New course re-setting future of public art

Monash University’s new course in Public Art arms artists, architects, designers and curators for success in the nuanced landscape of public commissions.

Public Art has the capacity to reach new audiences and speak to the issues of the day that connect and bind a society. It also contributes to making dynamic, liveable urban spaces and enhancing destination landmarks.

Yet Public Art can be fraught with roadblocks. There are often discussions of red tape and permits, complex budgets and the tricky nuances of collaboration and project delivery.

For some artists it is a process learnt through experience on the job, which can be a rather stressful process.

But a new course delivered by Monash University not only removes that stress by arming creatives with the skills to negotiate the public art domain from concept to completion, it also advocates for more seamless standards across the sector.

The Graduate Certificate of Public Art is a six month course that brings together some of Australia’s most influential artists who have delivered public artworks, to offer students their aggregated knowledge.

Professor Callum Morton, Director Monash Art Projects (MAP), who is also an artist celebrated for his own public art works, told ArtsHub: ‘While there has been a Master’s degree in Public Art on offer for a while, we wanted to do a smaller course, a more intensive course, that was quite critical and tightly connected to a framework of art history.’

Morton says the art history and theory component to the course is key, especially in the context of today’s world where public space is so contested and often in threat of private take. 

‘It is such a fluid space, that is why it is such an exciting space to work in. But understanding context is key.

‘We have really good artists come in with deep experience of the field, and with critical ideas around what public art is, and can be. The timelines and the pressures imposed by commissioning bodies can be tough, especially when you don’t know the space well or have a limited view of what is possible. This is where this knowledge is invaluable,’ he added.

Morton continued: ‘Where this course differs is that it looks at the history from the perspective of public monuments, through the various practices of the 20th century to more recently, and public art’s function in proactive social commentary. For example, we recently had artists Dale Harding and Jonathon Jones speaking with our students about their work through the idea of an Indigenous public.’

Morton says that Monash is the perfect setting for such discussion. It has been home to lab Monash Art Projects (MAP) for over a decade, and the university has a strong history of commissioning artworks for public spaces.

A COLLABORATIVE APPROACH

By its very nature public art is highly collaborative. It is not learning that dwells in textbooks; it is very nuanced. Given that, Morton says the course has been designed to build those channels to negotiate in real terms, and build confidence for creatives to communicate their ideas.

‘Artists are often used to working on their own in highly individual ways, but public art can’t be delivered without collaboration.’

He continued: ‘One thing we do, when an artist comes in to do a series of workshops, is to have a very simple informal chat about ideas – to table your crappy drawings and have a bit of a spit ball conversation. We teach how to be comfortable with your ideas in this space.

‘Public art can be so formal in its processes – the timelines are very pressured and there is little time to allow ideas to fester and take risks. And yet it is really important to have a critical armature around EOIs [Expressions of Interest] and public art projects, to open up other modes of thinking,’ Morton said.

‘When you are [working] outside, your practice is suddenly public; it is entirely different to making for inside, and you take on this broad dialogue, and that is exciting but it can also be scary.’

WHO IS THIS COURSE FOR?

2021 has been the first intake of students into the Graduate Certificate of Public Art at Monash.

Morton described: ‘If you look at the make-up of students this semester we have an artist who has done a Masters in sculpture, an urban planner who also studies philosophy, an architect working in the field, an engineer, and drone pilot from the regions. It is that cross-section that is really interesting and feeds each other in interesting ways.’

‘This course is not just for artists interested in breaking into making public artworks; it equally might attract someone working in council or a festival director or a curator.’

He continued: ‘In terms of contemporary education, a lot of students are coming from work and need to fit study around it; they may not able to take on a Masters, so we wanted to capture those people and create a really integrated industry, cross-discipline feel.’

REAL LESSONS; REAL LIFE APPLICATION

Morton described the certificate as a meaty, fast paced course. ‘It is pretty intensive, but our students do walk out the door with a good grasp of the field and the skills to deliver not only a sound EOI, but a project.’

This is largely because, as part of the coursework, students are required to conceive a project and take it through to the pitching table.

As part of the coursework, students will have access to expert knowledge in writing strategic plans, putting together finance, insurance, right through to imaging their concept and 3D rendering.

Morton explained: ‘We get students to think of a context in which they want to work, be that the delivery of an artwork, or it can also be a curated or participatory project. They will need to write a public art plan, which means they write not only the strategy, but a dense notion of the context in which the public artwork will operate – socially, historically and politically – and then we get them to identify funding and potential partners and go through to present an EOI for that public art project.’

Public art is a burgeoning field that can open up complex and inclusive ideas of where we are as a society. This course is designed to make those opportunities easier to access.

To learn more about Monash University’s Graduate Certificate in Public Art.

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 Instagram: fairleygina

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