would be a good idea for all the maquettes and submitted application works to be exhibited publically and recorded online for the community to see for themselves the relative standard of what has been put forward and understand why something or someone has been selected.

If we take the “Tauranga only” policy to its illogical conclusion; no Katchafire, no Beethoven, no Swan Lake, no Elvis lookalikes, no Operatunity, no Soli 3 mio, no Goldie, no Audi, no Mercedes, no Toyota, no Juliette Hogan, no Gow Langsford, no Countdown, no ASB, no kedgeree, no sushi – no me.

Congratulations to the local groups and entities organising the ongoing discussions and speakers about public arts. We need to talk about it. We need a policy. We need a clear and accessible process. We need transparency. We need public input. And most of all we need to make sure that the policy, the process and the transparency are not captured by a clique – expert or not.

Footnote: Take a look at for information about the series of talks. “This series is a community led initiative promoting the interests and opportunities of Tauranga creative, arts and cultural communities”

12 February, 6.oopm at The Incubator at The Historic Village, 17th Avenue, Tauranga

Mark Spijkerbosch, Rotorua District Council’s Arts Officer

20 February 5.30pm at the Tauranga Art Gallery

Deborah McCormack, Director of SCAPE, Public Art Christchurch

The SCAPE project has installed 150 temporary new public art works. SCAPE is a vehicle for works by leading international contemporary artists as well as a springboard for new local talent.

21 February 9.30am to 4.30pm at Baycourt Xspace

A series of talks and discussions

4.00pm-4.30pm wrap up session

4.30pm-5.30pm networking (cash bar)

Rosemary Balu


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