Book review Public Art Practical Guidelines Authors Pip Sawyer, Malcolm McGregor, Robyn Taylor Published by the Ministry for Culture and the Arts September 1997 $40.00 + $5.00 p&h from the Artists Foundation of WA
This guide comes in the form of a folder with 36 folded loose leaf inserts. On the inside cover it says " This guide is a series of four, linked publications which form a Practical Guide to Public Art: Public Art & the Artist, Public Art & the State, Public Art & Local Government, Public Art & the Private Sector."
With a publication such as this one, two years in the making, full colour reproduction, and with a brief to develop best practice guidelines for public art projects, one expects quality in terms of form and content.
This publication is disappointing in both form and content. The four documents, which were intended by the authors to be made available separately, have been packaged and are being sold as one publication which means there is a lot of repetition going on with core information appearing in all four sections. The colour coding and numbering on the inserts is not very obvious and the best way I have found to keep things together and in order is to use a set of paperclips! I think it's time the Ministry for Arts and Culture found a new graphic designer.
As far as content goes the issue of best practice has not been addressed. For practical purposes we are given sketches of some processes, and references to other resources. Unfortunately project management options are not covered in a comprehensive manner. Very little consideration is given, for example, to the option where the lead consultant, the architect or the landscape architect is the project manager for the arts project.
For those unfamiliar with public art procedures the use of the term "consulting artist" as well as " art consultant" adds confusion rather than clarity. It is difficult to understand why the processes used and endorsed by the Department of Contract & Management Services are not outlined in a straightforward manner in the Public Art and the State section. These procedures are implemented by selected professional arts consultants with curatorial experience and expertise and are considered by many as best practice. Perhaps the authors tried too hard to squeeze the information into the repeating headings: Introduction, Getting Started, The Consulting Artist, the Commissioned Artist, The Contract, and Project Management, and Resources List.
Direct discussion about accountability, conflict of interest, and the need to vary procedures when working with Aboriginal people would have been useful additions.
What the publication does do, through its many colour images and case studies, is convey a picture of the breadth and diversity of public art activity happening in WA. Unfortunately some images are incorrectly titled, and for larger projects not all team members / stakeholders are acknowledged.
These problems could all be remedied in the future as the Ministry for Culture and the Arts initially saw this publication as being updated each year, and allocated a modest sum of money for this purpose. One has to wonder though if this is an achievable goal taking into consideration the constraints of the existing design format.
I recommend this publication to those who want a general introduction to the area of public art practice, and who want to get a feel for the breadth of that practice in WA.