Kāpiti Coast councillor K Gurunathan warns the lack of a KCDC public arts policy has brought huge problems over art works done by sex offender Brendan Nolan.
Cr Gurunathan (Guru) says the KCDC now faces the problem of what to do about other Nolan works – like those on dustbins at Paraparaumu Beach and designs impressed into parts of the village’s footpath.
Here’s the full text of Guru’s article written exclusively for the Kapiti Independent…
Newspaper’s Headline MisleadsBy Cr K Gurunathan
Kapiti Observer’s headline on its Monday edition ‘Sex offender’s artwork taken down for good’ is not my understanding of what took place at last Thursday’s urgent council consideration of the fallout from Paekakariki artist Brendan Nolan’s child sex conviction.
Three others, Mike Cardiff, Diane Ammundsen and Penny Gaylor did not want a knee-jerk reaction; they wanted the sculpture to remain.
My understanding was that others including Ross Church, Tony Lloyd, Hilary Wooding and myself supported taking the sculpture down immediately but only to allow further community discussion before any final decision.
Decision is fraught with difficulties
Any unilateral decision to get rid of the sculpture for good is fraught with difficulties.
Firstly, the Kapiti Observer article claims that the “Kapiti council has erased the public art of Paekakariki child molester from the district”.
This is not true. Brendan Nolan’s public art contract with KCDC saw his tui theme design also wrapped around Paraparaumu Beach village’s dustbins and the design is impressed into parts of the village’s footpath.
A council decision to remove the tui sculpture, without a qualification on the need for further community deliberation, has created a dilemma for council and the community.
Other Nolan designs
Council will have to move another motion to also remove the customised dustbins and the tui designs on the footpath.
If council’s motion is to get rid of the sculpture for good, without completely removing the other Brendan Nolan ‘public art,’ then this is tantamount to tacitly condoning vigilante vandalism.
This is because the council motion, as understood by the Kapiti Observer and its readers, is that council has declared this art as non grata.
The tui had already been vandalised by some who had attempted to burn it before council staff had an opportunity to take it down.
What’s to stop more vandalism?
What’s there to stop further vandalism of community property, especially without a sobering call by the community’s leaders?
- A call that clearly informs the community that the sculpture will be removed in respect of the victims of the artist and the victims’ families, as well as all the unknown victims of similar sexual abuse.
- A call that also recognises that public art does not belong to the artist but to the community that embraces it and, therefore, the community is also a collective victim.
- A call that appealed to all for a little time to stop and together find a way forward to manage the dilemma.
The concept, process and exercise of public art are a profound democratic value that sits at the creative heart of communities.
We like to call ourselves ‘The Creative Coast.’ But when the chips are down we fail.
Need for an Arts Policy
Council’s so-called Art Policy should have been built on the foundation of a public art policy. Any mention of public art in this Art Policy is prostituted to the economic imperative.
If we did have a public art policy, we would have been better placed to manage this Brendan Nolan dilemma. It’s not as if we did not have an opportunity to grapple with these values and gain a deeper understanding and commitment to the democracy of public spaces.
Last November we saw the Kapiti Voice for Life claim the baby-in-the-hand public art sculpture, outside the Police Station, for their own campaign
They used it to highlight what they believe – that abortion is a form of violence against children. The right and wrongs of that belief is a separate matter from the right of individuals and groups to use the image of a public art in a public space.
Culture doyens challenged
At that time, I challenged Kapiti’s doyens of culture to debate this matter of public art versus private rights.
I also raised the point that the failure of KCDC to create a public art policy was partly to blame for the continuing public confusion on what is public art.
There were no takers. In April this year the Voice for Life group was issued with legal notice by a community group claiming that the intellectual property right to the sculpture belonged to it and threatened legal action against Voice for Life for publishing and using pictures of the sculpture!
I have also mentioned that the continued failure to have a public art policy, specifically in relation to Maori perceptions of public art, could be a ticking cultural time bomb. This is especially so when ratepayer money is used to fund Maori pou or totem poles.
Challenge of tui sculpture
I had never thought, however, that the challenge of community ownership of public art could present itself in such a permutated form as the current challenge posed by the tui sculpture.
But I suppose I am wasting my time writing this as I do not expect the champions of our creative community to rise above, if not intellectual cowardice, at least their navel gazing intellectual laziness to engage meaningfully on this.