Rant: Public art, gone missing in Leichhardt?

Leichhardt Council’s Cultural Plan gives top priority to the funding of `a significant artwork’ every four years, to the value of $200,000.

This fund, yet to be established, could be used to pay for large art projects like the Hawthorne Canal mural, the Bronwyn Brancroft mosaics at the Leichhardt pool (pictured above), or perhaps an epic work such as Alan Somerville’s soldier on ANZAC Bridge. The community, guided by Council’s Public Art Policy, would determine the art to be commissioned.

To be set in motion, Council’s ‘significant art’ fund needs to be allocated money in its budget for 2014-15. But this won’t happen without your help. Here’s why…

Last year no party on Council was willing to take the lead on the State Government’s offer to allow a special rate increase. As Council’s belt has tightened, Councillors have ruled out putting the Cultural Plan’s significant art funding in the draft budget released for consultation.

This was a mistake in my view. The community’s strong desire for public art gives Council’s Public Art program a status, to be accounted for in its planning alongside the classic business of `rubbish, rates and roads’. Moreover, Leichhardt’s community is well known for its concentration of artists and high level of art-related economic activity. Art has a special role in our area that brings with it planning and political consequences. While art commodified for private collection is certainly a luxury, public art is a natural, and I argue, an essential part of our community’s infrastructure.

Last year Leichhardt Council asked the community how public art and cultural activity can help develop and express the community’s identity. Surveys and numerous street consultations showed that around 85% of respondents see public art as playing a vital role in connecting people to the place they live in and the people they live with.

Public art can help humanise the environment we live in, make us feel part of it and bring life to the places we share. Art may inspire us, make us dream a little and bring people together. By activating public spaces in these ways public art can makes public spaces become safer. Public art is a crime prevention tool too!

Council staff have fortunately found a way to balance the budget and allow Council to `live within its means’ despite the foregone rate increase for last year. There is even a small surplus that has come to light which might be used to establish a fund for significant public artwork, resulting from recently introduced surcharges on credit card use.

I intend to write a submission to Council’s draft budget to request Council to seek ways to provide for the significant art fund. I urge you to visit Leichhardt Council’s website during the public exhibition of the draft budget until June 13th and use the online submission form to do the same. If members of the public get behind the `significant art’ element of Council’s Cultural Plan, I believe that Councillors are very likely to make the funds available.

Words: Councillor Simon Emsley.

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