The council in Glen Innes thinks a lot can be learnt from the town to the south. Walcha got it right, is a view in the Northern Tablelands town.
The council in Glen Innes is calling all “creative types” to come up with ideas for a work of art on the McDonald’s roundabout. It says: “You'll have to dream up a concept and satisfy a list of essential criteria including a budget”.
To get ideas, it suggests that people have a look at the way Walcha has turned the town into a kind of sculpture gallery.
The argument is that public art isn’t just good for the people of the town because it brightens the place up but that it also brings in dollars because visitors come.
So how does Walcha do it?
The short answer is: over a long time; with not that much money; with the backing of the community (and not paying too much attention to malcontents); and with a group of good local artists.
The result is that the town is now a destination for people from all over Australia and beyond. Walcha’s Tourism Manager, Susie Crawford, said: “There are people who come from all over the world”
They come to see about fifty sculptures in what is now called an “Open Air Gallery”. The works are by local, Australian and international artists. They aren’t just obvious sculptures but sometimes ornate, carved balconies on public buildings. There is a beautiful carved floor to a bridge.
The town’s promotional material says: “ Many of the works have been created using local timbers, numerous pieces forming interesting looking seats for taking in the ambiance of the beautiful vistas around town”.
It started with a single work by a local farmer and artist in 1996. The council embraced the idea, helping him create a sculpture in the centre of town. It then decided to form an Arts Council and grants were sought and the collection built up. In 2003, an exhibition of Walcha art went to Sydney.
There is now a committee of the council – the Arts Advisory Committee – which has an annual budget of $5,000, according to one of its members, Jen Kealey (who is also a councillor).
She said there were artists on the committee and its annual budget could be rolled over to build up a bigger fund for purchases.
The town, she said, is behind the venture. There were moaners at the start, she said, but most people have been won over: “There are always going to be rate-payers who don’t value art but the majority of people are very supportive of the civic space”.
She said that the venture has gained momentum and greater success has drawn in more artists and visitors.
An eminent art critic, John McDonald, wrote: “Walcha has found a way of signposting its continued vitality. For a modest investment of ratepayers’ funds, the Council has given the town a special place on Australia’s cultural map.
“This has come about with the assistance of artists and supporters who have donated a great deal of time and expertise to create this unique facility. It is an example of many individuals working together for the good of a community in which they share strong family and sentimental ties.”
Might Glen Innes emulate Walcha?