Calling Indigenous artists to create a public sculpture of national significance

Using a charged historical site, Dubbo Regional Council is calling Indigenous artists nationally to consider a new kinetic public artwork that encourages conversations of social justice and reconciliation.
Calling Indigenous artists to create a public sculpture of national significance

Digital sketch of the new Dubbo Heritage Plaza, where the kinetic sculpture will be located. Supplied.

No image supplied

Gina Fairley

Tuesday 5 January, 2021

The NSW regional town of Dubbo is soon to become a destination venue.

In a bold and confident decision, the Dubbo Regional Council (DRC) is supporting the redevelopment of the Old Dubbo Gaol Plaza into a new Heritage Plaza. It is part of the Council’s $13 million Destination Dubbo: International Ready project.

Central to that development is the investment in a major kinetic public artwork by an Indigenous artist.

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Cultural Development Coordinator at Dubbo Regional Council, Jessica Moore told ArtsHub: ‘The space in front of the artwork is going to become a community plaza public place for events and programming, so we wanted something that would draw people into that space, and to make it dynamic and have an energy to it.’

We wanted to move towards the idea that public art is not just murals or static sculpture, but that it can have a bit of energy and life to it.

One block from the Macquarie River, and in the centre of Dubbo’s main street, the artwork will acknowledge the importance of the river as an integral communication tool to First Nations people.

It is envisaged that the theme of the artwork will address the ideas of Community, Country, Connection: finding common ground.

But there is another aspect to this public artwork that will force national attention.

Moore admitted that it was a ‘charged site’.

‘The forecourt was the site of the first courthouse in Dubbo, so we really want this to be a place for public debate, for film nights, to explore political moments, human rights and social justice – we want it to be at the forefront of those important conversations, and we are not afraid to have them,’ she said on behalf of the Council commissioning this artwork.

The artwork will be located on the façade of the telecommunications exchange, owned and operated by Telstra, and will overlook the General Post Office, Old Dubbo Gaol, and a new community precinct on the site of the original courthouse and lockup.

‘We really wanted to challenge expectations of not just a regional town, but of Dubbo as a cultural leader. This is a self-initiated challenge of the norms on a big scale, and regional Australia does that really well,’ Moore continued.

'When doing something like this, people will say: ‘Crikey, what’s going on in Dubbo?’

The competition is open to all Indigenous artists nationally, and has a total prize value of $85,000 for the winner, and an additional $5,000 for the top three candidates.

The top three artists will work with a company to develop their work into the kinetic piece.

Moore said: ‘We really wanted to make sure the money put into the construction of the work, balanced out properly and respected the work of artist and acknowledge the dramatic statement the artwork will have. The attention it will bring to the region, and Council, will be immense through this work.’

‘A lot of these things happen subtly, but through this project we can bring them in to the light. … We want it to become a place that speaks to ideas of social justice and communication, to encourage reconciliation and not be afraid,’ she concluded.

THE NEED TO KNOW

Mayor of the Dubbo Region, Councillor Ben Shields champions the project. His message to artists thinking of applying, was: ‘Some of the questions artists will need to address in their application include: “What value do they see in the conditions of the site and its ability to support your proposed concept, and how do you see the role of public art to help communities find common ground?” Artists will also need to include a plan for community engagement and consultation.’

He added that the successful artist will receive $10,000 for design development, a $55,000 commissioning fee, and $20,000 in prize money, making this one of the largest art competitions in the country.

The competition is comprised of two stages.

The first stage is the Expressions of Interest phase, where artists are invited to address specific criteria about the artwork they would like to produce. The expressions of interest will close at 5pm on Monday 31 January, 2021.

The second stage will be shortlisting, where three applicants will be chosen by the selection panel to progress.

The winner will be chosen by a judging panel made up of members from DRC, Telstra, Art Gallery of NSW and City of Sydney Public Art Advisory Panel, in addition to local and state government representatives.

Artists interested in applying can visit the Destination Dubbo section of DRC’s website, to download an Artwork Brief, and to complete the Expressions of Interest Form.

The project is partly funded by the NSW Government, under Restart NSW’s Regional Growth – Environment and Tourism Fund.

About the author

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW.

Twitter: @ginafairley
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