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Art and design lift public spaces

Culture Community Arts

Kay Bazzard05 November 2020

Visit Hastings these days and the terms ‘revitalisation’ and ‘urban design’ are becoming a reality in our central city business district. The new mini parks, expanded pavements for café dining, walk-through and landscaped laneways and new business developments suggest real headway is being made.

Full Spectrum, designed by Vesica Aotearoa.

Full Spectrum, designed by Vesica Aotearoa.
Photo: Simon Cartwright Photography

These spaces and enhancements have attractive finishing touches with well-designed seating, paving, curvilinear paths, tree planting with trellises and sheltered corners that invite us to linger, eat lunch and relax. Featured in many city spaces are murals, sculptures and artistically configured installations designed to stimulate interest and curiosity.

BayBuzz has been exploring some of these developments and what is behind them, checking progress and discovering how they come about, who is making the decisions.

Behind the scenes there are policies and processes that have been developed to ensure that agreed arts and cultural values are integrated into Council projects through the Hastings District Council Revitalisation plan that is being activated, with the Toi-Tū framework consulted and its key priorities (a list of eleven) measured and ticked off.

The Toi-Tū Strategic Framework acknowledges that the arts are essential in uplifting the wellbeing of the people. It addresses potential barriers to participation by encouraging community inclusion and in supporting creative sector employment and enterprise. It is intended as a regional strategy but not all councils have as yet endorsed it.

The Revitalisation Plan recognizes the important role of art in enhancing the quality of life by stimulating the interplay of culture, Māori and European history, city enhancement and civic pride. The Blossom Festival, HB Arts Festival, and Fringe in the ‘Stings add to the dynamics while local artists who provide the art work such as mural painters Cinzah Merkins, Jil of Aotearoa, Dali Susanto, designer Jacob Scott and sculptor Ricks Terstappen become our local creative heroes.

Art works are being introduced into projects by various teams working at the Council including the Toitoi team, Parks and Reserves team and for longer term and major projects, the dialogue between departments ultimately results in commissions to artists for inclusion of permanent structures, murals and temporary installations.

Andrea Taaffe, who works from HDC, is the city centre activation officer, charged with bringing the ‘Wow factor’ into our city spaces: fun, interactive installations, street art, games and performance.

Temporary art installations

Her activation projects are usually temporary, such as the lightboxes in Civic Square. “This is an opportunity to celebrate us, Heretaunga – for example, during Māori language week, the lightboxes could show art images on three sides with the fourth side showing a translation in te reo Māori. The lightboxes are flexible and can be moved, images are easily changed and it’s an opportunity for our artists to be engaged,” says Taaffe.

Another of the temporary installations in Civic Square recently was ‘Full spectrum’ – the octagonal light forms by Anton van Dorsten who designed and made the installation, using local fabricators and several other skilled tradespeople, and who works with Taaffe as project manager on many of the installation projects.

Leading the city centre activation programme for HDC is Andrea Taaffe. “My long term plan is for Hastings to be the art installation capital of New Zealand,” she says. “Every six weeks, we introduce something new; the trumpet flowers were hugely popular as we know from social media, with very positive feedback … from kids and a wide range of age groups.”

As part of the community vibrancy plan, a database of local artists collated and managed by Taaffe is used to communicate, clock new names and invite expressions of interest. This provides an opportunity to pitch ideas for stories, poems and outdoor exhibition ideas for new, high quality projects, to create work for artists and others and provide an opportunity to have local creatives’ work exposed in a very public way.

Hastings-based artist John Eaden views these developments with forty years of experience as a community arts administrator in Auckland. In his opinion, temporary installations are a good way of gaining public interest and engagement and in highlighting possibilities. However, they are frequently undertaken by public art providers whose work travels around the country and and is therefore generic, so he strongly supports initiatives that encourage and support local artists to undertake the projects.

Augmented reality tours

Megan Peacock-Coyle, manager of Toitoi, outlines their newest project designed to help locals and visitors track the history, cultural values and public art around the city– it will offer a unique experience using cutting-edge technology.

A concept developed as part of the Hastings Arts, Culture & Events Recovery Plan, the ‘augmented reality walking tour of the city’ is a collaboration between Toitoi, Hastings District Library and the Hastings City Art Gallery. Using mobile technology, a Heretaunga App will offer users an immersive experience to bring to life ‘stories of our place and our people’.

She explains how it works. “At certain points throughout the Hastings City, when you open the application it will activate the first part of your journey with a 3-dimensional map highlighting your path. As you walk around the map you will see that features through Hastings will be highlighted. Upon touching these it will come to life and identify elements of the narrative that experience holds.”

Currently, the narratives are being collated with local historians and key representatives from throughout our community. The application and tools are being built in preparation for stories to be added. The filming process will start in late October/early November with the Heretaunga App being presented in early December.

Permanent sculpture

Permanent artworks are being integrated into a number of Council projects by the various sectors of the council.

‘Prunus Awanui’ is one such artwork destined for the newly-extended Landmarks Square in Warren Street, where Parks and Reserves have commissioned Philipp Meier to construct a major artwork as a tribute to the late former mayor, Jeremy Dwyer. It is the initiative of the Landmarks Trust, who acts as an advocate for the community by lobbying and working with Council on issues of landscape, history, architecture and art in public places.

Meier’s massive artwork (a cherry blossom) is made from fabricated stainless steel and will add further vibrancy to the area. The steel structure offers safe climbing fun for children in an area of raised lawn. The mini-park has been extended into a neighbouring car park providing an area of lawn to sit, lie or play, with trees and low vegetation to the rear of the space, with the planting filtering the view for the Fun Buns outdoor dining area.

Reflecting the collaborations within council, Toitoi’s Andrea Taaffe has introduced mini-stages into the design with lighting and power, making it a multi-faceted performance space. “It is sheltered,” she says, “and it could be used for a Shakespearean play, a music performance or other community event.”

These art and design initiatives are a positive story for Hastings and one of passion and vigour from those who seek to make it happen.

But it would be very understandable to take the route of trying to please everyone, which can result in non-controversial, banal public art that briefly brightens and quickly becomes like wallpaper, so an additional ‘visual arts’ measure is desirable to balance out the art and entertainment values.

“Ideally,” says John Eaden, “the presence of public art denotes an informed and engaged society, underscored by a progressive and insightful civic administration. It is important that the planning and commissioning of public art be undertaken by experienced and qualified professionals with a grounding in the arts and who have an authentic approach to the content and relevance required for a given artwork or project.”

Kay Bazzard05 November 2020

One response to “Art and design lift public spaces”

  1. Louise Porter says:

    An excellent and informative article. Lots of treasures within our community that we need to hear about.

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