Video

Video review "Talking to Strangers: Public art in Western Australia" Duration approx 40 mins Produced by the Media Production Unit, Edith Cowan University, Western Australia, 1997 Price: $127.00, $99.00 tax exempt

" In essence, the concept of Percent for Art lies in recognising the integral, as opposed to the peripheral, place of art in building development and design. " (1)

The Percent for Art Scheme in Western Australia uses an allocation of a percentage of the construction cost, usually one percent, of State Capital Works projects to commission artworks. The artist's role is to create works that are integrated with the building or its landscape.

The Department of Contract and Management Services (CAMS ) manages the Percent for Art Scheme, with the support of the Ministry for Culture & the Arts. Projects are selected by negotiation with the relevant agency, and are commonly within the $2M to $20M range. Current Percent for Art projects span the portfolios of Agriculture, Arts, Commerce and Trade, Education, Employment and Training, Family and Children's Services, Health, Justice and Police. Approximately half of these are regional projects, in locations as diverse as Albany, Broome, and Kalgoorlie.

The Percent for Art scheme began in 1989 when the Ministry for Culture and the Arts (2) in collaboration CAMS (3) and the Ministry for Planning (4) convened a working group, later to become the Minister for the Arts' Public Art Taskforce. The central objectives of the Taskforce were: a) to improve the quality of the built environment and the value of public facilities; and b) to create work opportunities for Western Australian artists.

The scheme commenced with a small number of selected pilot projects in the early 1990s and has now built up to include most state government building projects over 2 million dollars. The scheme is not enshrined in legislation, but operates with the full support of the Premier and the state government. Through this support the state government acknowledges that the public environment is a community asset and can have a major civilising effect. Artworks are seen to contribute significantly to the creation of a humane and meaningful milieu.

In a society where the construction of our environment continues to be dominated by market forces and short term financial imperatives which have often produced disastrous results, it is reassuring to observe that CAMS with support from the Ministry for Culture and the Arts is striving to improve the quality of the built environment and thus impact positively on the quality of life for all citizens. Although the scheme is limited to the state government capital works program, some local governments are now starting to follow suit.

Glen Robinson, Client Manager for Public Art at CAMS, has emphasised that the scheme bears no additional cost to government. "The money for artworks is found within existing project budgets. The artworks budget is initially set at 1%, but sometimes is negotiated down so as never to compromise other aspects of the project." According to Glen, "there has been a groundswell of support and enthusiasm for public art both within CAMS and within client departments as more people have become involved in projects, been part of the process, and seen positive results. They have seen how they can use art as a powerful marketing tool, to say something about what they do, where they are located, and what their values are. They can see the economic and social advantages of creating a high quality public space that both attracts people and communicates a feeling that they matter."

The scheme has certainly created work opportunities for WA artists. Some 30 projects have been completed, 25 are currently underway, and another 25 are to commence in the next 12 months. Some 100 artists have been involved to date if one takes into consideration all shortlisted artists who have been paid to develop design proposals, commissioned artists, and artist subcontractors who have worked for commissioned artists on larger projects.

Projects range in scale, context, artform, and the way artists relate to the user group of the facility. Budgets range from $10,000 to $200,000. For example, the public art commission at Jandakot Primary School for the Education Department, was undertaken by artist Michael Iwanoff in 1991 with a budget of $18,000. The Kununurra Regional Police Complex project completed in 1998 for the Western Australia Police Service had a budget of $37,000 and involved a number of local Aboriginal artists coordinated through Waringarri Arts: Paddy Carlton, Joe Lewis, Alan Griffiths, Rush Bin-Omer, Tom Redston, Kimberley Kohan and George Watts.

The Ballajura Community College project for the Education Department was awarded to Tony Jones in 1997 with a budget of $56,000. Jones invited Stuart Elliot, Kevin Draper and Matt Dickman to collaborate with him on certain details. The Banksia Hill Juvenile Detention Centre, planned and built between 1995 and 1997 for the Ministry of Justice, had a Percent for Art budget of $160,000. A number of projects were completed by Indra Geidans, Richard Gunning, Yvette Watt, Anne Neil, Steve Tepper, Mark Illich, Sandra Hill, Jenny Dawson, and Andrew Stumpfel.

As the number and complexity of projects has increased there has been a recognition by CAMS of the need for professional art project management. Initially the scheme was managed loosely through both the DFTA who primarily looked after brief development and artist selection, and the BMA who then took over and looked after project implementation.

Some members of the government's now defunct Public Art Taskforce argued for many years that the management costs should not be part of the artworks budget. Projects went ahead with people within the Department for the Arts and the BMA spending time (and therefore money) managing projects. Management was necessary, and even if the idea was to hide the costs, someone was paying for it.

Good project management skills are valued in many industries, but it seems that in the arts industry if we are seen to be spending money on management then it is automatically assumed that we are taking money away from artists. Good management practices can assist both the artist and the client in achieving quality outcomes, and alleviating unwanted time consuming problems.

Since the Percent for Art scheme started the Department for the Arts has itself undergone a number of restructures and there is no longer a staff member with sole responsibility for public art.

CAMS has been downsized, and has taken on board the management of the Percent for Art scheme. It has, after various experiments, now developed a model procedure that ensures accountability and sits comfortably with the state government's general desire to reduce government bureaucracy and develop partnerships with the private sector. The procedure is considered "best practice" in terms of project management for public art projects and serves as a useful model for local governments and other institutions wishing to implement public art projects.

Glen Robinson commented, "We realised that we needed expert people to manage the projects. We recognised the need for curatorial experience and expertise." CAMS established a Period Consultancy Panel for Art Co-ordination Services for the Percent for Art Scheme in 1996, called for proposals, and selected four art consultants for the panel based on proposals in response to selection criteria and fee submissions. Now there is work not only for artists, but for art consultants as well.

In an attempt to document projects CAMS has produced promotional leaflets on some of the completed projects. Generally very little has been written about the Percent for Art projects.

At this point in time there is need for critical debate, for people to review and write about the artworks, to discuss what are appropriate evaluation criteria and to explore links with architectural criticism. Why is this not happening? Perhaps public art is still not considered by the critics to be as valid as art in galleries? Perhaps, because for a long time we have all had to "be careful" , to comply with the culture of advocacy initiated by the Public Art Taskforce. We can only ever advocate, otherwise someone in some government department or treasury will think that we are spending too much money on all this art and it will all be lost. Perhaps we need to press for legislation? We are always kept on the back foot. It is time for us to "come out" , to have a healthy dialogue about public art, to review the results to date.

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