24 Sep 2015

Chch Mayor defends $500k spend on sculptures

8:00 pm on 24 September 2015

Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel is defending the decision to spend $500,000 of ratepayers' money on buying two sculptures by the British artist Antony Gormley.

A computer-generated image of the sculpture in its new home.

A computer-generated image of the sculpture in its new home. Photo: Supplied

One of the two human figures made of cast iron will sit in the Avon River and one in the Arts Centre.

Some groups - including the Taxpayers' Union - have questioned whether the council should be spending such a large sum on the works, at a time when rates were rising dramatically and asset sales were being considered to help meet the cost of the rebuild.

Today Ms Dalziel told a full council meeting that while she welcomed debate on the sculptures, it was important to recognise the important part public works played in providing enjoyment for the community.

"Public art is something that's available to everyone and it's not just available to a private collector and that's why I love public art.

"But lets have the debate...about how we make these decisions and whether we should be allocating at this time."

Councillor Yani Johanson disagreed with the mayor on the need for spending on art at a time when the city was struggling to pay its bills.

"We're contributing money when we've got other places and areas of the city that are crying out for attention through broken infrastructure."

Council chief executive Karleen Edwards said the proper place for debate on how much the city spends on public art, is as part of public consultation leading up to the adoption of next year's annual budget.

"I think it's an important question. It shouldn't be a debate that's.... media driven...but one that the public decides through that process."

Ms Edwards was asked by one councillor if it was appropriate for the council's Public Art Advisory Group to approve the $500,000 without the decision being referred back to the full council.

"I'm no art expert, so it's not something I could comment on in terms of whether something is a good decision or not. I think the issue really is for council to decide whether it's happy to have something such as a group like that provide that advice."

Councillor Paul Lonsdale, who sits on the advisory group, gave the example of the Chalice sculpture in Cathedral Square, to make the point that sometimes works of art take time to grow on people.

"That was massively contentious (but) post the earthquake people lay their wreaths and their flowers around the Chalice in remembrance of the people we'd lost."

So they now recognise that as a place they can actually go and reflect. Whilst it's contentious at the moment, in the future I think we may look back on it in a very different way."

The two sculptures are due to be installed within the next week.

A review of the council's policy on spending on public art is underway and will be consulted on in the lead up to next year's annual budget.

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority also contributed to the cost of the sculptures, but will not say how much.