Hamilton City Council is painting a more detailed picture about public art installations with the development of two draft policies which would guide future decisions on new statues and sculptures in the city.
The Permanent Public Art Policy and The Monuments and Memorial Art Policy are drafted to guide decisions around public art installations and have been created in co-operation with key stakeholders, iwi and hapu.
The policies come after the council removed the controversial statue of Captain Hamilton from Civic Square last June after complaints it represents cultural disharmony and oppression.
Both new draft policies aim to provide more clarity around what public art is, along with a better process for accepting and installing artwork, memorials, and monuments. Last Tuesday, the two drafts were presented to a HCC community committee meeting.
Community committee chairman councillor Mark Bunting said he supported the draft policies, which could help the council to avoid future ad-hoc decisions around public art.
"Artwork is a great way for us to tell our city's stories and we want to make sure we're telling those stories fairly. Over the past year there's been a lot of discussion around art and memorials, not just in Hamilton, but around the world. We have an opportunity to lead by example with our policy - but first, we need to hear what our community want to see happen."
The draft policies propose to establish an art panel to review and make recommendations around new artwork suggestions. The panel would look at maintenance requirements, engineering and construction, and cultural appropriateness of future installations.
Council acknowledges there is currently a lack of guidance to decision makers on how to assess the cultural appropriateness of public art. The adoption of the policies would allow more structured conversations and therefore more informed decisions.
Another subject of the policies is to establish a taskforce to deal with existing public art that has caused significant upset to community members - like the Captain Hamilton statue. The taskforce would be made up of council staff, elected members, Māori representation and other relevant experts who would review the artwork in question.
The draft policies say that council wants to ensure that the stories of Hamilton is told in a culturally sensitive and inclusive way. For that, the drafts propose that memorials and monuments will be managed with a greater emphasis on consultation and community engagement.
In July 2017 the council first discussed the design of a Dame Hilda Ross statue, originally planned to be located in front of Hamilton Starbucks in Worley Place. The statue was part of a whole plaza redevelopment in honour of Dame Hilda, proposed by TOTI (Theatre of the Impossible) heritage trust at a cost of $50,000.
Back then, councillor Rob Pascoe raised concerns about a quirky design being controversial. "In art terms, quirky means controversial. Many artworks in Hamilton are target of vandalism now, because they are considered controversial," he said.
The design by Tim Elliot under the name Where Health Joins Hands With Happiness depicted Dame Hilda playing the piano for children at the Port Waikato Children's health camp. The statue and renaming of the area to Dame Hilda Ross Way was approved by council, with TOTI paying for the statue and the council to contribute $50,000 for the plaza development.
But in March 2018 council funding was removed and design ended up being cancelled due to the high cost.
A new statue, designed by Matt Gauldie was instead installed in Garden Place and unveiled in November last year. The new statue shows Dame Hilda in Parliament, with one hand holding a copy of the 1919 Act allowing women to become MPs.
To avoid future complications like that in regards to public art, the new draft policies include some criteria that a new monument or memorial proposal would have to meet to be accepted. For example having a high artistic merit, being structurally sound and tell the story in an inclusive manner.
Narratives around monuments and memorials must be independently researched before approval to ensure that any depiction represents a fair and accurate account.
Council's current Permanent Public Art Process was adopted in 2012 and last reviewed in 2016.
A council staff report presented to the community committee says: "Issues with the current Permanent Public Art Process have involved political and reputational risk [...]. Council wishes to continue encouraging and supporting the development of
quality public art in the city while working with the community to resolve these issues."
Hamiltonians have the opportunity to give feedback on both policies between June 7 and July 9. Community views will be heard at the Hearings and Engagement Committee on July 28.
You can find the draft policies in the Council Agenda here on page 80.