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An Overarching Concern for Public Art

The proposed Cloud Arch looming over George Street. Photo: Junya Ishigama

by Michael Hitch

The City of Sydney Council has hit the pause button on the controversial Cloud Arch project as tensions rise over the $22 million sculpture.

The contentious art piece, set to soar over Sydney’s newly “pedestrianised” George Street, was originally expected to cost $3.5 million and has divided Liberal and Labour Councillors as the project is deferred.

The City of Sydney has already spent $2.25 million on the project, while additional redesigns, artist and project management fees are expected to exceed the allocated budget for public art until 2026/27 under the City of Sydney’s Long-Term Financial Plan.

City of Sydney Deputy Lord Mayor and Labor Councillor Linda Scott said that the blowout threatened the future of Sydney’s public art after voting to cancel the contracts for the Cloud-Arch project.

“As a Labor Councillor, I’m strongly committed to the provision of public art in the centre of Sydney for the cultural and economic benefits it brings to our global city,” she said.

“A diverse and vibrant global city in the 21st century needs public art to thrive for the public good.

“The cost blowout associated with Cloud Arch would threaten the future of public art in our City. Whether a different iteration of Cloud Arch in the future, or a new public art project, we deserve more public art in our future, not less.

“I’m disappointed that the Liberal councillors have voted against the recommendation to cancel the Cloud Arch contract, thus supporting a cost blowout of $22 million. This is not the responsible way forward for art in our city.”

The unique sculpture comes from award-winning Tokyo-based architect and artist, Junya Ishigami, and is intended to act as a “gateway” to the pedestrian section of George Street with the light rail passing beneath it.

The light rail project, which has similarly seen setbacks and budget blowouts, is also being blamed for the pause, with concerns that the sculpture’s construction will be hindered until the complex light rail project is completed.

However, despite the concerns about loose budgets and light rails, Liberal councillors Craig Chung and Christine Forster voted against the motion to cancel the contract for Cloud Arch and in doing so supported the cost blowout.

Independent Councillor Angela Vihuelas said she knew the light rail project would seriously affect the construction of Cloud Arch and that Councillors who voted against the cancellation had their heads in the clouds.

“I was quite horrified on Monday night when some of the councillors appeared to be grief-stricken over the cancellation of the project,” she said.

“I always doubted that the Cloud Arch project was ever going to happen, simply because of the light rail project.

“It never had a definite costing, we were never provided with a firm installation plan and there always seemed to be problems attached to it.

“Given the proposed positioning of the public artwork smack bang in the middle of light rail construction, and the problems that light rail has brought to this city, I am not surprised that at the end of the day the contracts had to be cancelled. Unfortunately, the project itself has only been deferred.”


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