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Byron Shire
February 24, 2024

Disco Dong’s legacy lives on in ‘lessons learned’ for Byron Council

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Byron’s ‘Disco Dong’ sculpture will soon be removed from its throne on the Bayshore Dr roundabout, but its legacy looks set to live on for decades as a result of changes to Council’s public art policy.

A report to come before next week’s Public Art Panel meeting sets out a range of new guidelines for the future commissioning and construction of public art installations, many of which have been drawn directly from the ill-fated experience of the Dong. 

The lighthouse sculpture on the Bayshore Drive roundabout. Photo: Jeff Dawson

‘It’s been driven by learnings taken from The Lighthouse project which has given us lived experience of some of the pitfalls in the public art space, particularly where the community has strong opinions,’ the art panel’s chair, Sarah Ndiaye said.

‘Staff have done a thorough examination of best practice in other areas across Australia, a literature review of commissioning both in regional and metro areas, and comparisons with other NSW councils.

‘As Chair I will be listening to feedback from the panel, but in principal this is what we have been asking for and I look forward to integrating some of key learning experiences into the revised document.’

Among the suggested new guidelines is a rule stating that local artists should be given greater weighting when considering expressions of interest for future projects.

The selection of a Melbourne artist for the Bayshore Drive project drew significant criticism from some residents, with a number suggesting a work from a local artist would have been more in keeping with the Shire’s character.

The need to take note of views such as these was recognised in a recommendation that the guidelines include greater scope for community consultation when deciding on major public art projects, particularly in prominent locations.

The report also recommends more rigour when it comes to ensuring that what an artist delivers is in keeping with what is promised in the original concept.

This would be done through regular reporting requirements and a commissioning contract based on a model developed by the Arts Law Centre of Australia.

Cr Ndiaye said she believed the proposed guidelines were workable .

‘Many I believe are crucial to improving our processes in relation to integrating public art into the community successfully,’ she said.

The full list of proposed guidelines can be viewed here.

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  1. I don’t see any acknowledgement or respect given to the artist himself , in this article, nor of the suffering imposed upon them as consequence of this experience. Restiution/compensation to the artist to suppotr ttheir mental health should be made by BSC for the 100% responsiblity. The artists legacy (in this specific instance) could well be these guidelines which is some legacy indeed – well done.
    Thanks for including a link to the guidelines, Echo team. God these documents have a whole lot of waffle! This is the sink hole the money disappears down – councils meetings themselves. But, to the guidelines themselves – looks good. I didn’t see the word indigenous anywhere, which was disturbing. But ‘local and australian content’ and ‘community consultation’ should hopefully (hopefully!) have that glaring, verging on offensive, ommission covered

    • Well said and your concern for the artist is a welcome surprise. It’s extremely rare for any artists to experience that in a career which, for all artists, will probably contain orders of magnitude more rejections than people on virtually any other career path could imagine. For the artist, whatever doesn’t kill them helps them learn and grow.

  2. Rachel Coorabell should be paying me for the pain I incurred in having to drive past it every day. The artist should also sling me some dosh for causing traffic jams as tourists had their WTF moment. The Bloke who stopped suddenly as it came into view should also pay me for new brake linings. The council should be paying me back on a prorata basis for the loss of rates money to fix my potholes.

    Yup. let’s pay for everything and whatever we do, not take personal responsibility. After all, it’s worked so far hasn’t it?

  3. No one is accountable for this debacle. Just more talk, meetings and reviews. Rate payers money has been wasted. Does the council pay these bureaucrats to learn as you go on the job? In this process, nothing has been learnt and just adds credence to the fact that many feel we have a vey incompetent leadership in our Council.

  4. Having run an art college for many years, public art was often front and centre of our agenda. Good art demands contemplation, its own space but not in the middle of the road.
    Aesthetically, the sculpture had its moments so surely the artist should have been given the respect of allowing the work to be viewed?
    Preferencing local artists? Come on, this is not the local show! The rate payer’s money should support the best. If Council is happy to outsource resources from outside the shire, the same rule should be applied to art.

  5. How about we get a decent roads policy. My rates have quadrupled and I’ve still got the same crap road home despite the rhetoric.

    ‘Nature’ is the art of Byron Shire. Let artists make their way and be acknowledged for their fine work … but how about Council sticks the the three R’s for awhile … Roads, rates & rubbish – and protecting the environment !

  6. It’s really heartless of the echo to keep calling this sculpture the ‘DD’. By all accounts the artist in question has suffered immensley from the ongoing social media onslaught. The Echo, usually so eager to virtue signal, should be mindful of the effects of online bullying on mental health and be doing their best not to contribute, even indirectly.

  7. The fact that a local artist should have been given greater consideration and that more care should have been taken “when it comes to ensuring that what an artist delivers is in keeping with what is promised in the original concept” is something that was learned from this experience? Jesus, seems like pretty basic stuff that should have been first considerations … but I’m no rocket scientist …

  8. “Learnings taken”, “listening to feedback”, “best practice”, “lived experience” – Sarah Ndiaye and Byron Council you are an embarassment.
    If I went to Council seeking approval for a development, you would throw everything at me to satisfy your requirements and process. Most obviously traffic reports, structural reports, environmental impact reports, etc etc. Then as a school teacher with the red pen, you would challenge what you don’t like and call for more supporting documents before giving the tick of approval – or rejection. Why doesn’t this apply to you? You have contributed to the next episode of Utopia.

  9. I think this article should republished on front page world news everywhere. It’s really the most important thing happening not just this week… this year.
    Zimbabwe comes to terms today with the miserable legacy of a murderous regime lasting 40 years.. Hong Kong is expecting to be crushed by communist dictators and men in Byron are killing themselves faster than ever before… but you go Byron bubble.

  10. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a sculpture done by an indigenous artist.
    Perhaps with a garden.
    I could think of no better welcome to Byron Bay.

  11. It is an indisputable fact that the DD in no way fulfilled the crude sketch or materials intentions which Council approved. The artist should have cost his materials before engaging in the contract – substituting aluminium for stainless steel (of which there are many varieties, of varying suitability for long-term, outdoor use) in itself makes it unbelievable that Council would so willingly cut him a cheque for the full amount. The end result certainly was a ‘Discount Dong’ at best.

    How many artists, sculptors and arts installation experts live in this shire? To debate whether Council should consider using local artists for a project of this size is absurd. OF COURSE.

    Ditto wondering if Council ought to have sought community input before plunging into the DD deal. OF COURSE.

    Do you see a pattern emerging here? ‘Mercado at Byron’ bears little resemblance to the artist’s conception of the building which was used to get the DA passed.

    And does the upmarket, trendy facade of the soon to be built hotel complex in any way reflect the character of this town – beloved by all Australia as a kind of holiday ideal? Metal and glass, soulless slick and ‘modern’ ? I hope no one comes to town to sell us a foreign-owned coal mine….

  12. Why not a local indigenous artist. Maybe a wonderful large circular piece that can be viewed from every part of the roundabout. More like it with vibrant kangaroo paws etc garden underneath.

  13. Globally, public sculptures are placed in larger spaces to allow them to exist in their stand alone space, not an intersection tho if the intersection was a real one like the two on the way to Ballina with huge sweeping curves around a large centre space, it could have worked.
    The artist was treated abominably. Stupid limitations of time restrictions of booking the road barricade/safety setup crew probably based on budget and the artists own expected time needed which meant they packed up before he was finished which means all the criticism of the work is based on an unfinished piece.
    I read in the Echo that $100,000 is the budget for an art consultant to be appointed. I hope this is wrong. So one dude who is supposedly an expert will have sole advisory power. No way. The art world is fickle. It is totally different to how normal 9 to 5 people think about beauty in public art.
    And how much public art does one small shire need that justifies 100 grand?
    And another word about public art…if you see the four rusty abstract chunks of metal next to HOTA in a large green space on the Goldy, meaningless, not even aesthetic shapes, then this is what goes as public art, or bronze sheep jumping through the draft chute at Darling Hbr, (wrong location) or bronze pigs and roos in malls in Brisbane and Adelaide, what do you think of any of it?
    If any of the critics had ever entered an actual art gallery they would see works made out of found materials such as plastic cut into strips and woven into huge wall hangings, art can be made out of any materials the artist chooses, so the winge that using aluminium birds was cheapskate rather than using steel, is a furphy. Id rather my car be hit by a flying aluminium bird if one actually did fly off in a wind, than a steel one.
    The original drawing illustrates a shimmer effect. I saw this. If driving in early in summer with the sun shining directly through the sculpture, I saw it just be a mass of scintillation. So that you didnt see the actual structure any more. It was breathtaking. And in general the colours and shades vary daily moment by moment according to light conditions. On a grey day or under blue skies the sculpture reflects the sky looking grey and even black in patches. The sculpture of a lighthouse is about light and it reflects light. Pretty smart if you ask me. There seems to be in the public psyche, an association between tinselly, shiny stuff with superficial cheap and nasty aka the Goldy thus blinding pple to the goal of the artist in making a ”light” house. Most public sculptures all over the world are set in stone or bronze and do not offer this versatility. We are perhaps packing up a Blue Poles as was mentioned in social chat platforms before Oliver Dunne said the same in his piece last week. And to sell off birds to the public is totally disrespectful to the artist who offered to finish it. Give them back to him. Give him the money back. The art neanderthals lining up to buy a bird remind me of lynch mobs in the wild west. Anyone who liked the sculpture in the chatosphere were verbally chewed up and spat out with vitriol and insult. The herd have got their way.

  14. Shamana Marshall
    Respect. I love everything you’ve written. Such striking, visually exciting features you describe suggest to me, as some observants ones have commented (but depressingly few) is that the only issue here is simply the
    BSC chose the wrong location. It’s dangerous to have that kind of impressive visual attraction when we have enough trouble focusing on driving as we must. Nothing to fault the Artist by. Councils fault entirely. In a proper location, where viewers could spend time admiring the work in space, in time, with attention. Oh well Simon, you won’t have your job much longer. Backbenches, or holding cell, or whatever, is next.


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