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HomeIssue 10Can public art policy deliver common sense?

Can public art policy deliver common sense?


Above: Lurking behind the roadway signage is a work of public art, but you need to park and get out of your car to appreciate it (below left). Bottom: the approach to the roundabout from the opposite direction.

The Town Council has received $120,000 over three years to develop an arts and cultural policy and fund a program of works.
In the first year, the money will go to a consultant who will “work with the community” to develop the policy, according to Councillor Jade Kudrenko, chair of council’s Public Art Advisory Committee. She says the committee have been debating whether the consultant should be a local or external.
The policy will ultimately include a Cultural Plan and a Public Art Master Plan, which in the following two years will have $40,000 pa to put towards implementation.
This could be good news as council’s forays into the public art domain have often had good intentions marred by poor implementation or unthinking interventions. Past examples that spring to mind are the solar light installed in the Gathering Garden, the ‘Big Books’ signage at the entrance to the Town Library, and the plaque placed bang in the middle of the Rainwater Reflection Pan in the ‘revitalised’ Todd Mall. The latest is the installation of Dan Murphy’s lizard sculpture on the roundabout at the intersection of Undoolya Road and Sturt Terrace.
A roundabout is a piece of road infrastructure, most directly engaged with by drivers. As you approach this roundabout in a car, driving outbound on the Wills Terrace causeway or inbound on Undoolya Road, the sculpture is scarcely visible behind the roadway signage. Its impact is thus lost to the majority of its potential audience.
Will a policy though be able to forestall this sort of thing? Will a policy be able to instil forethought, aesthetic sensitivity and common sense?

Kieran Finnane



  1. I find it astonishing that Council even has to ask if the coming consultant needs to be local or from elsewhere. Why would they not go local, and if they don’t, what possible reason will they offer for not to?
    As for the lizard in the roundabout, what bright spark came up with that idea?
    As noted in the article, a roundabout is there to be directly engaged with by drivers.
    It is a traffic control measure and has no other purpose.
    It is not a place to be contemplating art, neither from passing vehicles nor from any pedestrian walking across the busy street and becoming a traffic hazard by doing so.

  2. The issue with the Public Art Advisory board is its imbalance.
    It is stacked with councillors who significantly outnumbers the other members.
    Another issue is that they are all seemingly closet artists who propose their own ideas of how to spend public art money and this type of discussion waters down the artists’ proposals.
    It also seems the small group of public artists in Alice are falling into the pattern of accepting these conditions and it has effected their output.
    It may be time to cast the net a bit further and capture some of the better public artist. While you are at, it balance the committee out. A lot of money has been wasted on dumbed down art.

  3. Hal, Just to clarify, I do not object to public art being installed on a roundabout. My objection in this instance is to the placement of road signs that block the sightline to the work for the majority of its potential viewers, that is drivers and, I should add, their passengers.

  4. @Kieran Finnane
    Posted June 18, 2015 at 10:56 am
    Understood, Kieran.
    And to clarify, I do object to public art being placed in as a traffic-sensitive spot as a roundabout where viewing it takes a drivers eyes off the road and away from oncoming traffic. Roads are hazardous enough as they are without added distractions.
    And in that sense, I suppose I consider the traffic signs to be beneficial as they make the roundabout a safer place for the traffic it (the roundabout) was designed for.
    The lizard is a winner. I, for one, would like it even more if I didn’t have to quickly glance at it in passing. And unlike the murals around town, there is no safe place to view it from.

  5. More wasted money I hope we don’t end up with art like we have at the tip some people call it art others call it rubbish what they have done at anzac hill is outstanding and well done

  6. Lovely piece of art by one of our great “local” artists, Dan Murphy, but wrong place.
    I was to be told “But it is there … look, there, in the middle” OH and I was made to suddenly slow down and cause a triple accident involving a pedestrian crossing and the car behind me.
    Same with another piece of art located where locals and tourists alike have no chance to admire, I mean the budgerigars at the airport (by Pip and Pam), or the mural behind Coles as shoppers go to Coles but they seldom go behind it.
    As for the “rejuvenated” Mall, the artistic features mentioned by Kieran in her article of January 2014, are lost to the passer by who wishes to meet some human warmth and activity rather than a bench too cold in winter and too hot in summer or some invisible metallic moths flattering in the sun or under the street lights.
    Some 18 months later, the rainwater reflection pan, with or without a plaque in its center, doesn’t attract the attention of any visiting person who has no idea what this low depression may represent. We do have the artists, but sorry we have a council with no commonsense.

  7. Perhaps such artworks placed along walkways around town for enjoyment of those walking or awaiting pickups, where visible to drivers they can pause for a closer view.
    ASTC may consider video monitoring along walk-ways for security monitoring, and assessing which most popular and used walkways or sites.
    ASTC perhaps consider free WiFi zones at selected locations where security viewing, including simple viewer feedback such as like / dislike.

  8. Hi All, as an advocate for more good quality public art, and for a more informed public on the issues surrounding its procurement and enjoyment, I appreciate all the varied comments below.
    Hal, drivers are not the only viewers of Dan Murphy’s great lizard on the Undoolya Road roundabout (looks like a perrentie to me), we also have cyclists, pedestrians, kids at the Líl Antz preschool and Casa Nostra customers. Don’t let drivers in vehicles set the benchmark for the quality of our public spaces.
    We are lucky to have a lot of public art in Alice Springs and a lot of it is fabulous.
    The Alice Springs News might like to run a competition for the best-liked piece, and this would double as an awareness campaign for all the good work we do have – I think Maya is right in that many people miss Pam and Pip’s lovely work at the airport, and how many people are aware of Ben Ward’s great light piece in Todd Street North that adds a lovely subtle and surprising element to the street at night?
    Artists, keep up the good work

  9. Congratulations to the Town Council for lifting Dan Murphy’s work. Now sitting on top of the rocks, instead of crouched between them, the work is clearly visible to motorist on both approaches to the roundabout.
    A sensible solution to what was a traffic hazard.
    And @ Sue Dugdale – from Wikipedia, the perentie is a lizard. It is Australia’s largest monitor lizard or goanna, and the fourth-largest living lizard on earth.


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