Report From Guru

History’s lesson on the Tui..and for public art

By Cr K Gurunathan

History has a way of putting things in perspective.

Two articles were published in the Kapiti Observer in December, 2007 that will cast a light on the current public debate on the Tui sculpture and public art. I quote extensively from the first with the heading ‘Arts policy needs practitioners input:

 Mark Amery’s view

“Well-known art critic and member of the Wellington City Council art panel, Mark Amery says it is time for Kapiti to set up a group of leading art practitioners to oversee the creation of an arts policy.

‘I think the recent trouble council has had over the tui sculpture at Paraparaumu Beach highlights the need to have a policy in place to guide decisions on public art,” said the Paekakariki resident and Dominion Post art critic. Writer and filmmaker Lindsay Rabbitt said the process in Kapiti had been captured by bureaucrats and that was partly to blame for the problems with the tui.

The $24,000 sculpture keeled over a few weeks  after it was unveiled due to strong winds. It then underwent strengthening work to the tune of $15,000.

Lindsay Rabbitt’s view

‘I have been around the country and seen some appalling public art pieces. I think the choice of Brendan Nolan’s tui sculpture and its relevance to the community and environment were very good. Where it fell over was over the lack of a rigorous process to guide the project,’ Mr Rabbitt said.

Mr Amery said his advocacy for a reference group of leading practitioners came with a warning. ‘There’s always tension between the community and the benchmark for excellent work. Artists in the community have to raise their standards….’ KCDC, which had been working on a draft policy since 2006 had said it was looking to emulate Waitakere City’s art policy. Mr Amery said while Wellington was closer, Waitakere had an excellent public art policy with an art scene similar to Kapiti’s.  ‘…I think a public debate on the matter is timely and with the advent of a new council we could hope to see some positive directions.’

Mr Rabbitt said unless artists had a say in the process, a public arts policy would not work. ‘Bureaucrats should facilitate this but not take over the decision making as happened in the Tui project. They should not be gate-keepers on defining what is public art and how the process should evolve’.”

Rowan said: ‘Wonderful work by Mr Nolan’

The second article also in The Observer dated December 5, 2007 is Mayor Jenny Rowan’s column where she writes on public art and the installation of the works at the Otaki main street roundabout.

She ends it by referring to the Paraparaumu Tui. Touching on the stuff-up and the cost of reinstalling it she said: “This is a wonderful piece of work by Brendan Nolan and I think it is important we learn from mistakes made without allowing them to stop us being bold and creative in the future. …Lesson learned, do it once and do it well at every level.”

What this historical background tells us is that the debate on the tui and public art is not something new conjured up by journalists looking for sensational news as alleged by some.

This is the latest, in a continuing saga, triggered by a council over-reaction without offering a proper avenue for community discussion. The council decision should have been one that called for the removal of the Tui as a first move towards opening up a discussion on public art – a few months down the line would have been perfect.

What we ended up with then was a diktat not a creative solution. So we did not learn the lesson, we did not do it once and we did not do it well at every level.