The continued debate over the process of selection of art in public places continues with the recent furore over the selection of Julia Morison’s giant worm sculpture, Ouroboros at the Botanic Gardens. With local artists including the Otago Sculpture Trust claiming the request for proposal process was unfair and poorly managed. There has been consistent pattern of controversy and outcry that has dogged the placement of artworks in public places in Dunedin over recent years. Rachael Rakena’s “Haka Peepshow” in the Octagon, Regan Gentry’s “The Harbour Mouth Molars” at Portsmouth Drive and now the proposed “Ouroboros” in the Botanic Gardens have all had controversy surrounding their design, placement and funding. The debate around the process of selection of public art works is very damaging for the creation of vibrant public spaces and for artists in the city.
In August 2012 the Dunedin City Council slashed its public-place art works budget and new works are on hold until the art in public places policy is reviewed. Yet that review has been oddly quiet and nothing has been made public as to when that policy will be reviewed or how. Recently in the Otago Daily Times Mayor Cull challenged critics of the selection of “Ouroboros” to come up with a better process if they did not like the outcome. That’s less of a challenge to the art loving Dunedin public and more of one to the Council’s own failings in the procedures and policy relating to art in public places. If anything can be learned from many of the controversies surrounding public art works it’s the Council’s inability to provide a meaningful policy that has caused such an outcry. That’s the real challenge which unfortunately has yet to be taken up by the City Council.
The Dunedin Amenities Society have long supported the notion of art in public places and monumental structures that tell the story of our city and its culture. They add meaning and character to our city that is of benefit to the community and to visitors. It seems a great shame that while the Botanic Gardens is celebrating 150 years of bringing pleasure to many people, the focus is on the argument of how art work should be selected to honour those celebrations.
Other Society Articles on Art in Public Places in Dunedin