As part of our series of interviews with industry leaders and linking in with our recent article 'Does My Art Look Big On This', Valé spoke with Brisbane based gallerist and art curator John Stafford.
Together with Jodie Cox, Stafford heads up CREATIVEMOVE, a strategic consultancy specialising in cultural and public art projects. Having worked closely with Brisbane City Council and many property developers in South East Queensland, he provides some welcome insights into the world of public art and the value it delivers to developers and the wider community.
Valé - Why do you feel public art is so important in new developments?
JS - Public art often gives the community a sense of reassurance that somebody actually cares about that public space. People generally like it because it makes them feel that whoever commissioned it had a caring interest in the area and the people who live in it. It definitely contributes to a better public built environment. And of course it also supports the many artists who can see themselves represented in public.
Valé - How would you describe the clients who seek you out and why is they come to you?
JS - Our clients are mainly local councils, developers and other statutory authorities or not- for-profits. Local councils have a development incentive for public art which the developer will seek to implement to get approval. Councils in our area in South East Queensland, such as Brisbane City Council, for example require a 0.25% contribution from developers from their construction budget for public art. This has been a long-term Council protocol and our role is to provide advice and insight to developers on how they can implement that protocol most successfully.
Valé - Can you give an example of the type of public art those developers finance themselves?
JS - We work with a number of developers who go way above and beyond those council requirements when it comes to commissioning public art.
Aria Property Group’s Fish Lane precinct developments in Brisbane are a great example of that. That area has been undergoing rapid change with plenty of new developments, bars and restaurants popping up. A big effort is made to make it a lifestyle destination with creative amenity.
It’s a highly culturally active place and Aria’s vision was to commission public art which would fit and supplement the existing cultural ambience. Its CEO had a clear strategy to further increase the area’s cultural value and make its commercial and residential developments more attractive in the process. It's certainly a vision which seems to have paid off well for them.
Valé - So to put it bluntly, public art has the economic effect of creating greater footfall in the community?
JS - It means there's more chance for people to come, explore, and spend time and money in your particular development or area, yes. I think there's a very clear understanding by the government, developers and the cultural sector that public art is beneficial on many levels. These type of commissions provide plenty of cultural and social benefits, aside from the economic ones.
Of course, there are strong business and economic arguments behind public art too, because it can do a lot to make an area more desirable. But it really isn’t just self interest on behalf of the developers though. A great example is the Fintan Magee mural which was part of the Fish Lane project and which the developer needed approval from the 42 residents in the building. Aria went through the process of persuading all property owners to get on board even though there were no direct financial interests involved for the company in that specific property. Yet, they could clearly see the long-term value for the entire neighbourhood.
Valé - What do you feel makes art remarkable. Or what impact does public art need to have on a particular space to make it remarkable?
JS - There are certain things an artist can do in the public domain that people can't experience in their own homes. Things that make people take the time to stop and think, or indeed take a selfie.
Take Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate in Chicago. Eventually it cost the city more than $23 million - it's massive. But it’s probably also one of the most Instagrammed artworks on the planet. In many ways it galvanised the image of Chicago and became an icon for the city.
It’s brilliant on many levels because Kapoor created a static sculpture which at the same time perfectly captures the dynamic skyline of Chicago. The team that built it very well understood the overwhelming scale of the built environment around it and Cloud Gate captures it perfectly.
Of course, public art doesn’t have to be liked by everyone in order to be remarkable. It helps of course if most people do. Ultimately though, art is there to evoke, so whether they like it or not is not necessarily the point. And as it’s a public space, they’re encouraged to share exactly how they feel about it.
Valé - That takes us onto the topic of Instagram. What effect do you feel social media has had on public art?
JS - It’s a very interesting dynamic and it’s great to see how social media is driving people to engage more with public art. Especially with Instagram and Facebook, people want to have their picture alongside a piece of art, almost regardless of whether they feel it’s a good or a bad piece. They want to have their picture taken with it and represent themselves in that context.
So, whether it's a public car park performance by a local garage band, or an inflatable sculpture by Yayoi Kusama at Brisbane’s GOMA, people are still going to photograph themselves with that creative activity. They want to be associated with it and that’s great. People who ordinarily couldn’t care less about art now have the opportunity to hate it, love it. Most of all they get the opportunity to experience it and talk about it.
Valé - What are the lessons which bars, restaurants or hotels could learn from the use of public art?
JS - Hospitality plays a very important role in contributing to an area’s diversity - mostly in good ways, sometimes also in bad ways. The important thing to remember for any business is that whatever service you provide and no matter what design you choose - it’s now part of that mixture of good and bad.
Hospitality businesses in particular often fulfil a wider role in the communities they serve and therefore need to be more than just vertically focused on their own building. They need to take a broader precinct interest in how they can contribute creatively to a particular street, suburb, or indeed city as a whole.