Editor lacked ‘wisdom and caution’
By Cr K Gurunathan
Congratulations to KIN for publishing my piece on public art and the controversy over the recent adoption of the Nurturing Hand sculpture, sited outside the Kapiti Police Station.
Unfortunately, your editorialised introduction to my piece had, I believe, skewered the thrust of the article. Every media critique and reporter knows that a sub-editor’s choice of a heading on a said article can twist the perceptions of the reader.
I refer to your sentence in your intro that said: “He’s taking a purportedly neutral pro-public art attitude – but in fact one that will probably favour the anti-abortion group Voice for Life – the cause of the present ruckus”.
Firstly, you are insinuating that the intention of the article has little to do with examining the principles and values of public art but rather is a guise to smuggle the views of the anti abortion group, Voice for Life.
If you look at the writing and publication of views in a democracy as a conveyor belt process and you use an authoritarian tool or editorial right to undermine that process, then you have interfered with that legitimate process. Sure, there is such a thing as an editorial prerogative but this must be used with wisdom and caution.
KIN ‘is wrong’
I KNOW my intention in writing my piece and I am saying — you are wrong in your presumption. And if your aspersions are wrong, then you have undermined my democratic right to use the ‘purportedly democratic’ space that you have provided to the community to discuss matters of importance to our online village. But let us examine my intentions.
Kapiti Coast District Council has, at long last (after almost eight years); come out with a draft arts policy for public discussion. In our recent council deliberations about that draft policy I raised the point that a critical aspect of any arts policy – the definition and council’s views about this – was missing.
For me, any publicly funded arts policy has to wrestle and define the parameters of what is public art. Because, this is art in the public domain. There was agreement that the draft should include this for public discussion.
‘Egghead cultural doyens’
When you have a bunch of egghead cultural doyens discussing the parameters of public art, you will get what I call a comfortable armchair exercise. I am not saying that this is not a useful thing. There is a critical place for this.
However, the actual passion about what is public art is what you get on the factory floor when there’s a community conflict over the public values of art.
When the young people of Voice for Life (VFL) staged their celebration of the Nurturing Hands sculpture, and said they have adopted it, it brought them in direct conflict with the Voice Against Violence (VAV) people who had organised the erection of the sculpture.
As you stated in your intro, the artist of the sculpture Bodhi Vincent and VAV were aghast over what they perceived as a takeover of the sculpture. Effectively, they were saying that because they are the ‘creators’ and commissioned the sculpture, VFL does not have a right to adopt the symbol.
‘Lack of commitment to value of democratic spaces’
For me this raises serious concerns, particularly since Mr Vincent is a well known artist who has contributed to the enjoyment of public art in the district. This is an abysmal lack of commitment to the values of community owned democratic spaces – which is what public art is and should be.
Let me come back to your unhelpful intro. What your intro did was to undermine the potential for a real debate on the principles of public art by essentially claiming that any debate would only favour the anti-abortion group “the cause of the present ruckus”.
This is a clear ideological signal to the liberals not to enter the debate because it would only favour the anti-abortionists.
In my book, this is a failure to uphold the tenets of the media being the Fourth Estate. One that facilitates free debate, the exchange of ideas, and defends the right of minority groups to state their views – especially if those views are totally opposed to yours.
Roberet Atack’s view
Robert Atack was the only one to put pen to paper. But, even he, contained his comments on promoting the right to abortion as a means to curb the rampant global population growth. He gave no importance to the right of minority groups to express their views in a democracy.
Robert has, for more than a decade, been like prophet in the wilderness crying out the impending doom of the energy crisis. The mainstream media and mainstream everything totally excluded him, to the extent he had to resort to maverick campaigns to get his message across. He should know the value and the need to have democratic spaces which provide a level ground.
But nevertheless congratulations to KIN for publishing my piece. I actually sent a statement to the Kapiti Observer supporting the right of VFL to adopt the sculpture as it was public art. The Observer chose to completely ignore the statement and my attempt to anchor the debate into the challenge of understanding public art. It completely failed in its role.
Challenge to ‘cultural doyens’
Let me throw another challenge to the cultural doyens. KCDC is about to commission three totem poles as a public art statement outside its proposed renovated council building.
These poles, depicting the three local iwi, will cost $85,000 of ratepayer money. Are these ‘symbols’ the intellectual property right of the iwi? What If I wanted to reproduce them on t-shirts? What if I want to sell these t-shirts?
Do Maori have a different definition of what is public art? What are the protocols? Do we wait until something happens and this is challenged, resulting in a more serious situation than this recent intellectual teaser involving the so-called liberals and the Voice for Life?