As we go about our daily business, our encounters with art in the public spaces we move through make us think about those places in ways we wouldn’t otherwise. Not only does the artwork itself demand attention, it also brings the landscape around it into sharper relief. And because it’s in a public space, we talk, debate and argue about it with other people, making it the perfect vehicle to celebrate, memorialise, mourn or debate issues of local consequence.
Much beautiful, functional and thought-provoking public art has, and continues to be, produced through our arms-length funding programs, but the 1997 waterworks project brought management in-house, crossed regional boundaries, and drew on broad funding sources for the first time.
Using Community and Cultural Development practice as the preferred tool meant it was art by, with, and for the community in which it sat, with industry and local government active partners in the conversation, debate and practical rollout. Based on profoundly human, and therefore wildly varying responses to water, not only were multiple public art pieces created in five regional communities (the Gawler Ranges, Keith, the Riverland, Marree and Penneshaw), it created a space for local debates to be aired.
Emboldened by the statewide reach of waterworks, we leapt into planning A Festival Harvest for the 2000 Adelaide Festival, which marked an organisational shift in funding for public art projects. The model would later be called upon for much of what happened in the Regional Centres of Culture from 2008 and for Change and Adaptation in 2012.
And whilst it’s an arms-length funded project, led by Coorong District Council, it’s hard to ignore the recent success of Creating Coonalpyn, the masterstroke of which was to combine the flagship 30-metre high mural on the town’s grain silos by an international artist with five artist-led community public art projects over two years, transforming the very nature and circumstance of this struggling small town, where people now live with pride in each other and others travel great distances to visit.
Written and researched by Jo Pike for Country Arts SA