175th Anniversary of the Office of Public Works || Cultural Collaborations

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  • Irish Arts Review

    Cultural CollaborationsAuthor(s): Marianne O'KaneSource: Irish Arts Review (2002-), Vol. 23, 175th Anniversary of the Office of Public Works(2006), pp. 34-39Published by: Irish Arts ReviewStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25503516 .Accessed: 15/06/2014 01:25

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  • 49

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    The Per Cent for Art initiative is not unique to Ireland, but its creative and

    effective employment here is remarkable, writes MARIANNE O'KANE

    Throughout the last decade, Ireland's burgeoning economy has provided the perfect climate

    for countrywide urban regeneration and infrastructural development. Improved road net

    works and revised town planning have presented possibilities for creativity in the public

    realm, evident in architecture, landscaping and site-specific public art. The evolution of

    Ireland's emerging public art portfolio has been rapid in recent times through increased awareness and

    integral provision in allocated budgets. The OPW, through its dedicated Art Management Group has

    contributed significantly to this advancement. A popular contemporary misnomer, however, is that the

    OPW is responsible for every per cent for art commission in the public sphere. On the contrary, it has

    no involvement in the placement of the major sculptures of varying quality that punctuate the coun

    try's arterial routes. As a rule, the jurisdiction of the OPW's architects, engineers and the Art

    Management Group, is art placement specifically in conjunction with OPW Capital Projects, involv

    ing construction, restoration and refurbishment of state buildings.

    Remarkably, the OPW Art Management Group responsible for managing the commissioning and

    purchasing of artworks under the Per Cent for Art Scheme, was established as recently as 1991. The

    artistic achievements of this industrious collective

    over the past fifteen years have been noteworthy.

    Provision is accompanied by involvement of client

    groups and personnel to ensure a sense of pride and

    ownership of art incorporated. The experience of art

    naturally extends beyond the oftentimes elitist

    gallery setting to infiltrate garda stations, state labo

    ratories, courthouses, and government departments.

    The art becomes a source of interest, engagement

    and debate. The Art Management Group was the

    brainchild of the then Chairman, Barry Murphy, an

    arts enthusiast, with the vision to establish an effec

    tive channel for per cent for art commissioning. He

    also ensured an outlet for public enjoyment and edi

    fication in the annual art of the state exhibition, also

    initiated in 1991. This features themed elements of

    the state collection and tours nationally and often

    i* M?

    175 OPW

    The Office of Public Works Oifig na nOibreacha Poibl?

    1 Elke Weston

    Image 2005

    glass installation

    State Laboratory,

    Celbridge, Co


    2 Eileen



    1989 black granite, Dublin Castle

    Conference Centre


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  • 3 Brian King Ogma Sun-Face 2003 gold leaf on etched


    National Library of Ireland, Kildare

    Street, Dublin

    4 Michael Quane

    Killamey Depot, 2000 stone National


    5 Colm Brennan

    Raon an Corr?in

    (trace of the reaping hook), 2001 bronze

    Turlough Park

    Museum of Country Life, Co Mayo

    internationally. The accompanying catalogue for this

    initiative has been a crucial vehicle for profiling the

    state's interest in the arts. This annual event acts as a

    celebration of the fruits of per cent purchasing and

    enables the general public to view artworks collectively

    at a remove from state offices and departments.

    Per cent for art is an interesting concept designed to

    ensure arts provision in public projects. It commenced

    in Ireland almost thirty years ago. According to OPW

    Art Adviser, Pat Murphy, '[It was with] the visionary

    per cent for art scheme [implemented] in 1978, where

    by Government sought to encourage the arts in Ireland

    by setting aside 1 % of the cost of all public construc

    tion projects, to acquire works of art to adorn the new

    buildings (there was an initial limit set at ?6,000, which

    was later raised to ?12,000). The Art Management

    Group brought shape and focus to this Government

    policy.'1 In 2004, the General National Guidelines on

    per cent for art were published and this superb publi

    cation offers a concise explanation of the scheme, prof

    fering cogent examples of a variety of projects. It is stat

    ed: 'The Per Cent for Art Scheme gives the Irish pub lic the opportunity to experience a vast range of con

    temporary art, borne out of capital construction proj

    ects, in their everyday life. In turn it provides a chal

    lenge and an opportunity to a wide range of artists

    to create work for public engagement and response.'2

    m The first proper per cent for art commissions

    would have been for Dublin Castle in 1987-88. In

    art terms, the architecture and site-specific works in

    the grounds of Dublin Castle are a visual delight.

    The Per Cent for Art Scheme

    gives the Irish public the

    opportunity to experience a vast range of contemporary art, borne out of capital construction projects, in their everyday life


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    One of the earliest commissions for the castle was

    Eileen MacDonagh's Incommunicado of 1989. This work

    consists of two sculpted black monoliths, sited in an

    outdoor pool (Fig 2). This semi-abstract creation is equal

    ly effective now over fifteen years after it was conceived.

    Major integral artworks commissioned under the per

    cent scheme include works by Rachel Joynt. One is a

    steel, copper plate and blue glass weathervane that marks

    the Clock Tower apex of the Chester Beatty Library.

    Plumb Line by Vivienne Roche was commissioned in

    1995 for the Ship Street Range entrance building (Fig

    6). This monumental sculpture discretely counterpoints

    its surroundings due to the materials and colours

    employed. The castle's portfolio also boasts a range of

    exquisite applied art commissions by leading artists

    such as Kathy Prendergast and Killian Schurmann.

    These, however, were not per cent commissions but

    were instead secured through the main contract.

    The policy of per cent for art is not particular to

    Ireland, and indeed when you consider application of

    the scheme here in contrast to American provision

    through per cent pioneers such as Seattle, the Irish are

    operating on a much smaller scale. It is, however, the

    creative and effective employment of limited funds that

    distinguish this country's approach to the initiative.

    Assistant Principal Architect at OPW Angela Rolfe, with responsibility for individual commissions, high

    lights: 'The funding is relatively modest when com

    pared with the US and Europe, therefore the scheme

    tends to attract younger emerging artists. As a publicly

    funded scheme it has been an excellent training ground

    for organisations and artists alike; and the public art

    has developed in range and quality. However there is

    no "premier league" or first division to move into.'3

    According to the Chairman of the OPW and the Art

    Management Group, Sean Benton, it is due in no small

    part to the general public's receptiveness to art that the

    OPW has achieved successful appreciation of art in

    public buildings. 'Increased visual awareness and

    design consciousness in Ireland has ensured that there

    is a strong demand for contemporary art from the

    OPW client departments. A vibrant art market and the

    success of the Irish art colleges in producing graduates

    of high calibre have filled this demand.'4 The Art

    Management Group began operating almost exclusive

    ly in visual arts. In recent years however, through expe

    rience and further consolidation of the per cent

    scheme, other art forms have been employed, often in

    a collaborative capacity. The disciplines of literature,

    drama, music, new media and installation have seen

    integration in public buildings with fascinating results.

    For Angela Rolfe it is important to represent a broader

    Angela Rolfe Angela Rolfe is Assistant Principal Architect with the Office of

    Public Works. She graduated from Bath University and University

    College Dublin, and has been a Fellow of the RIAI since 2001.

    She has had an interesting and varied career since joining the

    OPW in 1980. Between 1981 and 1989 she was one of a team of

    four architects responsible for the restoration and conference centre

    at Dublin Castle. In 1990 she was one of a team of three architects

    responsible for the conversion of the College of Science to the

    Department of the Taoiseach. Other projects she has worked on

    include the restoration of the Birr Telescope at Birr Castle Demesne,

    Kiltartan Old National School, and the restoration and extension of

    the Clock Tower Building, Dublin Castle for the Chester Beatty

    Library. From 1996 to 2005 she was Senior

    Architect, before being promoted to Assistant

    Principal Architect. In 2000 she received an

    RIAI award for her conversion of a former

    penal church to the Michael Davitt Museum,

    Straide and the RIAI Conservation Award for

    the restoration of Joseph's Cottage in the

    Wicklow Mountains National Park.

    Since 1991, Angela Rolfe has been a

    founder member of the OPW Art Management

    Group, which is responsible for the manage

    ment, maintenance, commissioning and pur

    chase of artworks for the State under the Per

    Cent for Art Scheme. She oversees approximately fifteen commis

    sions a year, liaising with the client, short-listing artists, and chairing

    the meeting of the selection panel.

    Rolfe says: 'I have made it part of my job because I enjoy it. I like

    getting involved with projects outside my own portfolio, understand

    ing the work of my colleagues and giving them the opportunity to

    work with artists. I relish "breaking new ground". The artist-in-resi

    dence programme for an Asylum Seekers' Centre was a very difficult

    but rewarding per cent for art commission. Unfortunately it wasn't

    extended by the Department of Justice.'

    Angela Rolfe is currently working on per cent for art commissions

    for Collins Barracks, Cobh Custom House, Galway Civic Museum and

    Tuliamore Courthouse.

    range of the arts in commissions for cultural institu

    tions such as historic buildings and monuments.

    The collaborative commission Six Sycamores, demon

    strates the successful synthesis and cohabitation of two

    art forms in a given space. This site-specific artwork

    was conceived to celebrate the link building between

    51 and 52 St Stephen's Green. The commission dictat

    ed that the selected poet Paula Meehan choose an artist

    that she felt could best visually illustrate her featured

    poem: Six Sycamores. Marie Foley was chosen and the

    partnership produced a compelling narrative installa


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    tion, which can be viewed from the ground floor of the

    link. Meehan's lines are masterfully represented by the

    series of complimentary wall sculptures by Foley.

    Time slides slowly down the sash window

    puddling in light on oaken hoards. The Green

    is a great lung, exhaling breath on the pane

    the seasons turn, sunset and moonset, the ebb

    and flow The artist in turn has created a sculpture through

    utilising the finest aspects of craftsmanship. To com

    pliment Meehan's mysterious poem, Foley has con

    ceived an equally enigmatic sculptural portrayal. A

    series of six handcrafted long-handled shovels arranged

    in a linear fashion are complimented on the opposite

    side of the space by a series of six wooden taps, pro

    truding from the wall high above six marble vessels

    extending from the wall below. Without any textual

    integration, Foley has provided an effective and

    thought-provoking visualisation.

    Collaboration is evident, not only in the final art

    work, but also throughout the commissioning process

    and this is its particular triumph. Operating firmly

    with an architect's mindset, Angela Rolfe explains the

    9 Collaboration is evident, not

    only in the final artwork, but also

    throughout the

    commissioning process and this is its

    particular triumph

    synergy of this collective endeavour: 'The collaborative

    process between the architect, engineer and artists can

    be very rewarding. Many architects have commented

    that they greatly enjoy discussing their building with

    the commissioned artist and having an artist's view on

    their work.' It is an added creative perspective that is

    not normally available to architects (Figs 4

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