Artwork outcry highlights flaws in selection process

The controversial sculpture, called ‘Airborne’, expected to be unveiled in Ōrewa this week.

Before it even goes up, the sculpture due to be unveiled this week in Ōrewa has stirred up enormous controversy and increased $10,000 in cost.

The sculpture replaces a fountain that corroded beyond repair on Moana Reserve, by the beach.

It was approved and funded last year by the Hibiscus & Bays Local Board, in its final term. At the time $160,000 was allocated from an Auckland Council budget specifically to replace assets.

However, last week Council’s head of area operations – Community Facilities, Julie Pickering, told the paper that $170,000 was spent. She says $39,000 was spent on investigation and design, project management, consultation, refurbishment and relocation of seating and removal of the old sculpture.

The remaining $131,000 went on construction and installation of the new sculpture.

Hundreds of people took to social media recently, following a Hibiscus Matters Facebook post showing the new sculpture. The majority were concerned about the cost and that it restricts the view of the sea.

Many said that this was the first time they’d seen the design and they would have liked to have a say, despite widespread publicity at the time including several stories in this paper and on social media.

Consultation included a chance to view the designs at two drop-ins and a session on Moana Reserve.

Feedback to Hibiscus Matters at the time was that the location was better suited to a community space with perhaps a small water park or a band rotunda. The local board said this could be considered in future, with or without a sculpture.

The winning work was chosen by the local board based on public votes, but only 183 voted and the winner got 79 of those (43 percent). There were five options presented, all created by John Mulholland of Warkworth and Philipp Ripa of Wainui.

The process is a typical one for Council – come up with the plan, get feedback, make a decision. It involves ticking a number of boxes along the way and rolling forward regardless – there seem to be no places where U-turns can be made. When there is not a great amount of feedback (as happened here) there needs to be the option to reset, pull the plug and try something different next time.

Social media comments recently were of the view that 79 votes was not enough to land the entire community with a big piece of public art.

The current local board inherited the issue. Chair Gary Brown says while he does not wish to criticise the actions of the previous local board, he considers more options should have been presented from more local artists. “The options could have included leaving the reserve as open space, or creating an area for outdoor entertainment,” he says. “A display board on the site with a QR code where you could see the choices and have your say is more democratic,” he says.

Julia Parfitt and Janet Fitzgerald were on the local board at the time the decision was made, and are also members of the current board.

Mrs Parfitt, who was chair at the time, says the artists were chosen because they approached the board about another project and had the expertise. She says there would have been huge costs associated with opening it up to the wider art community.

“In hindsight it’s always possible to do things better, but you’re never going to get 100 percent support when it comes to art,” Mrs Parfitt says. “Leaving it as open space was not the feedback we got, and if we’d done that the money goes back into Council’s purse and we’re unlikely to see it again,” she says.

Mrs Fitzgerald says the board tried its best to get the information out to everyone.

“We are not hitting consultation on lots of things in the right way, but I don’t know what the answer is. We have to take lessons from this but I would like to ask the public – how would you suggest we reach everyone? It upsets me when we try to do something positive and people don’t value it.”

Hellen Wilkins of Destination Ōrewa Beach says as the work reflects Ōrewa, the beach is visible through the sculpture and there is a water element, her organisation is happy with it.  “It will enhance the visual appeal of the reserve, prove an interactive piece of art and give a sense of pride in Ōrewa to locals and visitors,” she says.

The artists were approached for comment but declined.

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