Sydney harbourings, rehabilitations and the politics of procurement
Keywords:Sydeney, Public Art, Public Space
In the last three years Sydney has been transformed to an unprecedented extent by public art projects, most of which have been developed by government instrumentalities, agencies or partnerships. The central city council has initiated a Sculpture Walk through the streets and around the rocky foreshores of the inner city; the Sydney Olympic site at Homebush Bay is home to a number of public art works; the government’s water utility company has sponsored an annual, temporary art installation walk along a spectacularly rugged ocean escarpment linking several medium-density suburbs; another instrumentality recently established to oversee the reuse of abandoned heavy industrial sites in the harbour, has established the ‘Promenart’ program along fifteen kilometres of harbour foreshores; and a government-appointed statutory authority responsible for the redevelopment of an extensive and highly polluted former industrial site between the CDB and the airport, has worked closely with designers and artists to develop comprehensive briefs addressing environmental rehabilitation and social interaction. This impressive list is by no means exhaustive. The surge in bureaucratic and artistic creative energy demands critical evaluation. In this paper I will contrast two sets of projects. This first concerns actual projects, in or near the spectacular Sydney Harbour setting, which are premised on placemaking principles and on the whole elicit actual or imagined histories for the delight and reverie of the promenader. Despite the popular and aesthetic success of these projects, one of them, the ambitious Sculpture Walk, is currently being re-evaluated. The second set, in more mundane suburban environments and centred on toxic waterways, concerns projects that at this stage are either being implemented or nearing commencement by interdisciplinary groups of artists, designers, engineers, environmentalists, community representatives, and other specialists. Their measure of success will include delight and surprise but must also include environmental and cultural sustainability I will argue that the more environmentally challenging the brief, the richer the likely aesthetic outcome. This will be done by evaluating selected works against their relevant policies. These policies, in turn, will be evaluated against current ‘best practice’ policies in Australia and elsewhere.
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