Thursday, November 20, 2008

Council heavies give stick over public art story

The SMH yesterday featured a pic of mine and some words in a page 5 story about Council's enthusiastic 'beigeing' of public art, even when it is commissioned by the building owner and executed by renowned artists.

Clover Moore's spinners spun into furious action, denying to The Herald that their people did the erasing and apparently getting the place into a tizz, right up to the Editor.

Unfortunately for them I also had a photo of the truck they were using, with a City of Sydney logo on the door, which I supplied to The Herald.

Then the spinners rang me with a third-degree interrogation, trying to make capital out of a sub-editor's mistake which captioned the picture as being of the Bar Me venue when it is in fact the Crest Hotel, just around the corner in Victoria Street. Both places had stencils applied in 2004 as part of my 'Live Walls' project, with the permission and encouragement of the owners, and both were erased by Council at different times.

I queried why they were so worried, as the story only showed them carrying out the tidy towns policy they boast about. The reply, (in an adrenalin-elevated voice): 

"Do I sound worried? We just want to get the facts straight." 

It was interesting to see Clover's media machine in action. It's not about the issues, it's about who has the biggest media budget – standard operating procedure these days for politicians and big organisations. If a critical story appears, they punish the publisher to make them more reluctant to criticise in future.  

Meanwhile after a tipoff from me, The Herald corrected the caption on the website (and belatedly credited me for the pic, after electing not to pay me for it either because they "didn't have much money at the moment". So much for me making a living – the cutbacks at Fairfax have a lot to answer for).

The top picture shows (among others) work by Numskull who has an exhibition opening at the MTV Gallery in Yurong Street on 5 December, and by Jason Wing who recently appeared on the ABC's Arts Sunday and was recently named Artist of the Year in the Blacktown Council area where he now lives and works. Artist Shannon Johnson also contributed to the group mural, pictured here with Jason in the background at work on the doomed stencils in Victoria Street.

Of course my media jousting partner, Andrew Woodhouse, was against the whole thing.  "I think there should be art but not visual vandalism," he said.

I guess all the galleries exhibiting these people, and those buying their work, mustn't know much about art. And I guess the working party of Victoria Street businesses and residents who had called for murals in that very spot, marking the entrance to a famous backpacker strip, and enlivening a bland wall otherwise displaying only ugly aircon outlets, have no say in the matter either.

Total control of public spaces by authoritarian bureaucrats imposing bland uniformity is apparently the only right and proper thing, pip pip.

The issue sparked a letter to the editor today, titled A city of grey walls from Jesse Fink in Paddington. It puts the case nicely.

PS (21/11/08) Another letter in the Herald today supports public colour.  This one from Sally Gaunt who works in Glebe is titled No place for street culture.

PPS (22/11/08) This story in August has Council again erasing world-class art -- that they had also sponsored -- despite pleas to a Ranger from a Powerhouse Museum staffer telling them it was legitimate. Apparently all the paperwork was not in order. Paperwork is far more important than art, you see... if you are an officious twat with too much power. I know who the true vandals are.

PPPS (25/11/08) Today The Herald published Council's reply to all this as the lead letter. It is seriously and deliberately inaccurate. I've posted comment under this story. They demand a full DA process if someone wants their wall stencilled but if, like most renovators these days, you are a fashion slave to dark grey (that dead non-colour that steals light from the street and deeply offends me) that's just fine and dandy. Fundamentally there is nothing behind this affair except a middleclass loathing of extroversion, colour and expression enshrined in draconian council policy. 


New Overlords said...

Damn good work there!

Anonymous said...

The Clove Moore Party is behaving in a deceptive and authoritarian manner towards its constituents. Who asked for this possy of suburbanites to bland out our city? I certainly didn't. Clovers view of the city as only being for "naice" people must be fought. "Naice" people don't like public art (graffiti according to the Moore Party) post bills and drink late at night. "Naice" people are though only capable of recycling 28% of the city's waste. Possibly they should focus on this more important issue and get themselves together and match San Francisco with its zero waste policy.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous

"Naicepeople" You have a chip on your shoulder.

Anonymous said...

25 November 2008

Letters SMH

As a strong supporter of creativity and the arts, the City of Sydney encourages and protects legitimate aerosol art and murals, while taking a strong position on illegal visual pollution such as "tagging" and graffiti.

The city's graffiti removal contractors have no record of removing a mural from a wall adjoining Bar Me in July or August this year, as alleged ("Art? Council knows what it doesn't like", November 19). The photograph accompanying the article was misleading as it was taken in 2004.

It shows a mural on the side of the Crest Hotel in Kings Cross as part of the Live Walls 2004 Street Art Project, which was supported by South Sydney Council.

The city has many street art projects under way, working with young artists and the community to replace, restore or create new murals throughout the city, including projects in Ultimo, Woolloomooloo, Glebe, Millers Point and Chippendale.

All efforts are made to protect murals and legitimate street art. We do not paint over them without first talking to building owners and, if they support the artwork, they are encouraged to lodge a development application, which involves an established process of public consultation and assessment.

A DA is not intended to stifle artists and creativity. It helps ensure that artworks are legitimate, supported by the building owner and community, and our contractors know that they are to be protected.

The process helps identify genuine artworks and avoid them being removed by mistake.

As custodians of public space, the city has an obligation to investigate instances of possible graffiti vandalism.

Last financial year our contractors removed 411,368 incidents of graffiti, protecting our public domain from the unsightly tags and acts of vandalism that degrade trains, buses and walls throughout Sydney.

Monica Barone

Chief executive, City of Sydney

The Editor said...

The above letter is unbelievable. This town sure does float on spin. Just for starters, South Sydney Council had had no jurisdiction over the locations of the art in question for two years at that point. They had nothing to do with it. They did not even exist at the time! Council's spinners know this because I told them while under the third-degree.

Banging on about 'vandalism' and 'tags' is irrelevant. This work was done with the full permission and co-operation of the owners of the buildings.

Council are correct that they require a DA (although there is some question as to their legal right to do so) but the process of getting one takes so long and costs so much money that work like this would simply not happen. It does stifle art. It requires the work to be pre-designed which effectively doubles the cost and removes any possibility of improvisation on the day. DAs are designed for developments, not art. It's just a blunt instrument. How come Marrickville can manage it?

All the stuff about 'talking to the building owners' is misleading. I saw the letter they sent to the lessee about one of the works in question and it demanded the work be removed before a DA was submitted. But there was no money to do it again. Clover's spin-merchants know this because I told them. But they are obviously not people to let a few facts get in the way of a good bit of spin.

And if their contractor had no record of removing the work 'in July or August' maybe they should look at June for instance. The wording of that bit is very carefully considered. I for one didn't make a diary entry when it was erased -- I just nearly wept -- and July or August is just my guess, as the wording implies.

It is they who are misleading, not my photo, even if the caption was wrong in the Herald's version. The date has nothing to do with it.

I could say more but I might get sued.

Fitzroyalty said...

What total fucking morons these bureaucrats are! The culture clash between the beige suits and the people who actually live in the inner city is huge. In Melbourne's Fitzroy the council is relatively more open minded - see graffiti in Fitzroy. In the Melbourne CBD there is a signficant degree of openness too but there are also government retards who are scared of colour - see we are governed by morons.

Fitzroyalty said...

ps I think the Yarra council makes it easy for property owners to get permits to have art works on their public facing walls, and importantly there's no automatic removal by council - property owners have to remove their own or apply for council removal. As for links, the comment form allows "a href" tags so you can use html to make links!

Fitzroyalty said...

ps Surely if a property owner has permission and a permit for a work of art on their wall then the council has no legal grounds for removing it. I would consider it possible to sue the council for vandalising the wall by painting over the owner's lawful property.

ml said...

nice work on tracking this through. it's funny that on the one hand you have the art & about type events celebrating grass roots art, and on the other, this kind of overly bureaucratic response.