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Public art and the city

07 Sep 2017

Public art and the city Image

By Chelsea Cucinotta

How does public art behave? How important is community understanding of art? How do we give voices to contemporary constructions of indigenous story?

These were just some of the questions posed at the public forum Public Art and the City: creating meaning by disrupting the everyday and enhancing the human experience, held by the City of Melbourne in association with the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) on August 19.

Five key speakers presented their own experiences with public art on the night, each with unique perspectives from different fields and domains.

Speakers included Monash University Museum of Art director Charlotte Day, City of Melbourne city design and projects director Rob Adams, curator and public art strategist for Southbank Vaari Claffey and Greenaway Architects director Jefa Greenaway.

Questions of audience and community in local, international and indigenous contexts were debated, as well as the potential for public art to facilitate a dialogue.

According to Jefa Greenaway, the discourse that public art invites has the ability to “re-colonise the city, and understand the importance of place”. Indigenous stories function as lungs of the city, as they are “infused and embedded in (their) DNA”. He said these stories were not homogenous, but rather specific to place.

Charlotte Day addressed the symbolic nature of sculptures and installations both within her work environment and extended to the removal of monuments in the US.

In this way, public art spaces were described as both temporal and permanent, due to their ever-changing nature.

Prof Adams applied this concept to Melbourne’s own City Square, which initially had no grass, but with feedback, was later adapted to suit the needs of the community.

“People can always re-enter the debate,” he said.

To close, the panel re-centred the discussion to the upcoming Southbank Boulevard transformation, before inviting questions from the audience.

Prof Adams believed that parts of the Arts Precinct had been lost in the mental map of Melbourne and hoped that the new project would function as an anchor in creating a consistency of feel in the area.

Vaari Claffey spoke of the need for an informality and deregulation of space in the precinct, with the panel agreeing that too many of the institutions in the area were internalised.

The Southbank Boulevard project will run through various artistic, residential low-rise and high-rise Southbank communities and is due for completion in 2020.

Prof Adams highlighted the particularly interactive nature of the project and importance of community in public art in general. For the upcoming development, “our budget is your budget,” he said.

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