30 Aug 2017
Rotorua has long recognised the value of public art as a way of enhancing the city’s spaces and making them more inviting and vibrant.
While a public art policy was in place, Rotorua Lakes Council found that the lack of set funding meant it was at worst overlooked and at best projects were ad-hoc.
“Although there was a desire to have an artistic look and feel to capital projects, in reality the artwork was simply used as adornment to ameliorate poor design or remedy insufficient consultation,” said Rotorua Lakes Council, Manager Arts & Culture, Stewart Brown.
To give certainty the council introduced a Percent for the Arts Policy in 2013. This meant that 1% of the council’s annual capital projects budget was set aside to fund public art in new and existing infrastructure projects and to engage with and support local creatives.
Since the policy was introduced Rotorua has come to life. The realisation of a number of art initiatives and projects is bringing a sense of vibrancy, identity and optimism to the city.
“It’s changed the face of our city. Given us a whole new reason to be here. We now understand the role of art in our lives,” Mike Steiner, retailer and spokesperson for Inner City Focus Group.
The first significant project scheme saw the transformation of Sulphur Lake, a neglected and unsafe area in the Government Gardens. It now boasts a sculpture trail, with inviting and tranquil spaces, linking city attractions and showcasing the talent of local sculptors.
Since then the policy has supported the development of murals, sculpture, performances and events in the central city as well as surburban shopping centres, parks and other facilities.
Evolving community partnerships
While the policy is enlivening the city it is also helping to establish new design partnerships between artists, architects and other professionals. This has led to more and broader opportunities for community expression.
The creation of murals at the Selwyn Heights Shopping Centre saw a partnership between schools, the community, police, shop owners and the council. The murals revitalised the shopping complex and enriched community identity, morale and pride.
Plans for the future
With the policy now firmly in place the council is working with the New Zealand Transport Agency and Te Puia | The New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute and Opus to see the installation of a major sculptural work at the entrance to the city.
For the first time Rotorua will have a contemporary artwork which commemorates the subterranean journey of the atua (supernatural beings) of heat and fire who created the area’s geothermal landscape.
This is one of four case studies on how local authorities are using the arts to improve lives in their communities. For more case studies see The Arts: Working hard for your community 2016 (pdf 900KB) - prepared for Local Government New Zealand Conference 2017.