My arts practice balances public arts projects, private commissions and personal creative work. Yesterday I started a new public commission for Wollongong City Council. This blog aims to document this process. My brief is to include children in making art works that will decorate a new playground. The children have been part of the design process from the beginning, helping make decisions about the playground components, as well as how the playground will look and feel.
It’s a responsibility to produce public art: works made with public money for public spaces, works that will be either loved or loathed for decades to come. I’m a committed believer that more good site specific art work should be included in public spaces. Public art is egalitarian – art for everyone, not just those who can afford it or those that visit art galleries. Public arts projects can not only help create interesting and cherished spaces, but they are a valuable interface between artists and the community.
When I describe my arts practice, I tell people that I am a story teller. Instead of using words and paragraphs, my stories are shaped by lines and colours and clay. Artists and makers transform thought into form. Children readily cherish this idea- after all it is tangible to them, as most children engage in regular art making. So the children that worked with me yesterday were introduced to the idea that stories create the themes that drive art making. In this case, we were working with stories told by local elder Don Gray. Don was just a small boy when the Wirth’s circus train visited Thirroul. The town was especially thrilled by the sight of the elephants unloading the train, pulling the loaded circus carts through the streets and then helping to erect the Big Top. One of the elephants was attracted by the long green reeds growing at the edge of the lagoon. She wandered into the water and became bogged in the mud. Another elephant was needed to help drag the bogged animal out- an extraordinary sight for the villager’s of Thirroul, and something that none of the children ever forgot.
The fourth grade children who took part in our drawing workshop yesterday were equally stimulated by the story of the circus elephants. I will use the children’s drawings to help create the final artwork, templates for laser cutting “Corten” steel panels that will be used as safety fencing around the playground.
Landscape Architect: Jana Osvald, UmbaCo Landscape Architects Pty. Ltd.
Photographs: Tracy Kirk-Downey, Wollongong Council.