Council to Give Public Greater Say in Next Round of Public Art

The council plans to commission six new public sculptures in the coming two years.

And to ask the public what they should look like, said Dublin City Arts Officer Ray Yeates at a recent meeting of the council’s arts committee.

Due to launch in April, the council’s Sculpture Dublin project should mean public artworks being commissioned for parks and public spaces across Dublin rather than just in the city centre, he said.

The aim is to focus on art that is relevant to the local area, not “parachuted-in”, Yeates said during the meeting on Monday at City Hall.

“There will be community engagement as to what the sculptures will be and the location, and the artists will work with the ideas that come up,” he says.

Local residents will be able to get involved in commissioning panels too, he says.

Yeates is keen to commission different artists who don’t normally get the opportunity, he told the meeting.

Asking for Views

In the past, some Dubliners have complained that public art tends to get chosen for the city, rather than by those living in the city.

That’s set to change, says Yeates.

Dublin City Council Culture Company already runs “tea and chats” events, inviting people to come talk about their area, including what’s happening there culturally, he says.

That format could be used to elicit locals’ ideas for sculptures, he says.

“At the end of that conversation, they can say, ‘We are talking about putting a new sculpture in your park, what would you like to see?’” he says.

Some people might have definite ideas about what they want, he says. “Some people might say we would just like to see what the artist comes up with.”

The process will also depend on the artist themselves. Some are open to public engagement, while others are more private, he says.

Karen Downey, who is working with Sculpture Dublin, said she is currently ironing out the format that any public consultation will take.

Yeates says the council could also have residents pitch ideas at public meetings, gatherings in the park, surveys and discussions. Councillors will get to weigh in too, through their local area committees, he said.

In the past, sometimes art was “parachuted in”, says independent Councillor Vincent Jackson, “and people were asking what is it? Then you would have to try to interpret it.”

Getting Started

The plan is to launch the Sculpture Dublin project on 21 April in the Hugh Lane Gallery.

A report to councillors from Yeates and head of parks Leslie Moore said the project has a budget at the moment of €1 million, over two years.

“The desired impact is a city where sculpture is part of everyday conversation, contributing to overall public confidence and pride of place,” the report says.

Yeates said the council is already working together with Visual Arts Ireland and the academic Paula Murphy, professor of art history and cultural policy at University College Dublin.

One thing they are exploring is how 21st-century sculpture differs from 20th-century works, he says. “Sculpture is such a broad art form.”

Academics, artists, and political representatives are all encouraged to join the public consultation process, Yeates says.

Moore, the council’s head of parks, said at the arts committee meeting that the project is also about “acknowledging the fantastic heritage of sculpture already there”.

In 2014, the council did a survey of existing sculpture in the city, he said. “Most of it derived from the 1988 millenium year and a symposium that was held in relation to that.”

(There has been some confusion and disagreement about how, and why, that year was chosen to celebrate Dublin’s millennium.)

Sixty years ago, sculpture was seen as important for the city, says Yeates, but nowadays those works are often partly hidden, surrounded by trees.

There are two sides to the new project, says Yeates. “One is an appreciation of the sculpture that we have in the city already, and the other is a series of new commissions, sometime towards the end of the year.”

The public engagement process will take a year, so the plan is for the new sculptures to be commissioned and launched in 2021, says the report.

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Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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