OVER the last ten years, the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) has installed public art all over the city. Sculptures and murals of all shapes and sizes are to be found in the inner city, Soweto, and Orange Farm. There are colourful cows on Transport Square; whimsical pigeons on Market Street; and a dignified eland in Braamfontein. This year the JDA will continue to fund new public art, starting with a sculpture competition on two sites in the inner city.

The JDA has attempted to spend up to one percent of its annual capital budget on new artworks in line with the City of Joburg’s Public Art Policy. The result is a portfolio of artwork that brands Johannesburg as a creative and welcoming city that celebrates its heritage and people. Wooden heads watch passersby in Newtown, hand-signal sculptures announce the gateway to Vilakazi Street in Soweto, soccer players frolic in Ellis Park, and the Firewalker strides alongside the railway line in the inner city.

Sharon Lewis, Executive Manager for Planning and Strategy at the JDA points out that “public art adds cultural identity and expression to our urban landscape and brings meaning and identity to space. It is for this reason that the JDA is working to implement the City of Johannesburg’s Public Art Policy. We are not only creating new works of art in the City, but also increasing public awareness and enjoyment of the visual arts, and enhancing the urban environment and the image of Johannesburg.”

In partnership with the Department of Community Development (Arts, Culture & Heritage), the JDA intends to continue investing in public art over the next 5 years. To do this in a more strategic and co-ordinated way, The Trinity Session has been appointed to the position of curator and co-ordinator for the JDA’s public art programme. The Trinity Session will assist the JDA to identify and conceptualise new opportunities for public art and to manage the commissioning, production and implementation of new works.

Co-Director for The Trinity Session, Stephen Hobbs, explains: “Our appointment as curator-co-ordinators of public art for the city affords us an opportunity not only to coordinate, strategise and commission new artworks on behalf of the City of Johannesburg, but enables us to learn from the artistic community. It also opens up an opportunity to be in the centre of the debates and interactions central to the creative industries, while simultaneously bearing witness to the growth of careers in this field over the next thee years.”

Public Art Strategy

The JDA’s Public Art Strategy (2011 – 2016) will be based on the assumption that a successful public art programme improves the quality of an environment by making it a more attractive place to work or live. Public art also has the potential to generate a culture of creativity and to help promote the image of a city.

The Public Art Strategy will identify those qualities that make Joburg unique, and seek to raise awareness of the many opportunities for exploring and reinforcing the City’s identity through public art. The implementation methodology will refine the JDA’s approach in locating and conceptualising artworks, procuring design services, engaging with artists and fabricators, supporting the art industry, and recording and sharing lessons and experience.

In line with this strategic approach, the JDA, through The Trinity Session, has opened a competition for the production and installation of public artworks at two sites in the inner city. The first is on Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown, and the second is on the corner of Biccard and Leyds Streets in the Commuter Links precinct around Park Station in Braamfontein. These two sites are in the process of being refurbished, and will be completed by the end of June 2011.

Mary Fitzgerald Square

Mary Fitzgerald Square is a large, important public square situated in the heart of Newtown. It is in close proximity to a number of historically significant buildings such as the Market Theatre, Museum Africa, the Turbine Hall and the Worker’s Library.

Previously known as Aaron’s Ground, the Square was named after Mary ‘Pickhandle’ Fizgerald in 1939 after she rose to prominence as the first woman trade unionist in South Africa.  A political trailblazer, Mary Fitzgerald raised the banner of womens’ rights, and scored many firsts.  She was the city’s first woman printer and became the first woman city councillor in Johannesburg. This site was often used for strikers’ meetings in the early part of the 20th century. The square already features some notable artworks in the form of carved wooden heads by Americo Guambe and the Constellation lighting designs by French engineer Patrick Rimoux.

Mary Fitzgerald Square is being repaired and refurbished to better accommodate large public events. It is also being redesigned to improve pedestrian flows, create space for relaxation, and soften the hard landscaping. The Square carries a rich and varied history from Johannesburg’s very early mining town days. It has been host to a number of periods of change, the most significant being our new democracy. Prior to this, the old flea market and the Market Theatre Precinct space served as a mixed-race meeting place under apartheid, a place of creative exchange, political resistance and future optimism despite the politics of the time. This upgrade is as much testament to the functionality of the site as a public space as it is to the ongoing change within the city’s public environments. It is envisaged that a medium to large-scale sculpture will create a focal point midway on the southern edge (Jeppe Street) of the square, with a view to celebrating change in the city.

Commuter Links

The redeveloped corner site of Leyds and Biccard Streets provides space for the installation of a medium-scale sculpture. This main element is accompanied by an additional detail in core-ten steel, which requires a redesign of commuter or pedestrian figures in a line positioned along the upgraded Biccard Street bridge wall. The City of Johannesburg has made a substantial investment in transport infrastructure, and the Commuter Links commission is linked to the upgrading of the roads around the Rotunda and Park Station that will improve the pedestrian experience in this important transport hub.

This commission takes into consideration the wealth of cultural industries and public art legacy in greater Braamfontein, and identifies the site itself as a marker between, for example, the Eland by Clive van Den Berg on the northern edge of Braamfontein and the Fire Walker by William Kentridge and Gerhard Marx on the northern edge of the CBD.

Companies, joint ventures, individuals, or artist groups and collectives experienced in media suited to outdoor public artwork are invited to submit proposals for the production of public artworks to be located at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown and the Commuter Links in Braamfontein. The competition tender is open to artists and designers working or living in Johannesburg, or who can prove a strong affiliation and history to the competition sites. The tender will be available from 11th March and will close on 30 March 2011. The documents are available for collection at the JDA offices at The Bus Factory, 3 President Street, Newtown.

For more information contact:
Susan Monyai
Marketing Manager
Johannesburg Development Agency
Tel: 011688 7867
E-mail: monyais@jda.org.za