A Sydney artist is threatening legal action against a local
council for breaching his "moral rights" as an artist
under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). In 1993, Victor Cusack
installed the water-clock in Hornsby Mall. At the time, Hornsby
Council paid Cusack $500,000 for the work. The sculpture was to be
a fountain with an operational water clock but has since stopped
working. The Council claims that it is simply too expensive to
maintain and would "waste thousands of ratepayers'
dollars" to fix. Cusack, on the other hand, says that
"All it needs is to be cleaned up and adjusted....."
1. The artist says that his reputation is being
The dispute raises interesting points about the maintenance of
public art and the obligations that Government has, both to the
artist and more broadly, the public. For example, how much money
should be spent on public art? How much should be spent on
maintenance? Who makes such decisions on behalf of Government, and
should there be wider transparency and community consultation?
Use of public art in development
There has been an increased use of public art in our city
scapes, both as part of new developments as well as in existing
suburbs. An example of such art is Float by Susan Milne
and Greg Stonehouse installed at The Ponds in western Sydney
2. In addition, many local Councils and Government
agencies have policies on public art and its use in new
developments. For example, City of Sydney Council has released its
City Centre Public Art Plan as part of the Council's
contribution to the NSW Government's light rail project.
But who will maintain?
The Hornsby water-clock case raises interesting questions about
maintenance obligations in the longer term.
Particularly in the context of new development, artworks can
often be commissioned and installed by developers under a
requirement of a planning agreement. Maintenance obligations can be
negotiated with the developer, but may only be for a fixed time
period after the development has been completed, after which the
relevant council or agency will be responsible. In the longer term
therefore, Government agencies need to consider whether they have
the capacity to take on maintenance obligations and to what
standard the artwork needs to be maintained.
Public art may also be funded by Councils through Section 94
contributions. When Section 94 contribution plans are drafted,
sufficient funds for not only the construction of the artwork but
its long term maintenance should be included.
Issues may also arise where, for example, different groups
within an organisation are responsible for certain aspects of
project delivery. For example, the commissioning of the artwork,
the management of the project delivery and the maintenance of the
artwork might be undertaken by different teams within Government
agencies. This may present challenges around how best to plan for
and co-ordinate each life stage of the artwork well before any
Although the benefits of public art are not disputed, the cost
of maintaining artworks and whether these costs should be funded by
taxpayers, may be questioned. Therefore, long-term asset planning
needs to be undertaken at the early stages of projects, together
with ensuring that appropriate funding is allocated for the
maintenance of public art. Certainly, knowledge about artwork
maintenance needs to be discussed with the artist in the early
stages, as well as sourcing appropriate contractors who have the
ability to undertake such maintenance works.
1 ABC News" Hornsby Council could face
legal action over letting famous water-clock fall into
disrepair" dated 4 October 2015
2 Public Art Guidelines Fact Sheet, Urban
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