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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  • Aw ao.


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  • 49

    -v s



    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


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