Geoffrey Cotton, Clunes
The Disco Dong (aka The Giant [email protected]¶kup, Tinseltown Tower etc) is dead.
Is public art in Byron shire now dead, too? Do we want this? If not, how can we move forward?
Letters writers have identified some of the reasons this project fizzled, such as the rushed decision-making by Public Art Panel members and lax oversight by council officers.
But there is a more fundamental reason.
Our main problem is that Byron’s public art model isn’t appropriate for our shire’s arts budget, physical environment and culture. It’s a ‘big city’ model, developed to favour ‘big art’ in a few locations and requiring a big budget. But we’re a shire of towns and villages with a pissant council art budget and an everyone-have-a-say approach to making significant (and small) decisions.
The current model is based on the idea that by setting prescriptive policies and guidelines and by using a committee to manage public art, somehow we’ll end up with excellence. It was never going to happen – you can’t regulate for exciting art.
How can we address this mess? Crucially, Council must avoid the temptation to become even more cautious and prescriptive. Ditch the timid big-city Public Art Strategy, the restrictive policies and guidelines and the Public Art Panel mechanism, all of which strangle creativity. Replace these with a brief set of principles and a dedicated part-time on-the-ground facilitator (not a ‘curator’) whose job is to actively encourage and support the creation and placement of artworks throughout the shire.
Create physical platforms around the shire where local artists can have their work installed for three or six month periods, and pay them for doing so.
Encourage well-heeled locals to fund the creation of significant sculptures in public-facing locations on their rural properties. Make it easy for private benefactors to loan works for public display.
Above all, we must be bold.
Make Byron’s public art different, make it visible, make it everywhere.
Free the beast!