Tonight I hung around at uni for a few extra hours to attend this weeks COFA Talk: Art and the City. I’m quite interested in how government attempts to reconcile art within public spaces and was particularly keen to hear what Sydney Lord Mayor, Clover Moore had to say on the topic. I was severely disappointed.
The speeches themselves were the predictable round of backslapping and slideshows of middle-of-the-road public art installation. However, it was when the floor was opened up to the large crowd that I was most surprised. Obviously, questions quickly moved in the direction of street art (tellingly responded to by Moore as “graffiti” and bundled with activities like skateboarding) and it wasn’t long before the respondents (and host) visibly tired of this line of questioning – it appeared they were passing it over as just the realm of trouble-making kids.
The issue here isn’t graffiti – which has become a dirty word – it’s the discussion around what and where is fit for public art. For all the council rhetoric surrounding ‘discussion panels’ and ‘community consultation’, the fact is that access to these decision making bodies remains out of reach and otherworldly for most young and emerging artists – if not the art community at large.
A group of baby boomers sitting behind a desk, deciding that a “gritty, dark lane” in the inner city would be a good space to allow a chosen few street artists to make their mark doesn’t cut it. It’s clear that it’s the inner-city business people that have the power and political nous to keep this kind of art at a safe distance. They’re also the ones that like to cite these walls as proof that they’re “in touch with the youth and their ‘skateboard’ culture”.
Those that actually find themselves being accepted into this homogenised art space are faced with their own problems. Most public art in Sydney that actually sees the light of day has been so distorted, rebuilt and mutated by committees and bureaucrats that it often no longer resembles the artists’ original intent, or design. Artists need to be consulted and allowed the space (physically and creatively) to make statements – it’s the only way that lasting art will be allowed to grow.
This may be the last COFA Talk I attend for a while – they’re too stressful. And besides, I’ve got art to be making.