Sonya Korohina: The council needs to act now (+poll)

By Sonya Korohina


It has been announced by Tauranga City Council that street artist Owen Dippie will install 15 giant spray-painted murals in the CBD.

The council will contribute $2200 of funding towards the first mural, followed by $30,000 in 2014 from a non-rates funded parking account.

I have no issue with Owen Dippie personally, he is a technically talented artist.

But I'm concerned that, because Tauranga has no public art policy, this project could proceed with no artistic input from the community or any thought as to how these works sit within our overall urban landscape.

Do Renaissance copies tell the stories of our region?

Do we really want to be known as another mural town?

You only have to look north to see how a failure to implement a public art policy can cause problems years later.

In 1993, Auckland City Council, with no public art policy, approved a Women's Suffrage memorial in Khartoum Place, across the road from the Auckland Art Gallery.

This happened on the whim of a single councillor without any consideration of how the artwork fitted into the overall urban design, public art and heritage scheme for the city.

Certainly no thought was paid to what would happen should the work no longer be required.

In 2011, this ad hoc decision came home to roost when the Auckland Art Gallery was unable to relocate the memorial and install a grand entrance to its newly renovated building.

Arts commentator Hamish Keith led the charge for the memorial's removal, calling it "a memorial doubling as a urinal". But the "urinal" remains in place today.

Public art is hot right now.

Everyone is doing it. It's revived the Christchurch art scene.

With the earthquake destroying or damaging most of the city's galleries, people have had to rethink how they present art.

As a result, art is no longer solely the domain of the traditional gallery or white cube space.

Instead it is on the street in public spaces and has an everyday engagement with the community.

One new initiative is the Christchurch City Council funded group, Gap Filler.

It works with property owners and available outdoor space.

Last year Gap Filler ran a project called Cycle-Powered cinema.

Located on the site of a former bike shop, members of the public rode stationary bicycles that generated power to project the film.

What I love about this project was that not only did the work have a meaningful connection with the site, it also built on the sense of community that has grown in Christchurch - people working collectively to make something happen.

What most cities in New Zealand have in common is a public art policy.

A public art policy is an important guideline and measure to ensure that public works are developed in accordance with a city's vision of what their public spaces should look like, how they are used, the type of artworks and historical sculptures that tell the stories of the area.

It also ensures that proper consultation and financial support is met prior to commission.

In March, Creative Tauranga's report to the Tauranga City Council encouraged the council to "continue developing a Public Art Policy along the lines of Western Bay of Plenty District Council Public Art Policy, which would assist to implement other strategies in the region".

In response, the council said: "A policy is not required and that the current ad hoc approach is working well and will continue to be the approach."

The council needs to act now.

Let's hope new chief executive Gary Poole, who oversaw the strategic investment in Wellington's events and social infrastructure, moves this issue to the top of his to-do list. Fast.

Otherwise we might end up with a urinal-type fiasco in our hands.

Sonya Korohina has spent the past decade project managing exhibitions at Artspace, the Auckland Art Gallery and Elam School of Fine Arts. She is now a Tauranga-based arts manager.


- Bay of Plenty Times

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