This may come as a surprise, so sit down tight on your Dick Frizzell cushion or Peter Lange ampersand seat: I think that the Auckland Council - or at least, certain pockets of it - may actually be turning its arts policy into reality.
The council's main arts goal is the integration of arts and culture into our everyday lives. This is my most favourite aim; a refreshing alternative to an introverted arts world. But as I ranted three months ago, the draft arts action plan contained no actual actions. Ergo, the goal seemed a mere fancy and conceit. But, as it turns out, people were already injecting art into the quotidian, not waiting for a committee-approved generic method, but experimenting with pilot initiatives and "thinking by doing", as Tracey Williams from the council's Arts and Culture Unit puts it.
In particular, the Waitemata Local Board retired its annual $100,000 Living Room public art series - excellent but only catering to a limited community - and this year funded "Pop projects" instead, aiming to please a wider audience.
Ten Pop projects this year included beehives at Victoria Park, a history hikoi, and a three-day public staircase wrapped around one of Albert Park's Moreton Bay fig trees.
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People were asked to look at their city in a new way; as an urban forest, for example.
The latest project opened last Saturday. Hauora Garden has transformed the hitherto unused backyard of Ponsonby's Studio One Toi Tu (the old Artstation). Bricks in the garden create a plant cell diagram; clay seats representing mitochondria are to come. The garden's plants were chosen by artists Richard Orjis and A.D. Schierning because of their stories. Parahebe jovellanoides - a humble little plant with a big name - was discovered as late as 2007 in Riverhead Forest. Who knows what remains unknown to science within the supercity's limits?
On the other hand, nau or Captain Cook's scurvy grass is a peppery cress which was added to soup to give ships' crews their vitamin C. And kumarahou flowers were once called "gumdiggers soap", because the flowers can clean sticky sap off skin, while Maori also simmer its dry leaves and drink the resulting bitter syrup as a bronchial medicine.
On opening day we were treated to a short unannounced performance by artist John Vea. Wearing balaclavas and singing, he and two others unloaded hessian sacks of plaster "urban taro", cast from road cones, in neat rows on the cobblestones, as if they were sowing a garden. Vea's work highlights often invisible immigrant labour in New Zealand's food and roads industries. Afterwards, small children spontaneously turned the work into something else, having fun weaving their way through the "taro".
Pop is art as experience, says Williams. It's not art as a crystallised individual expression of self. "We're not wheeling out artists' work, and looking for a marketing campaign to get people to gather around the thing."
Instead, Pop projects take art outside, to the people. The pilot has been successful and future Pop planning is under way.