Public art schemes leave costly repair bill for ACT government
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Public art schemes leave costly repair bill for ACT government

The ACT government has spent almost $380,000 repairing and maintaining public art since 2010 as artworks commissioned under past schemes deteriorate with age.

No new funding has been allocated to public art since 2012, but the repair bill is mounting with an increase of about 27 per cent from $40,240 in 2010-11 to $150,000 in 2013-14.

Artist Anne Ross with Gungahlin's sculpture<i>  A is for Alexander, B is for Bunyip and C is for Canberra</i>, which required $5370  of maintenance less than three years after it was unveiled.

Artist Anne Ross with Gungahlin's sculpture A is for Alexander, B is for Bunyip and C is for Canberra, which required $5370 of maintenance less than three years after it was unveiled.Credit:Marina Neil

The Percent for Art Scheme, championed by former chief minister Jon Stanhope, committed 1 per cent of the capital works program each financial year to public art projects and ran for two years before it was scrapped in 2009.

Each year, 5 per cent the now-defunct scheme was set aside to cover the repairs and maintenance of the artworks throughout their lifetime, providing a grand total of $364,000.

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And while public art can be created to exist from "minutes" to "millennia", the government's action statement for public art released with the scheme says it appears some works need an expensive helping hand to reach their intended lifespan.

The funds allocated for the upkeep of artworks commissioned under the scheme had "proved appropriate" so far, an ArtsACT spokesman said, but additional funds may be required depending on levels of vandalism and longevity of materials.

At least one public artwork, bronze sculpture On the Staircase by Keld Moseholm, has been a target of continuing vandalism, with the government deciding to relocate it from its home in Civic's Petrie Plaza in October.

But when it comes to the costs of repairs and maintenance, the ArtsACT spokesman said general deterioration was ultimately the more-expensive factor.

"Vandalism requires an immediate response, however, is generally easy to repair," he said.

In 2010-11, the government spent $2,854,000 on the design, fabrication and installation of new public art with 13 artworks completed and just $40,240 on repairs and maintenance, the community services annual report says.

In 2011-12, $3,088,000 was spent on new art, $38,242 on maintenance and 13 works were finalised.

But in 2012-13, maintenance and repair costs of $150,000 overtook new art spending of just $140,000 in a year when Culture Fragment by David Jensz and The Other Side of Midnight by Anne Ross were installed in the Woden Town Centre and City Walk respectively.

In 2013/14, maintenance and repair work remained on-par, again costing the government $150,000 in a year when $225,000 was spent on new art and one artwork Microscopia was permanently installed at the Women and Children's Hospital.

A breakdown of government contracts from 2013/14 shows a total of $156,593 was spent on repairs and maintenance.

The most expensive single maintenance job was for aluminium artwork Sculptured Form dating from 1970 in Woden where $46,699 was spent in three stages.

But for some artworks, like Gunghalin's A is for Alexander B is for Bunyip C is for Canberra, the maintenance costs begin just a few years after they are installed, with the bronze sculpture needing $5370 worth of work in 2013/14 less than three years after it was unveiled.

With no new capital funding allocated to public art, artworks "delivered" in 2012/13 and 2013/14 were commissioned or purchased in previous financial years, the ArtsACT spokesman said.

But the legacy of the Percent for Art Scheme continues with two artworks commissioned under the scheme In The Stream and Breezing in Canberra due to be delivered in 2014/15.

Clare Colley is Head of Audience Engagement at The Australian Financial Review.