Daniel Clifford's Spirit Level took shape in an Otahuhu carpark, where two glass artists helped the public blow 1660 coloured glass orbs over the course of three weeks. When complete, the work will hang as the centrepiece of the suburb's new recreation precinct, which includes a library.
The description of the piece reads: "The precinct project is the manifestation of 'breathing new life' into Otahuhu. It is proposed that the very breath of the individuals who make up Otahuhu as a community are engaged and involved in the creation of this piece."
Creating an aspirational symbol of where it is hoped a place will lead to - a symbol emphasising unity and optimism - is one way artists can inspire people. Increasingly though, the job of the artist is not just to help us dream but to attempt urgent repairs to our communities in the hope that one day dreaming might become possible.
Recent visitor Mary Jane Jacob, a curator and educator from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, spoke of public art as a 20th-century invention that hoped to help maintain a vibrant society in the face of increasing urban drift and industrialisation.
Unsurprisingly, it has fallen short of this lofty goal. Yet at the latest of the council's Auckland Conversations series, Jacob emphasised the continuing need for public art to be available to everyone, and useful to them too.
It raises this question: what does work that fulfils this remit look like in our increasingly unequal society?
Does it look like Spirit Level - beautiful objects placed at the new heart of a community where an overwhelming 85 per cent of households live on the bottom three rungs of the deprivation ladder, or do Otahuhu's people need something more urgent? The examples of art that Jacob pointed to looked more like work-training schemes or communes than anything else. The Pruitt-Igoe Bee Sanctuary was one. It's an inner city apiary in St Louis, Missouri, where painter Juan William Chavez teaches residents beekeeping in the urban forest where a notorious housing project once stood.
It might have left some who had come along to hear a talk about murals and sculpture a little baffled. "Do you have any social problems?" the exasperated Chicago curator yelled to the audience.
Unfortunately, the night was not the best reflection of the range of work being done here, much of it addressing precisely these problems through creating cashless systems of exchange.
In 2012 at the Mangere Arts Centre, the Seek Collective of James F. Ormsby, Bill Riley and Dion Hitchens swapped 1565 original drawings for children's clothing to be donated to families in the area.
This year, the Letting Space collective will establish another Transitional Economic Zone of Aotearoa (Teza) in Porirua. It's a play on the special economic zones offering looser regulation to multinational companies so they can operate more efficiently. But at Teza visiting artists find ways of operating with a community, hoping to give more than they take.
What these works are saying is that art can only resume its traditional role once the health of society has been restored. Otherwise it could end up becoming a pleasant distraction from reality.