Feeling the vibe – the value of public art

Prue Miller | Architecture and Design

If you feel like sparking a heated conversation, throw the match of public art into any group get together, and it’ll warm up pretty fast.

While we have become totally at ease, or perhaps emotionally immune to memorial styled ‘monumental ‘sculpture such as kings on horseback, queens on thrones and soldiers at their posts, modern sculpture is more divisive. Perhaps because we actually notice it.

For some reason, once art of any type breaks out of the genteel confines of an art gallery, it becomes generationally, and perhaps financially contentious. By that, I mean a youngster doesn’t care who paid for it, a tourist doesn’t care what it cost, and perhaps the conversation in social circles is more often about value for money, rather than simple, social value

The growth in public art is on the upswing, with legislation in place that demands developers spend one percent of their construction budget on public art.

With the cost of construction skyrocketing, this represents a huge boost for historically struggling artists, as much as the artistically starved population.

Barangaroo, perhaps the most talked-about development in some time, has a staggering allocation spread over the next decade of $40m, all to be spent on creative initiatives.

In Sydney, public art plans have to be submitted with DAs (with a budget over $10m) when planning a development in the City of Sydney precinct – and they are quite specific about the quality required; ‘Plonk’ art (public art which is not commissioned specifically for the site) is not encouraged but it is not excluded if the rationale behind the selection of the work is deemed by the Public Art Committee as sound.”

Lendlease, for example is on the hook for $20m worth of public art for the Barangaroo development.

And yes, ‘Plonk art’ is a thing, and rather descriptively refers to art that is just plonked in place to satisfy nothing more than bureaucracy. An ignorant move on the part of the plonkees. Public Art has remarkable benefits all round.

On the surface there is the aesthetic value of increasing the beauty and attractiveness of a space both inside and outside buildings, but where that is not seen as enough there are commercial advantages to well-curated or commissioned pieces. Identity is everything.

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