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A sculpture walk though Civic

By Paul Costigan - 20 January 2016 22

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

What’s Your opinion?


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22 Responses to
A sculpture walk though Civic
rommeldog56 9:11 pm 21 Jan 16

Jane Easthope said :

Paul your comment about handing money over to assist the property sector doesn’t stack up. If we can improve the health of the heart of Canberra then we all benefit. Land value will increase meaning increased revenue to government and the public generally. More people living here is a positive goal. The CBD is the size of Melbourne’s yet we only have 4000 people living in ours.

It does stack up.

At the end of the day, Canberra CBD Limited is just another lobby group seeking to convince the ACT Gov’t to spend ratepayers $ on its patch of turf. Ratepayers $ that don’t exist at the present.

To claim that any increased revenue raised via rates increases in Civic will benefit the public generally is laughable. Will my annual residential rates decrease as a result ? No. But a portion of the revenue raised by my avg.10% pa increase in annual rates for the next 20+ years will be tipped into Civic. Given their track record, any extra revenue raised is more likely to be mismanaged by this ACT Gov’t anyway. If land values in Civic go up, leases go up and the cost of buying anything in Civic also increases too.

Again, you can not compare the numbers of people living in Melbourne CBD to Civic. How many millions of people live in greater Melbourne compared to Canberra !

Maya123 5:56 pm 21 Jan 16

Jane Easthope said :

It appears that the roles and objectives of Canberra CBD Limited have been misunderstood and misrepresented here. Our vision is to enliven the City centre and the projects that we undertake are all directly tied to realising this aim. Canberra CBD Limited is funded through a levy which is collected from approximately 500 commercial properties by ACT Treasury and is distributed as a grant by the Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate.

In regards to comments on the refurbishment of the Sydney and Melbourne buildings, many cities in Australia offer a heritage grant to owners of buildings of significance. Wollongong’s recent grants program completed last year – it was a dollar for dollar scheme up to $20,000. Do you think this is a good idea? I do.

Canberra CBD Limited delivers over $600,000 of events. In the last 12 months we have sponsored 11 events in the City and run three of our own – Christmas in the City, the World Curry Festival and Skate in the City. Why? To improve the economic and social health of Civic and Braddon. The survey estimated $4.7 million was spent over the recent Christmas event period. Over $200,000 was raised for charities.

We clean graffiti off buildings– it has been particularly bad over Christmas. We clean the public realm in private ownership (vomit, bird droppings etc) and encourage government to raise their cleaning standards. Braddon is still classed as light industrial and doesn’t have a formal garbage collection service, litter picking etc. I reckon they should they should have these services. Do you?

Many people comment about how they like our summer flowers and the fairy lights in the trees. I’m glad we double tiered them this year and I really like the candle-rain lights on Bunda Street. Your thoughts?

We commissioned and managed the placement of the Canberra Centenary Column and Time Capsule on City Hill. The capsule contains messages and objects from 100 Canberrans representing every segment of the community.

In regards to comments on the laneways – Odgers Lane in the Melbourne building is a start. Government was intending to do more work but the traders couldn’t agree to the final layout. I’m hoping that the bins can be consolidated. Bible Lane off Bunda Street near Academy and Verity Lane in the Sydney building are both disgusting and perceivably unsafe. They need to be given back to people rather than be dominated by the waste industry and a place to urinate at night. It is public land for the public. I’m not talking about the narrow access way into Garema near Gus’. I like these too although we have to be careful with outdoor licences because there are some places where I feel like I’m trespassing such as outside the Civic Pub in Braddon. I don’t like the various structures that traders are being permitted to put up. It is a licence to use public land, it’s not theirs to have forever. Wander around Garema Place and you will see what I mean. They range from what looks like someone’s timber fence at home to metal pergolas with electric tilting louvers.

Last year we commissioned artists (which included a high school visual arts class) to paint the walls of Tocumwal Lane off Bunda Street. We paid for a party and about 2000 people enjoyed the afternoon. I think its a significant and temporary improvement. We have artists currently painting the Bible House window near Garema Place – it’s promoting the Multicultural Festival (who we sponsor) and the two-day Curry Festival (which we ran in partnership with the Indian Buisness Council and the Office of Multicultural Affairs and attracted 25,000 people last year) and recently we partnered with the owner to paint part of Saraton Lane behind Baileys Arcade.

Canberra CBD Limited doesn’t deliver projects which are governments’ obligations, nor do we deliver municipal services which are governments’ obligations. We will partner and have done this at West Row Park (check the gorgeous lights at night) and Heather and Arthur Shakespeare Square on London Circuit. The latter is proof that improvements to the public realm stimulates economic activity. Soon after it was finished, the successful Cupping Room moved in.

Your reference to sculpture walk reminds me of the attempt by the National Capital Development Commission to create the sculptural space adjacent University Avenue. The plinths remain and there are no sculptures

Paul your comment about handing money over to assist the property sector doesn’t stack up. If we can improve the health of the heart of Canberra then we all benefit. Land value will increase meaning increased revenue to government and the public generally. More people living here is a positive goal. The CBD is the size of Melbourne’s yet we only have 4000 people living in ours.

Put yourself in the shoes of a tourist – I think you will agree that the experience is one of a very large and disconnected CBD that has pockets of vitality. As a community, I think it’s important to collectively try and fix up what we have.

I like your idea of a significant piece of art. Why not lobby for the creation of a fund/lottery or other business model that will help create a major piece for placement in the recently announced Plaza between Sydney and Melbourne buildings? I’ll help, if you wish.

I like the idea of a lottery. I don’t normally buy lottery tickets, but knowing money would be going towards improving Canberra I would likely buy a ticket.

Jane Easthope 3:59 pm 21 Jan 16

It appears that the roles and objectives of Canberra CBD Limited have been misunderstood and misrepresented here. Our vision is to enliven the City centre and the projects that we undertake are all directly tied to realising this aim. Canberra CBD Limited is funded through a levy which is collected from approximately 500 commercial properties by ACT Treasury and is distributed as a grant by the Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate.

In regards to comments on the refurbishment of the Sydney and Melbourne buildings, many cities in Australia offer a heritage grant to owners of buildings of significance. Wollongong’s recent grants program completed last year – it was a dollar for dollar scheme up to $20,000. Do you think this is a good idea? I do.

Canberra CBD Limited delivers over $600,000 of events. In the last 12 months we have sponsored 11 events in the City and run three of our own – Christmas in the City, the World Curry Festival and Skate in the City. Why? To improve the economic and social health of Civic and Braddon. The survey estimated $4.7 million was spent over the recent Christmas event period. Over $200,000 was raised for charities.

We clean graffiti off buildings– it has been particularly bad over Christmas. We clean the public realm in private ownership (vomit, bird droppings etc) and encourage government to raise their cleaning standards. Braddon is still classed as light industrial and doesn’t have a formal garbage collection service, litter picking etc. I reckon they should they should have these services. Do you?

Many people comment about how they like our summer flowers and the fairy lights in the trees. I’m glad we double tiered them this year and I really like the candle-rain lights on Bunda Street. Your thoughts?

We commissioned and managed the placement of the Canberra Centenary Column and Time Capsule on City Hill. The capsule contains messages and objects from 100 Canberrans representing every segment of the community.

In regards to comments on the laneways – Odgers Lane in the Melbourne building is a start. Government was intending to do more work but the traders couldn’t agree to the final layout. I’m hoping that the bins can be consolidated. Bible Lane off Bunda Street near Academy and Verity Lane in the Sydney building are both disgusting and perceivably unsafe. They need to be given back to people rather than be dominated by the waste industry and a place to urinate at night. It is public land for the public. I’m not talking about the narrow access way into Garema near Gus’. I like these too although we have to be careful with outdoor licences because there are some places where I feel like I’m trespassing such as outside the Civic Pub in Braddon. I don’t like the various structures that traders are being permitted to put up. It is a licence to use public land, it’s not theirs to have forever. Wander around Garema Place and you will see what I mean. They range from what looks like someone’s timber fence at home to metal pergolas with electric tilting louvers.

Last year we commissioned artists (which included a high school visual arts class) to paint the walls of Tocumwal Lane off Bunda Street. We paid for a party and about 2000 people enjoyed the afternoon. I think its a significant and temporary improvement. We have artists currently painting the Bible House window near Garema Place – it’s promoting the Multicultural Festival (who we sponsor) and the two-day Curry Festival (which we ran in partnership with the Indian Buisness Council and the Office of Multicultural Affairs and attracted 25,000 people last year) and recently we partnered with the owner to paint part of Saraton Lane behind Baileys Arcade.

Canberra CBD Limited doesn’t deliver projects which are governments’ obligations, nor do we deliver municipal services which are governments’ obligations. We will partner and have done this at West Row Park (check the gorgeous lights at night) and Heather and Arthur Shakespeare Square on London Circuit. The latter is proof that improvements to the public realm stimulates economic activity. Soon after it was finished, the successful Cupping Room moved in.

Your reference to sculpture walk reminds me of the attempt by the National Capital Development Commission to create the sculptural space adjacent University Avenue. The plinths remain and there are no sculptures

Paul your comment about handing money over to assist the property sector doesn’t stack up. If we can improve the health of the heart of Canberra then we all benefit. Land value will increase meaning increased revenue to government and the public generally. More people living here is a positive goal. The CBD is the size of Melbourne’s yet we only have 4000 people living in ours.

Put yourself in the shoes of a tourist – I think you will agree that the experience is one of a very large and disconnected CBD that has pockets of vitality. As a community, I think it’s important to collectively try and fix up what we have.

I like your idea of a significant piece of art. Why not lobby for the creation of a fund/lottery or other business model that will help create a major piece for placement in the recently announced Plaza between Sydney and Melbourne buildings? I’ll help, if you wish.

rubaiyat 11:56 am 21 Jan 16

Paul, is that you writing in A Word or Two?

Because all I can say is excellent work, very well written! 😀

Refreshing to see someone thinking about the real issues at play in Canberra.

A comment on our Planners, you really have to wonder who they are working for, and why.

Nilrem 10:09 am 21 Jan 16

rubaiyat said :

…and of course that long suggestion of a regular open air market in Petrie Plaza.

Whatever we do, it is not just what we do but HOW we do it.

No more Rent a Barriers that kill the buzz.

The record breaking Christmas Lights are great but really uninspiring in execution.

The lights created a very ugly box that sat in civic in the daytime. Overrated.

rubaiyat 4:17 pm 20 Jan 16

…and of course that long suggestion of a regular open air market in Petrie Plaza.

Whatever we do, it is not just what we do but HOW we do it.

No more Rent a Barriers that kill the buzz.

The record breaking Christmas Lights are great but really uninspiring in execution.

rubaiyat 4:09 pm 20 Jan 16

Paul Costigan said :

Greetings rubaiyat

re Gibbs Farm – a friend of mine has been urging me for years to go there – and that opportunity may present itself mid year this year – yah!

It looks wonderful – and his collection is the along the lines I suggest should be throughout Civic and then beyond. There should be a large collection of significant artworks to garner the attention of tourists – and residents like us!

and re the lanes – they have occupied too much attention and should not be the prioirity – until the main plazas of Civic are working. Then anything is possible.

Do go. It is a must. Only open one Thursday a month and you need to apply months ahead.

Go early and be there when it opens. The day won’t be enough.

Truly the sum of the parts. The pieces fit the landscape and the landscape fits the pieces. Being altered where needed. Some of the pieces are the landscape.

Also see Bricklane Wineries, not far away on the East Coast and there are several paid sculpture farms and wineries on Waiheke Island out in the Bay.

For landscaping the Gardens in Hamilton are well worth the drive.

Talented lot the New Zealanders.

Didn’t notice the “Can’t be done!”, the “Not us!” that really bogs down Canberra. A relic of all the Public Servants here who made it their life’s work to see that nothing ever gets done.

rubaiyat 4:01 pm 20 Jan 16

Another example of Good/Bad narrow opportunities is Manuka. The green is nicely crowded and has people passing up to teh Arcades through to Franklin Street.

The east-west laneway is ugly, barren and wasteland. It doesn’t have to be, it needs lively activity to front on to it and more narrow access (with facing businesses) through all sides making it an interesting narrow warren.

People like tighter spaces. There is a beautiful cluster of cottages with intimate irregular passages in Ponsbury Road, Auckland that is a constant buzz of dinners, shoppers and visitors simply wandering through enjoying the feast of options.

It is the modern equivalent of the Casbah. We are fed up with the boring, antiseptic predictability of modern institutional predictability. People want to explore, discover and be pleasantly surprised.

Paul Costigan 3:50 pm 20 Jan 16

Greetings rubaiyat

re Gibbs Farm – a friend of mine has been urging me for years to go there – and that opportunity may present itself mid year this year – yah!

It looks wonderful – and his collection is the along the lines I suggest should be throughout Civic and then beyond. There should be a large collection of significant artworks to garner the attention of tourists – and residents like us!

and re the lanes – they have occupied too much attention and should not be the prioirity – until the main plazas of Civic are working. Then anything is possible.

rubaiyat 3:48 pm 20 Jan 16

Sorry to jump in for a third bite of the cherry.

The comment about laneways not being either suitable or working in Canberra is not actually true.

The laneway next to Gus’ Cafe is a great example of how a squeeze of people both seated and passing really works to engender buzz. Helped by the sheltered gap out of wind and sun, en route up north to Lonsdale Street. Which also has those narrow squeezes in the pop-ups that really transformed the area, but stodgy new developments may be killing off.

Proportions and selective frontages are vital. You only have to look on the other side of Gus’ building, to the eastern passage to the Canberra Centre, and see how it DOESN’T work. Too wide, no visible continuity, and mostly bad franchises.

I am no longer in the game, but looking at Garema Place and the Melbourne and Sydney Buildings I can see enormous opportunities to redesign and rearrange them for flow and adventurous spaces that would draw people in. Standing zone is just the tip of the iceberg.

I’d start with using levels differently. Garema Place could use populated balconies overlooking the space and into the tree canopies on all sides. The Sydney and Melbourne Buildings need to cut the “boxes” and offer ways up into the upper levels from within the central courtyards that are only used for dumpsters and commercial parking at the moment.

There are other spaces around town, like that behind the YHA which could also work by getting rid of the cars and making interesting narrowed passages through the surrounding buildings and out. The YHA would be a great start because of the sunny northern frontage of the YHA and existing trees could be used by the visitors to give it almost instant life.

churl 3:23 pm 20 Jan 16

“need to invest in some very significant and headline grabbing works.”
so: bronze cast Skywhale?

pajs 3:03 pm 20 Jan 16

Hasn’t Loading Zone been a success? Not sure I understand the negativity about trying to use the lanes.

rubaiyat 2:02 pm 20 Jan 16

btw I really agree with you on both placement and scale.

Nearly every single piece that we have, even the good ones, are poorly installed, too small or wrong scale for their site and badly positioned in relation to their backdrop.

Most of the pieces I can think of that are worth keeping, just need to be relocated to a more sympathetic and intimate space.

The open spaces demand striking, bold works.

A link to Alan Gibbs if you do not know of him:

http://www.gibbsfarm.org.nz

rubaiyat 11:44 am 20 Jan 16

Poor taste and presentation of artwork only reminds us why we so dislike the same in the buildings and urban fabric. A few fishing gnomes out front of the double fronted fibro bungalow do not improve a sad vision.

Art and Design is not a democratic process, not that the committees that make all the choices are at all democratic.

We need to head hunt someone with actual talent and give them a free hand within a budget and the power to remove and relocate the dismal selection we have sprinkled around our public spaces. we’ll know if they are doing a good job by the usual knee jerk indignant reactions to their decisions, which settle down once the unfamiliar becomes familiar.

I’d ask Alan Gibbs from NZ if he’d love to have a curatorial role in our choices. He is an outsider with taste and is too rich to care otherwise.

Holden Caulfield 11:10 am 20 Jan 16

I like this idea and it’s not a bad job application for you either.

It’s a shame that we have a Rone mural in Canberra that is tucked away largely out of sight. Like the Brim example you gave, Rone’s works often generate discussion and raise interest.

The trouble with art and sculpture is that beauty is often in the eye of the beholder* and if you’re spending public money it’s very hard no to have strings attached (ie. committees).

Your approach of limiting the number of people involved is definitely suitable, whether it’s realistic is the question.

*Although I’m sure most people agree that apparently random assemblage of steel on the GDE near the Barton Highway is a waste of space as well as money.

I’m not sure you should be so quick to dismiss laneways in Civic. True, our little country town will never be Sydney or Melbourne. But the examples of Loading Zone and The Highball Express (and Molly to a lesser extent) show that there is a market for laneway renewal in Canberra.

Laneways often provide an unexpected surprise, which is something Civic definitely needs.

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