By definition public art is the most accessible form of art. It evokes a diverse range of opinions and passionate debate. Western Australia has invested over $46M on public art through its State Government Percent for Art (PfA) scheme since it was established in 19891. This doesn’t include public art commissioned privately or through local government PfA schemes. The general consensus however is that outcomes are more often than not decidedly underwhelming. If this level of funding was outlayed in any other field other than art, it would likely have a much stronger policy framework and process supporting it.

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Our need to increase urban density in Western Australia has sparked fierce community debate in recent years. Perth has one of the lowest urban densities of any city in the world bringing with it environmental, social and economic un-sustainability. The link between design quality and acceptance of density shouldn’t be underestimated, but is rarely acknowledged within this debate. The quality of medium and high density outcomes currently being generated is a major factor impeding our ability to achieve higher densities.

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Have we really designed our public realm to accommodate a diverse range of use, by a diverse range of user groups? Aspects of our public realm utilising sharing are generally poorly developed due to our reliance on single use thinking, management and ownership structures. When harnessed as a multi layered design generator, sharing could assume a much deeper role within the way we consider, design, manage and maintain our public realm. This will unlock a broader range of unexpected, innovative and engaging uses. Spaces such as residential verges, suburban streets, school playgrounds, sporting ovals, empty development blocks as well as flood prone land are currently under-utilised and possess potential to more meaningfully contribute to a wider range of users within local communities.

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The term 'housing affordability crisis' is increasingly used in Australia suggesting there are no affordable houses available. Houses are certainly more expensive but are also much larger, whilst accommodating fewer occupants and spread over a much larger urban footprint. Buying a small house on the fringe was an option for many first home buyers in the past, but is no longer acceptable to most young people gripped by infrastructure FoMO (fear of missing out).

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Public art and public space have been naturally merging over time in many ways. Consciously merging these fields could improve public art outcomes, whilst also generating inspiring public realm outcomes in Western Australia.

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The need to increase densities is one of the most important social, environmental and economic issues facing Western Australia. Achieving state wide planning objectives, particularly increasing density however, often leads to criticism of our planning approvals system. Development Assessment Panels (DAPs) and Design Advisory Committees (DACs) are relatively new additions to the approvals system in Western Australia and are the focus of debate within local communities, councils and the private sector.

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Although its forms are now quite different, public art has historically played an integral role within our public realm. In recent years public art has enjoyed a revival occurring in conjunction with our desire to improve the quality of our public realm. Claire Doherty's 'The New Rules of Public Art' published in 2013 reflect a change in direction. New forms of public art such as performance, ephemeral, installation and electronic media alongside more traditional forms such as sculpture and murals contribute to contemporary place-making generating engaging, memorable public spaces.

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