Palmerston North Town Council agrees to continue supporting sculpture program

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Nga Huruhuru Rangatira – Feathers of the Chief is one of the sculptures that the Palmerston North Public Sculpture Trust has helped bring to the city. Photo / ManawatuNZ.co.nz

The images used by Mayor Grant Smith to make his point were vivid enough to inspire a sculpture. Launch torpedoes. Cut off a hand.

During last week’s debate on the council’s annual budget proposal, Cr Lorna Johnson proposed halving the money the council gives each year to the Palmerston North Public Sculpture Trust.

Backed by Cr Karen Naylor, she advocated for the trust to receive $25,000 of taxpayers’ money a year instead of $50,000.

Johnson said it was a long-running program that had delivered some spectacular artwork in the CBD. However, it was not without its detractors. Sixteen submissions specifically mentioned that the board should reduce trust funding.

Johnson said she was driven by the need to cut budgets this year in light of a proposed 8.3% total increase in fares. Since the council was trying to make cuts, she would prefer them to be in areas identified by the community.

Smith said he was loath to cut partnership funding, a principle he reiterated during the two days of debate on the budget proposal.

“It’ll tip the sculpture’s confidence overboard, mark my words. They won’t be coming back and they’ll probably fire a few torpedoes at us on the way out.”

The trust had provided about $2.5 million worth of public art donated to the city, Smith said. The city was the minor player in the partnership, providing $50,000 a year and recovering hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

The carvings made Palmerston North look a little different from its provincial counterparts, Smith said.

“We’re a college town, we’re a cultured town and that adds a huge vibrancy to our town. It’s not cutting off a finger, it’s cutting off a hand.”

Cr Susan Baty said the trust had invested a lot of work, money and time into getting the town to have “amazing sculptures”.

“It is totally unwise to cut this budget and there will be ramifications through this trust we have with the sculpture trust.”

Naylor said she loves the work the sculpture trust has done over the years, but it would be hard for people who struggle to buy groceries to see another sculpture paid for by their fares.

Cr Brent Barrett said that as the trust receives public money, it would be good to have public participation in the decision-making process regarding the selection of artworks.

The motion to halve funding lost five votes to 10 with Johnson, Naylor, Barrett, Renee Dingwall and Bruno Petrenas in favour. Billy Meehan was not at the meeting.

The Public Sculpture Trust was established in 2006 by members of the local arts and business community who saw an opportunity to enrich the center of Palmerston North.

Its chairman is Simon Barnett and, according to its website, the current directors are Tim Mordaunt, Robyn Higgins, Peter Shelton, Sue Weterings and Susanna Shadbolt.

Meanwhile, sculptures of another kind have also generated much discussion – the agendas of council and committee meetings.

Johnson proposed to the council to save $22,791 a year by stopping printing the agendas and making them available online only.

Elected officials who felt they could not do without a printed agenda could print it themselves. PDA users can enlarge the text and the trees would be saved.

Cr Pat Handcock said not all members of the public were millennials and there were some risks in removing printed agendas in terms of ensuring the council was inclusive of all.

Deputy Mayor Aleisha Rutherford said it was not an age or accessibility issue.

“I remember Cr [Lew] Findlay told us very proudly several times that he was the first undocumented elected official. It’s a big step we have to take at this point.”

Dingwall said she was a millennial but needed her scraps of paper because she lived in an old house with a poor internet connection. If she tried to view the agenda at the same time as a Teams meeting, her screen would freeze.

“Not everyone has access to all the gadgets they need and sometimes it’s easier for people to use hard copies.”

Cr Orphee Mickalad said to print or not to print was not a millennial or generational thing but a matter of choice and accessibility. He preferred hard copies.

There was a lot of laughter in the room when the result came down – eight for and eight against.

Smith noted councilors removed the casting vote from the mayor and committee chairs. This happened in March 2015.

The status quo remains, and advisors who continue to receive paper agendas may or may not choose to make sculptures out of them after digesting the information.

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