HCC shelves $250,000 artwork for debt reasons

A major public art installation at a key northern gateway into Hamilton has been shelved.

A $250,000 artwork proposal earmarked for land at the Wairere Drive-Mangaharakeke Drive interchange was mothballed by Hamilton City councillors in a 9-4 vote this week.

The roading interchange was built as part of the Te Rapa section of the Waikato Expressway.

The original concept for the site was rejected by the council in April last year, with councillors asking for a new concept to be developed and expressing a preference for a New Zealand artist to design the work.

Council staff worked with the Mesh Sculpture Trust to prepare a new proposal with four New Zealand artists shortlisted for the project. But at the council's strategy and policy committee this week a majority of councillors declined to move the project ahead, highlighting the fact it would debt-funded.

Councillor Dave Macpherson said it was a "shame" not to go ahead with the work as public art often pointed to the vibrancy of a city.

Mr Macpherson said the previous council had emphasised that large infrastructure projects should contribute to the cultural landscape of the city .

It was only a "technical reason" that prevented the proposal advancing nine months ago, he said.

However Councillor Garry Mallett said even if the artwork costs had been factored into the city's debt it was still not a reason to spend that money unless councillors thought it had higher priority than other projects.

Creative Waikato chief executive Sarah Nathan told councillors she understood the initial grant for the artwork was done in "another climate" but said it would be a multi-generational gift.

If the council did opt to decline the project Ms Nathan hoped it would not become a precedent for future thinking on art proposals.

In a statement issued after the meeting, Ms Nathan said that given how the new council was shaping "with its right-aligned, belt-tightening thinking" it was not too much of a surprise the plan to proceed with the artwork was overturned.

"Sure, it's a tough one.

"On one hand, our council is still dragging itself out of the impact of the GFC [global financial crisis] and accumulated debt. On the other, our beautiful and fast growing city is far more than the sum of roads, water and poo-plants . . .

"We should all continue to encourage council to see how art and cultural design enhances the development of future spaces and make them places we are all proud to call home," Ms Nathan said.

Meanwhile, councillors have given the green light for a Ward Lane mural.

The mural will be completed by artist Jeremy Shirley, with work expected to start this month.

The mural design will be signed off by councillors Angela O'Leary and Andrew King. aaron.leaman@waikatotimes.co.nz

Waikato Times