Early in February 2015 the Tauranga City Council draft Public Arts Policy hit the streets and the community. At the same time a series of talks and forums occurred in urban Tauranga: “ Public Art Talks, Tauranga – Think Make Activate”
“There’s always a lot of questions when it comes to public art and public art policy. Define public art. Who pays? What does a policy do? What will it add to our city?” asks the opening statement of the brochure for the forum programme created by a diverse team of local Tauranga arts-interested.
This 10 page article covers all the forums and speakers of the Public Art Talks I attended.. I have not treated the individual presentations as unique articles as they were part of a series and I have commented on them as such.
The Tauranga Public Art Talks were:
Public Art, Rotorua, Marc Spijkerbosch at The Incubator, 12th February 2015
2. Keynote Presentation, Deborah McCormick, Director SCAPE Public Art
Christchurch. Tauranga Art Gallery, 20th February 2015
3. Saturday Forums and Presentations 21st February 2015 at Baycourt X Space
Panel Discussion Chaired by Sonya Korohina with panelists Regan Gentry, Simone
Anderson and Tracey Williams of Auckland City Council POP
Auckland Design Champion, Ludo Campbell-Reid introduced by Stephen Chambers
Sense of Place – the contribution of Maori narrative through art Chaired by Julie
Paama-Pengelly with panelists Tawhai Rickard, Antoine Coffin and Tracey Tawhiao
Let’s Talk Public Art Chaired by Stephanie Chalmers with panelists Tania Short and
Wrap Up of the Day with Hannah Wilson and Stewart Shepherd
So here we go!
EXCITING PUBLIC ART IN ROTORUA: Marc Spijkerbosch at The Incubator
The Public Art Talks series kicked off at The Incubator, the Historic Village on Thursday 12 February. The Incubator collective had created an evening event with wine, nibbles and an eclectic range of seating on the village roadway immediately in front of the main doors.
For those of you who do not know or visit The Incubator; it’s housed in a very large old corrugated iron barn. It’s not the usual “Kiwi style” favouring more a two storey traditional American or European rural building. It’s part of the collection of older sheds, buildings and stables which together make up Tauranga’s Historic Village. At present a conglomeration of boutique-style shops, voluntary and community organisation offices, art and cultural working spaces; The Incubator has a run down, rustic charm. Most importantly its space houses artist’s working areas, a small gallery space and a meeting area populated by geriatric and arthritic furniture.
It was here on a warm and still alarmingly bright February late afternoon a good crowd, including several Tauranga City Councillors, congregated to hear Rotorua District Council Arts Officer Marc Spijkerbosch talk about what’s happening in another Bay of Plenty Town, how public art is happening and his role.
Spijkerbosch is more than engaging as a public speaker; he’s excellent. He’s informative and holds the audience’s attention. Why am I telling you this? His extensive collection of power point images of Rotorua murals and the recently created Government Gardens sculpture park remains a faint blur in the dominating sunlight. Marc takes us quickly through his personal and artistic journey. He outlines the buy-in from the Rotorua District Council and business for the revitalisation of both the city centre and Rotorua’s urban areas. There is no doubt public art work, particularly the mural work, has had a transformational effect on inner city and urban Rotorua.
Two issues of importance emerge; firstly the 1% of the public works costs committed by the Rotorua District Council to public art projects– so it’s a well-funded policy and project. While Spijkerbosch is explaining about “listening to communities”, “engaging with communities”, “listening to children”, “engaging children” the second issue is cemented. I realise that much of the success of what’s happening over in Rotorua with mural painting and re-establishing community connection and pride is because of Spijkerbosch’s outstanding ability to communicate and consult. His greatest skill is not as an artist but as a community consultant who just happens to be an artist. When some days later I try to explain to one of his children that it’s his ability to operate with people at street level as opposed to merely being a “professional” I can see she thinks I’m trying to insult him. Quite the opposite, perhaps Tauranga can clone Spijkerbosch?
PUBLIC ART TALKS, KEYNOTE PRESENTATION:
Diane Hume-Green will be updating you about the Art Gallery event in this month’s Scene Around Town. The Incubator had allocated ARTbop Friday 20 February 2015 for the launch of ARTbop alternative so while Deborah McCormick, Director of SCAPE Public Art, Christchurch was giving the Public Art Talks keynote address at the Tauranga Art Gallery, Dhaivat Mehta and I were hosting a cross-section of the alternative and mainstream creative communities.
I’ve written before in ARTbop about the issue of conflicting events and the need for at least a local, perhaps regional future events planning calendar. Would ARTbop alternative have held a function on the same day at the same time as a Public Art Talks event – no if we had known of the function conflict. And, yes we were asked by members of the community if we could change the date as they would have liked to support Dhaivat Mehta and ARTbop alternative.
We have previously raised the development of an event future planning diary with Tracey Rudduck-Gudsell of Creative Tauranga. We understand Tracey has had a look at the number of online sites a visitor would need to canvas to find local arts and events information – I think it was seven. Something is happening?
So for ARTbop our next Public Art Talk participation was racing out on Saturday morning 21 February to Baycourt X Space for a day of listening and learning.
PUBLIC ART TALKS SATURDAY SPEAKING PROGRAMME
It’s considered inappropriate these days to comment on the appearance of public presenters. Too bad; the style and presentation of all the presenters involved in the Saturday Public Art Talks was outstanding. Not only did everyone look amazing they were all so good to listen too. I who had been concerned I may drop off to sleep prompted by post ARTbop alternative launch fatigue had to only stifle one small yawn. Congratulations to all the speakers, organisers and volunteers. It was one of the best forums I’ve been to in ages and enjoyed by me as much as the earlier Kageyama talks and workshop on urban design and community engagement organised by Creative Tauranga.
First up at 9.30am was a panel discussion chaired by Sonya Korohina.
Public artist Regan Gentry spoke first to an extensive power point portfolio of his work. Regan showed the entrance to the tyre shop that never happened. A large snaking arch made up of used tyres. Dunedin City Council “turned a blind eye” to that pop-up project on the basis it was eventually removed. Bread seagulls in a Wellington park. Inner-Wellington offices cajoled to spell out words with their night-lit windows. ARRGHT in lights just under the surface of the Wellington Harbour water. Wire trees outside Te Papa. A giant tied bouquet of stainless steel plants in Christchurch. Some stone “not teeth” on the Dunedin shoreline. A sculptural facade on Waiheke of the Rocky Bay Store. A multi-striped Papatoetoe RSA and some “trees” created from recycled wood. It was a great visual show of Regan’s talent. If you think there are too many superlatives in this articles, too bad, Regan’s work is so good and so diverse. The presentation was indicative of what public art could be and what can be achieved by public art.
Regan has succeeded in obtaining the commission for two enormous public art works for the new Eastern Link (a new major coastal roadway from Tauranga down into the Eastern Bay of Plenty). This is not at all surprising when you see the scale and diversity of his other public art works. One of the proposed sculptures is “loosely based on a pa site” and references the nearby regional park. It’s 130 metres (long I think). The other, referencing the Papamoa beach, is a giant spinifex. Regan said he had “a healthy budget to play with”. The budget has been provided by the New Zealand Transport Agency (who also fundraised for this aspect of the project). I can’t wait to see the finished sculptures.
Regan’s talk reminded me of the importance of engaging and educating the community about public art projects. When I first read about what he was proposing I thought “oh yeah”. When I’d seen the scale of the proposals and the quality of his other works I was hooked and waiting to see the final outcomes. Same thing happened when I finally found out what The Hairy Maclary Waterfront Sculpture Project really entailed. I went from “what a lot of money for a little dog statue” to WOW and a supporter of the project when I discovered the number of individual statues in the sculpture grouping, their quality and style and realised the visitor significance of this unique project.
Simone Anderson, one of the founders of The Incubator at the Historic Village and an artist and art teacher made her presentation next. Simone provided personal background and like Regan, used images (and music) to confirm and explain the value of art in public spaces. From her initial involvement in an arts project in a low decile Northland school Simone was asked to project manage and create a public space mural based on that school art work. There was an overall-clad Simone with vibrantly painted large wall panels. Simone didn’t paint them by herself; the whole point of Simone’s talk was how as word of the creation of the mural panels spread throughout the community all sorts of people were drawn to the project and contributed their time, talent and energy in all sorts of ways. The creation of what must be a community and tourist attraction was, as a project, an exercise in community social interaction, participation and co-operation.
The final speaker in this initial forum was Tracey Williams of the Auckland City Council’s POP project – “connecting people and places to each other”. “POP is a design platform for temporary public art projects”. Wonderful images:a staircase up in the branches of one of those majestic Moreton Bay fig trees in Albert Park, a pollen garden and urban hives; pasture paintings – differential lawn plantings; lunchtime concerts by music students; informational walks and talks by Prince Davis of Ngati Whatua; the Whiteface Crew – improbably dressed as large pot plants and flowers “performing”/ walking through areas of potential conflict – like the Britomart Railway Station.
This bird-like, New York style woman with beautiful, long-fingered gesticulating hands stresses the importance of art-educating the community. How the process must start at school. The need for educative outreach. How the story of a project must be told. How in Auckland they have used apps (and that men are the largest user of the app)
Then we are asked if we’ve heard about the furore about the POP penis, the West Auckland phallic hanging over a public thoroughfare. The viral photograph, the complaints about “public money”. (Having recently had to look twice at the partly finished Dippie mural on Harrington House I accept that interpretation is in the eye of the beholder.) The West Auckland incident reinforced two important aspects of public art: tell people the costs and make sure there are development stories and on-going engagement with the project. Ironically a noticeable cost was dealing with the public complaints. And in daylight did the wire shape supporting the essentially neon installation look like a penis – well yes, but for me it was in the would I care basket.
I couldn’t hear the first question from a woman at the front of the X Space but I think I heard Western Bays Councillor Margaret Murray-Benge ask about where the money would come from for Public Art and the cost of the East Link sculptures.
It seems the NZ Transport Agency fundraised for the Regan Gentry sculptures for the Eastern Link. Marc Spijkerbosch had told us Rotorua District Council sets aside an amount equivalent to 1% of the annual public works expenditure for public art. Later in the day we heard Auckland City central ratepayers pay a special rate which is spent only in their area for urban renewal design projects.
Chairperson and lead organiser of the Public Art Talks Sonya Korohina was a relaxed and professional panel chairwoman. I hope you can tell from what I’ve written how impressed I was by these three speakers and how much I learned from and enjoyed their presentations. In a nutshell; public art is good for people.
And again, that is essentially what Peter Kageyama was telling us in his Creative Tauranga organised forums. What I liked about Kageyama was that he was also promoting small, independent initiatives by anyone in the community wishing to engage with their environment.
DESIGN CHAMPION AUCKLAND COUNCIL: Ludo Campbell-Reid
“In recent years Auckland has shown an ambition which rivals other major cities. The changes have been dramatic and quick….Auckland is becoming a design-led city … and Auckland Council’s Design Champion is Ludo Campbell-Reid”
Campbell-Reid opened his power point presentation with a series of international before and after comparative urban images – Oxford Circus, Glasgow’s waterfront, Melbourne, Bilbao, Barcelona. There’s the park created on the roof-height discontinued American urban railway line; a one kilometre trampoline created on a closed and disused German railway line, the beach created along the Seine in urban Paris replacing a closed motorway link. It’s all inspirational and visually compelling.
There are images of people taking their lives in their hands to cross busy English motorways while the very old and the very young have to walk under the road subway. Essential message – bad design creates risky and dangerous urban situations and endangers urban occupants. There’s comment on the health effects of roading and design: encouraging people to walk. Encouraging communities to engage with each other. Fundamental message repeated throughout the presentation from Campbell-Reid is: get rid of the car. Interestingly Campbell-Reid notes 70% of all retail transactions occur after 5.30pm each day and on Sundays.
We’re shown a series of comparative images of downtown Auckland. They’re tremendous. Areas I know well have been transformed. We are shown the Wynyard Quarter and mass of people on the created green space and gigantic sandpit one weekend day. The no car areas created in inner Auckland Streets. How Quay Street is planned to be transformed. It’s all magical.
Ludo Campbell-Reid is an authoritative and easily listened to presenter. A woman sitting next to me leans over and gushes “isn’t he a wonderful speaker”. I bite my tongue as all of a sudden the dominoes start clunking in my head.
What Campbell-Reid also said was: Auckland is “King” and we need to accept and acknowledge that and use it to our advantage as Tauranga, with Hamilton is part of the “golden triangle”. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to live in Tauranga or Hamilton and travel up to Auckland each day to go to work? At one time I thought that too. But now my understanding of commuter outposts “dormitory towns” elsewhere is that while rapid rail gives potential access to city-based jobs the dormitory town loses out big-time during the day. The energy of the community is reduced, daily spending occurs outside the dormitory town, Dads, Mums, Nanas, Granpas, Koros and Nannies can’t leave work for an hour or two for school activities. People leave home in the dark and come home in the dark. So sorry Ludo, I don’t think that’s a great idea. My idea of what’s good for New Zealand is that activities are devolved out of Auckland and into the regional centres so that real communities continue to thrive and develop and provide future generations with something resembling the New Zealand way of life.
What do I think about all those people walking around in the created cobbled walkways and the mass of people playing on the Wynyard Quarter – well Ludo as you said, the building of highrise apartment blocks primarily to cater for international students and the intensification of city dwellers of all sorts required that something be provided. Otherwise, hello, Auckland would have a significant number of contemporary tenements; Antipodean Gorbels? What is being done in Inner City Auckland is giving people who don’t have one a flavour of a “backyard”. You’ve seen pictures of major cities overseas with high-density inner urban populations, taking coffee on the sidewalks, having picnics in parks, exercising in the square, holding family gatherings in public open spaces – they generally do that because they don’t have their own space or their own garden. That’s what now happens in Auckland.
The development of Inner City Auckland has been and is funded by a targeted special rate which raises about $20million per annum and is spent only in the area in which it is raised. And that’s when I had my biggest WTF moment about this presentation – what’s being done in terms of urban design and development in deepest Clendon, the back of Manurewa, the no-man’s land of South Auckland? On one of the power point images I see there are a number of geographically segregated plans and initiatives. There’s a Southern Initiative. Ludo mentions how they’ll be doing something in the South in Pukekohe. Pukekohe if you don’t know is the centre of horticulture in the Auckland region and is about as representative of South Auckland as a Porsche is of a bicycle (second-hand).
So while the mellifluous Ludo continues his presentation I’m thinking; the Inner City Auckland development is funded by a geographically specific and geographically targeted special rate (Ludo says Tauranga should have one too). It’s a co-operation between business and the Council. It’s about business, money and tourism.
I don’t flap my little flipper in question time – after all Campbell-Reid is here about Tauranga (that subservient little part of the “golden triangle”) I wait until the presentation is concluded and bounce on up to X Space stage and express my concerns directly to Ludo. I mention I’ve noticed there’s a Southern Initiative (he tells me there’s central government funding involved) I ask when it’s going to start/happen as I figure most of the current population will be dead before any design initiative occurs. When I ask if the Southern Initiative has a written plan, Ludo tells me yes and he’ll send me “the link”. No it hasn’t shown up and I’m not holding my breath.
I read that Tauranga City Council is to spend a further $12.5million “on the waterfront”. Mainstreet has also proposed closing the lower section of Wharf Street and creating an “eat street” Um? $12.5 spent in the suburbs could dramatically improve the quality of some Tauranga areas; it could be the seed funding for a major concert venue located to attract users from the Waikato; it could be the seed funding for a locally focused Museum (go and see the Whakatane Library, Museum and Exhibition Space). Fiddling about on the waterfront isn’t going to change or improve the hinterland retail streets of Downtown Tauranga.
[If you’re interested in how urban design has been going in London take a look at the tragi-comic letter/article by Ian Martin in The Guardian (UK) of Tuesday 24 February 2015 “The City that privatised itself to death: London is now a set of improbable sex toys poking gormlessly into the air” and “Privatised London: the Thames Path Walk that resembles a prison corridor” Also in the same edition of The Guardian (UK)
Clutching my Public Art Talks luncheon voucher I eventually run down to “The Dry Dock” say hello to the fabulous Sandra and gobble salad leaves and one of Dry Dock’s mini bacon-wrapped Quiche (Tracey Rudduck-Gudsell and her table-sharers have already gleefully eaten all the filo pastry pies) There’s only time to eat half my mile-high icing rich mini carrot cake. The rest is put into a bag for me to take away and it’s back to the afternoon session.
SENSE OF PLACE – the contribution of Maori narrative through art
The brochure-promised participation of the inimitable Buddy Mikaere does not eventuate and sitting at the end of the panel is award-winning artist Tawhai Rickard. This session is chaired by Art + Body Gallery, Mt Maunganui, owner and artist Julie Paama-Pengelly. The other panel members are Antoine Coffin of Te Onewa Consultants and the seemingly Afro-American Tracey Tawhiao.
This is a very interesting panel discussion not just for us as the local community but because Tauranga is, and is increasingly, an international visitor entry point. I agree with the statement made:
“that Maori art represents the uniqueness of New Zealand and there should be
a shared vision for contemporary Maori art in public places”
No I don’t think all art in public places should be “Maori art” but I do believe there is a doorway to showcase contemporary Maori art (both publically and through private galleries such as Art + Body). I think it is also time to acknowledge that there is contemporary Maori (and Pacifica) art which irrespective of its references is art which should be considered in all categories of public art.
There was a discussion about process issues involved in the development of public art and the different expectations of individual artists. The juxtaposition of a formal transactional arrangement between the artist and the commissioning/purchasing organisation and a creative requiring engagement and emotional participation from both the commissioning organisation and the surrounding local community. Having heard Marc Spijkerbosch speak it was clear that this latter issue is not a Maori artist issue, it’s a real issue for community transformational public art.
The associated power point presentation noted six issues regarding the Tauranga Public Art Policy including: that Maori participation is integral to the policy; that the policy supports expression at all levels of the community; there is diverse funding to ensure a long-term strategy; there is a comprehensive approach to support sustainable public art; there is a dynamic view of Maori art which considers the changing nature of art and there is recognition of the role of Maori in public art and Tauranga’s on-going identity.”
It’s not possible to refer to this section without again commenting on the professionalism and personal presentation of the speakers. Julie Paama-Pengelly was an excellent chair. The charisma, style and enthusiasm of Tracey Tawhiao just radiated off the stage glowing over the quiet character of Tawhai Rickard and the professionalism of Antoine Coffin.
LET’S TALK PUBLIC ART
This afternoon session was superbly chaired by Stephanie Chalmers, Curator The University of Waikato with presenters Jo Bond, Tauranga Arts Festival Director and Tania Short Senior Policy Advisor to the Rotorua District Council.
Tania hit the nail right on the head “policy is not enough” it needs people/councillors to stand behind the policy and drive it and make it happen. There also needs to be measurable, definable outcomes because a public arts policy is part of a political process. Tania noted it is important not to under-budget and not to try to work at speed.
Tania noted that a public arts trust similar to Mesh in Hamilton is being considered for Rotorua. From my notes I gather the trustees of Mesh are the independent funding arm of an essentially Council based policy.
Tania outlined the current Rotorua process. Rotorua has the Rotorua Public Arts Trust which comprises “the arts community” and the Council. A Councillor with an arts portfolio responsibility is at every meeting. There is also a Council Public Arts Officer (Spijkerbosch I presume).
My understanding is that individual Rotorua Council infrastructure departments provide a brief for the art work required for a particular site or area formally under their control/responsibility. Tania noted that the time frame often provided by the instructing Council department could make the process pressured.
Expressions of interest are called for. There is a required presentation process including an interview by a three person panel. There is a process timeline, milestones and transparency of process is an issue. Once commissioned there is a contractual relationship between the creator and the Council.
This was another excellently chaired forum with insightful contributions by the Chair and the presenters. I have focused on the comments by Tania Short for the simple reason that she was outlining a territorial authority process and experience. Jo Bond is employed by a Charitable Trust, Stephanie Chalmers by a university, a private enterprise.
From this forum and the following questions it was clear that the important issue for a territorial authority funding public art is the need for something more than a “policy”. From the floor it was noted that the Tauranga Council needs a strategic plan and a process. One speaker noted the need for transparency in all processes.
My overwhelming conclusion from this forum was that the most vital and directive part of the entire process, transparent or not, was the establishment of the “brief” for any particular project. In his presentation Regan Gentry referred to how his submission for the Eastern Link project complied with the requirements of the NZ Land Transport brief for the site. This is an entirely different creative public art process than Gentry’s original tyre sculpture (and other early public art projects) which was his creation from his inspiration and his perception of a site.
From my perspective as a community member the power to determine what is on any site as public art is therefore in the hands of the creators of the brief rather than any informal group established to choose the creator of the work within terms of an already established brief. I’m reminded of that quotation “He who pays the piper calls the tune”. Regan Gentry is creating the physical appearance of the tune requested by the NZ Land Transport Authority. Nothing wrong with that so long as we the public know that is how the process is working?
HANNAH WILSON & STEWART SHEPHERD wrap up the day
Stewart Shepherd of Bay of Plenty Polytechnic’s Creative Design Degree Course and Hannah Wilson, Tauranga Art Gallery Public Programmes Officer, contributed individual comments on the days proceedings. Stewart stresses the need for transparency. He is asked from the floor by Carol Bisset, how the students inform the community of the ongoing processes involved in the creation of their work and art . We are told the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic will host interested individuals to open sessions . Having been silent all day I note that ARTbop alternative as a component of ARTbop has been established to provide an avenue and a forum for the alternative and younger creatives to communicate their ideas and processes to the wider community.
(I later followed up this aspect with questioner Carol Bisset. My understanding is that she was concerned with the narrative of the creation as much as the completed work. As we stood by a variety of student created finished works with their accompanying explanatory statements in tiny, unreadable print, Bisset made it clear she was more interested in seeing how and why what now sat before us had been achieved. What the avenues and processes available to the students to communicate are.)
Hannah Wilson prefaces her comments with how she felt on arriving in Tauranga at finding what was not here. She notes that we need to listen to the children’s voices. I empathise with her initial comments and agree with the second statement.
A particularly useful and informative day concludes. More than well organised and a credit to the organisers in bringing together such a diverse speaking programme.
I’ve mentioned that several Councillors were at The Incubator for the Spijkerbosch talk I was disappointed that there were no Councillors present for the Baycourt X Space forums day. I’ve noted Margaret Murray-Benge who was there for the initial panel session but I didn’t see any other territorial authority elected member there at all. I appreciate the commitments Councillors have on their time, and that the Council apparently earlier in the week received a presentation from Ludo Campbell-Reid but I was disappointed they didn’t hear the other presentations. I was also disappointed by the comparatively small numbers of people attending the Saturday sessions; I expected the place to be packed out as this is an important issue for Tauranga. I’ll be interested to read the summary of submissions to the Tauranga City Council Draft Public Art Policy. Does wider Tauranga really care about urban design and public art or should Hannah Wilson and I buy our bus tickets back to Auckland?