Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

IDEAS | Public art makes place

In various capacities, we’ve worked in planning, curating and implementing public art and placemaking for well over a decade. We’ve worked with many clients including architectural and design practices, local government, statutory authorities and the development industry. We apply a flexible and open ended definition of public art so as to engage a broad set of practices to shape public space. This results in a hybrid approach to place making and place shaping that crosses urban design and cultural planning to achieve integrated places that yield design and cultural dividends for community. Through the masterplanning process, potential is incubated. Because planning is equally about reading the landscape and preparing the ground, cultural mapping is a key aspect of this process. Place is integral to the health of local economies, environments and communities. Ultimately, the process is about multiplying value creation in a way that creatively engages all sectors of the community.

Our public art plans and proposals have demonstrated our ability to ride the currents of cultural dynamics and artistic opportunity for urban and community innovation. Not every project idea in a masterplan will be embraced by a client. However, we recognise that as consultants we are uniquely placed to introduce new ideas and thinking that address place-based systems and interactions and support community renewal. Our work meaningfully takes a holistic view of opportunity, place, culture and community while also ensuring a partnership and participatory approach. Some of the ideas we’ve included in our public art planning strategies over the past 15 years or so included:

  • An empty space proposal in 2005 as part of a town centre renewal initiative in a regional centre. Titled Re:Create this initiative drew on lessons from international successes in empty space projects and sought to make empty shops available for use by local artists and entrepreneurs. This meant developing capacity in a local arts enterprise incubator to broker and manage opportunities for underutilised/resourced local creatives while also seeding new enterprise.
  • Recognition that art-environment was an emerging strength in a regional community that could be leveraged to create unique expresses of identity and place as well as enhance art-science and new media practices. In our 2006 planning for an environmental and sustainability focused precinct intended to demonstrate integrated water sensitive design and create awareness of environmental stewardship, we included a proposals to consolidate art and environment initiatives, diversify uses of community facilities as well as introduce a local food market and community garden in a community space within walking distance from the beach. This project established an environmental accounting process that recognised that human and social health are interconnected.
  • Understanding and drawing out heritage and historic themes to encourage conservation and interpretation for leverage in cultural tourism, such as current work in Townsville’s Oonoonba development.
  • Festivals, ephemeral works and other events that addressed transitioning economies. For example, a proposition for a light themed event, including large scale projections and screen based works, in a declining sugar growing area to capture the symbolic aspects of seasonal cane burning.
  • An urban interventions and ephemeral works program offering small funds for artist/design driven projects that challenge preconceptions of space and built environment while also making spaces available and accessible to marginalised groups
  • A project proposal that engaged children in scientific imaging and environmental awareness through a thematic exploration of ‘microcosm’ (and very small worlds).
  • Engagements with new media, ICT and locative media to encourage new grammars of space and place and connections across and between places with particular focus on young people and content production.
  • Social inclusion by enabling diverse groups to participate in creative processes and art making including outsider artists and young people.
  • A hospital planning process in the 1990s in which we proposed a series of residencies for artists to work in medical research facilities and patient care environments to develop a profile for arts in health.
  • Creating awareness of Indigenous cultural and traditional knowledge in commercial and community projects. For example, in the wall artwork at Dogwood Crossing @ Miles, the Campfire Group communicated an Indigenous perspective of the local landscape and environment.
  • Other projects, such as recent work at Fitzgibbon Chase, have pursued cultural and community development objectives in the context of new/emerging community in a greenfield development. These projects have sought to generate experiences and connections in place.

While our approach is broad and fluid, a consideration in developing these plans and proposals is relevance – recognising the feasibility of cultural opportunities and matching those to surplus capacity and/or assets as well as political and community will. Public art can do more for, with and in a place or community than ‘decorate’. It disturbs us when we hear, as we have done, colleagues make comments like ‘public art is a sop’ or ‘what’s with all the place stuff?’. Comments like that mean there is a lack of understanding about what really can be achieved through an integrated critical and cultural approach to place and public art, and what that means for communities and places.


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