Civic engagement

I met this morning with Pia Robinson, a visual artist, and Urban Designer with Brisbane City Council’s Public Art division. The discussion roamed far and wide: the challenges of promoting engagement around and through visual arts; equality of access to arts and culture and what that really means; the limitations of planning-led approaches to culture and the exciting possibilities of culture-led approaches to planning.

I talked through some of my ideas around the “infrastructures of ritual”, using the visual aid of drawings and images generated during the Pilot Study. The idea seems to offer fertile grounds for productive discussion. Pia gave me an overview of the various Council programmes she is involved with - the Outdoor Galleries, the Indigenous Art Programme, City of Lights, the River Art Framework, Curio-City, Botanica - and also explained the interface between the Public Art team and the Creative Communities team.


The Outdoor Galleries and associated laneway activations have been a particular focus over the past two years. We took a quick walk around some of the key locations: Burnett Lane, the King George Square carpark, Edward Street. Activations at each location are facilitated by an ‘infrastructural’ addition - light box galleries, glass vitrines, or street lighting for example - however, Pia made the point that the infrastructure alone was not enough to stimulate engagement on the part of the public or the average passer-by. She noted that the most engagement typically happens whenever there is some direct human contact or interaction as part of an artwork or activation - artist talks and public forums, walking tours, involvement in fabrication and making - in other words, shared participation.

Pia also noted the significance of access in determining the degree to which particular publics can engage with these kinds of activities - communities that are disadvantaged in terms of education, health, or financial security may not be able to readily access the city centre or the inner suburbs, where much of Council’s cultural activity is focused. Hence the dual importance of Council programmes aimed at outlying or marginalised suburbs, alongside improved and more affordable public transport options for those suburbs - a policy framework and an infrastructure to enable it.

It remains to be seen exactly what kind of engagement I will have with Council through the fieldwork - whether observation or participation. However, there is certainly some more fruitful discussion to come.