The handrails of a bridge at the village of Uki in the Tweed Valley, which locals controversially painted in rainbow colours two years ago in memory of a youngster from the area who died at school, could become a permanent public-art installation.
Tweed shire councillors tomorrow will consider a staff recommendation to allow Uki locals to repaint and maintain the handrails of the Kyogle Road bridges at either end of the village as a public art installation memorial, but with a new design incorporating Mount Warning/Wollumbin.
The unauthorised painting of the (Smiths Creek/Kyogle Road) bridge late in 2014 sparked complaints and division in the village with most people favouring the idea, but others against it, saying Uki was ‘not Nimbin’.
As a result, council resolved to paint over the rainbow theme, but the Uki Village and District Residents Association (UKIRA) undertook a survey last year which staff said ‘confirmed strong support for keeping the rainbow bridge (around 70 per cent of respondents), but also significant objections’.
Staff in their report said that as asset owner, the rainbow painting was ‘considered to be inappropriate due to council’s previous stance on graffiti, that this form of roadside tribute was beyond the scope of existing policy and did not relate to a road related incident, and that the rainbow colour scheme was not readily interpreted as a tribute’.
Council consulted with the affected family and the Uki residents association a year ago over options for ‘a suitable alternative memorial to all children lost in the Uki district’ and it was was suggested submissions with new proposals supported by UKIRA be made to the Public Art Reference Group (PARG).
Staff said that UKIRA’s favoured design retained the rainbow colour scheme but in a mountain scape design.
‘While the PARG considered this design to have merit, the asset owner (Roads and Stormwater Unit) did not support the design as there were few material differences between it and the current rainbow painting which has proved to be divisive in the local community.
‘Continued vandalism of the artwork and ongoing pressure from objectors were considered likely,’ staff said in their report.
UKIRA then produced another design (pictured), which retains the mountain scape, but, according to staff, ‘has a more subdued colour scheme’.
UKIRA said that it will fund the initial repainting of the handrails, as well as continued maintenance of the artwork.
Staff said if the residents group failed to maintain the artwork adequately, ‘the Roads and Stormwater Unit reserves to right to remove the artwork and reinstate standard bridge hand railing maintenance’.
Council staff favour adopting the recommendations of the PARG ‘to allow UKIRA to repaint and then maintain the handrails of the Kyogle Road bridges as a public art installation memorial’.
Staff concluded that allowing this would ’resolve a long running issue that has created tension in the local community and risked setting untenable precedents for other similar assets’.