Community Cultural Development

Following on from the previous post on whakapapa (layers of history and stories) and sense of place.

Henderson train station bill boards

illustrated stories of West Auckland, Art work by Dylan Horrocks and Tanja Thompson (Misery)

Artists do a lot of the hard work of pulling together local stories, giving them appropriate and engaging visual or sculptural form for public realm. In many cases public art can be viewed as more like a design problem than like fine art. The final work often combines social considerations and historical research, with artistic skill and practical constraints. To assist with this process The Big Idea website has a page dedicated to community cultural development. It lists artists and organisations and their community projects, various resources, discussions and useful links.

One of the links on this site I found particularly interesting is the story of ARTWORK, an organisation formed in 1979 in a joint effort by the Department of Labour, and Arts Council of Auckland City. (The article was written a few years later by Ian McMillan).
Public art as part of community development was growing in favour. A time of unemployment and recession, it gained popularity as a way to keep people employed, and city spaces maintained. There were bureaucratic checks on artistic quality for the sake of our shared environment, which is better than being bound to one particular person’s sense of taste. For instance developers (or transport engineers), with their own preferences, and non-artistic design criteria having the final say over what will become public art in new developments.

“The importance of understanding art as a process, not just a product, is fostered by ARTWORK through a developing commitment to the idea of public involvement in the arts. Consultation, discussion and involvement are seen as an essential part of the artist’s role.”

ARTWORK seems to have been an earlier promoter of community involvement in the art process in NZ. Proposals for public works of art were open to any form or discipline, but could be specific to needs of a particular audience. Consultation was required, and public participation encouraged, to promote art as a process, rather than an end product – much like Urban Design generally.

The article suggests a shift in attitude from fine art to public art:

“The artists who work on these projects are working for the community, rather than for the sake of art alone. This simple fact narrows the scope and freedom of the artist: but brings a degree of responsibility to the public which can and must affect what the artists are able to do. It is this commitment to the community and the public which makes our schemes distinctly different from grants – which may allow freedom to experiment or develop ideas of artistic importance but no immediate relevance to any larger section of the community.”

Given the sometimes notorious nature of public art works, a mediating body choosing art works for the public good would be an interesting place. I’d like to get hold of their assessment criteria. The issue then, as it is now, is not predominantly one of aesthetics but of representation, engagement, and quality in the sense of the effort made to value a place through attention to detail.

The story of the Orpheus, ship-wrecked on the Manukau bar in 1863

The story of the Orpheus, ship-wrecked on the Manukau bar in 1863, art by Barry Linton

Community Cultural Development online resource

Art New Zealand magazine

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