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A sculpture walk though Civic

By Paul Costigan 20 January 2016 22


When reading the latest thought bubbles from the property lobby, it was difficult to avoid laughing out loud. In their quest to improve Civic business activity, the Civic property lobby has recommended that the ACT Government should hand over money to assist in the refurbishment of the Melbourne and Sydney buildings.

Let’s be clear — these buildings are private property and therefore it is up to the owners to make the necessary investments to improve their bottom line, not the ratepayers. According to others in the know about these things, the government already hands over $1.8 million to assist with the property sector dominated CBD Group.


One well-worn suggestion that keeps popping up is for the lanes around the Melbourne and Sydney buildings to be transformed into café lanes. Please – this is not Melbourne, London, Paris or Tokyo – they work there but it would be a waste of precious time and money to attempt that in Civic. So I hope people will drop any foolishness about the lanes and concentrate on making the now vacant plazas alive with people.

However in amongst the usual requests to have all of us underpin their profits, the lobby has actually thrown up the beginnings of a good idea. It was the one that identified that more public art could be good for Civic.

This concept needs to be followed through and it will require some creative and intelligent hand to guide it to success — and the property lobby is definitely not to have any control of such a project.

In the longer term they will be very happy, as it will be the owners of the buildings and their tenants that will be reap the benefits of the increases in visitors and shoppers to Civic.


The one big advantage that Civic has over the other main shopping centres is that there is an abundance of open plazas with the mall to one side. The other centres were built at later stages in Canberra’s development when the property lobbyists convinced the government to hand over shopping centres to mall owners.

The suggestion is that these open plazas from Akuna Street along City Walk (not Bunda St which is too cluttered) through to Northbourne should be used to create a public art showcase/walk. This would involve many new large and small artworks being on permanent display across Civic as well as the location of temporary artworks during special occasions such as during Floriade.

There are a number of public art pieces around Civic already, all of these would be included in the new Canberra Sculpture Walk, with some being relocated to enhance their relevance to this new walk.


One key to the success of such a program is that it is not to be overseen by a committee.

Canberra previously had a good public art program that was closed down after some vocal protests. I think this was so wrong. The program itself was a wonderful idea but it was badly run.

Many of the artworks that were placed throughout Canberra remain proof that such an innovative program can be successful. Sadly more than a few of them were not good choices and/or suffered through being plonked in inappropriate locations.

The outcomes of the previous program were very much hindered by the work of a committee. Beware committees! Others have the same opinion – see this report from New York on this and a number of related topics.

That former program required a creative hand of a switched-on person who understood art and the landscape.

It is an imperative that no committee gets their hands on the Canberra Sculpture Walk initiative and that the right individual is selected to oversee the first years of commissioning and the subsequent placements.

For those who do not accept that such artworks can attract people, just consider Chicago with its Cloud Gate and other outstanding works in Millennium Park– and for something closer to home – the small rural town of Brim and the increase in visitors to the see the artwork on the silos.



What these examples demonstrate is that there will be the need to invest in some very significant and headline grabbing works. This will be required to get the attention of tourists, the national press and to provide people with a major incentive to visit Civic.

Once the sculpture walk is established with enough works, a number of special festivals should be staged to encourage tourists to visit the Canberra Sculpture Walk. These public art festivals could be enhanced with all manner of temporary art works, not necessarily just sculptural pieces, along the walk as well as possibly attached to some of the buildings. Anything could be possible with the right creative leader and the appropriate level of monetary and enthusiastic support from government.

Once the Civic areas had been brought up to standard to work as a sculpture walk, the whole thing could be linked to works in Glebe Park, around the ANU (some would require changes in their placements to make them more accessible) as well as new artworks that could be commissioned for the revamped Northbourne Ave following the introduction of the trams.

Hence the title Canberra Sculpture Walk* (not Civic Sculpture Walk) – while the first stage would be through Civic, later stages would eventually include areas beyond but still linked to the Civic area.

This creative concept is based on a government commitment to enhance Civic and to attract visitors to the centre of Canberra by investing in artworks and backing a comprehensive program to see it happen.

And to repeat myself, the establishment of the Canberra Sculpture Walk* must be led by someone with experience in visual arts, landscape and events such as sculpture festivals.

No more well-meaning public arts committees — please!

* A more creative title could be put forward by the first creative director.

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A sculpture walk though Civic
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rubaiyat 10:45 am 27 Jan 16

rommeldog56 said :

rubaiyat said :

Canberra’s population is also very small compared to Victoria’s but they are demonstrably wealthier, so that is a phoney argument, that gets repeated endlessly.

Further the A.C.T. is two governments in one, both Local and Territory, getting income like all the States do from GST and Federal grants on top of the Rates you are so concerned with, so again a wrong argument.

There is just so much wrong with your assertions. But here is my view on these two :

1) So, you think that the impact of revenue to the ACT from “wealthier” ACT residents offsets or makes up for the revenue raised by the Vic Gov’t from its millions and millions more residents. Any claim that that is a “phoney argument” defies belief.

2) The amount of revenue that Vic Gov’t gets from rates & charges, Federal grants, GST, mining royalities, huge tourism, etc, dewarf the ACTs (but of course, is a much larger place to run) so gives it greater capacity to fund some targeted infrastructure improvements.

My point is that we simply simply do not have the revenue raising base here to pay for the grandiose infrastructure schemes planned by this ACT Labour/Greens Gov’t. There is already a near record ACT budget deficite (which blew out again in this years Territory revised estimates).

It’s almost as though this ACT Labor/Greens Gov’t is building edifices to what it sees as its own glory – to leave its mark.

Maybe the ACt Labor/Greens Govt knows that but non the less, is floating these ideas in the run up to this years ACT LA election to be more appealing to voters.
Im actually all for improving the look of the place – but it has to be affordable.

I think it is quite obvious that when I reply to many posts here I do so with one hugely arched eyebrow at the knee-jerk whinging (to give it a plain English label).

The Victorian Government does not collect rates or any of the Local Government charges. It does get the stamp duty, traffic fines etc that the ACT collects. But the important issue is that for a fairly small population, the ACT Government has large and multiple income streams that other States and Territories do not because they are only one level of government. Further the proportion of income we receive from being the effective major city of southern NSW is also considerable. Those people do not pay rates or taxes here, but they do spend a lot of money in our economy, which does contribute to our income. We also love fining them! 🙂

No-one is saying (or maybe YOU are saying WE are saying) that the ACT income is on a par with our much bigger neighbouring governments. But neither are the expenditures, particularly as it is spread over such a tiny geographical area.

You should learn more about the breakdown. Easy to do, you are already on the Internet. Do some research. A classic example is your “huge tourism”. The ACT population is 381,488. Victoria’s is 5,866,300. The ACT has 4.9 million overnight visitors a year. For Victoria to get the same relatively, they would have to get 75.4 million visitors a year. They get less than 20 million for the whole of Victoria. The fact is our relative tourist dollar vastly swamps theirs. Don’t make your assumptions on wild guesses, which are frequently wrong.

There is also the notion that only certain expenditure contributes to our deficit (the ones you don’t want because you figure “that’s not for me”). I have pointed out repeatedly that if you don’t like the current deficit, blame the freeways. That’s where the money has gone, spent, never to be seen again, never to produce a cent, only contribute to on going maintenance, hospital, accidents and policing costs. Bugger all has been spent on the Light Rail that you hate because? …oh never mind you just hate it.

rubaiyat 8:24 am 23 Jan 16

There are many here who remain constantly blissfully ignorant of Canberra’s unique position as Australia’s only City State.

Like the City States of ancient times it is rife with the small minded factionalism and the occasional idealism that has the tiny minority of people who think they are nobility violently repressing any attempts at progress by the “plebs”.

It does not lack financial resources, especially as it is an effective capital for most of south eastern NSW. It does lack human resources because of our smaller population, despite that that population is largely better educated. We may punch above our weight but we are still not even bantam.

Observing our much larger cousins across the border, even our resident parasites inside, size does not guarantee either competence or honesty. It is dead easy to simply shine the light on only one side of politics and ignore the other to feed your confirmation bias.

I am all for intelligent change but hold no delusions that flip flopping between the Tweedledee and Tweedledum of Australian politics is going to get it. We may be disatisfied with our current Tweedledee but don’t project that into Tweedledum will have any less L plates should they be voted in and you certainly have question a lot of their policies that they in turn will no doubt equally stuff up should they get the opportunity.

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