One of Perth’s leading urban planners and designers is calling for an expansion of public art in Western Australia to provide social value for communities, improve their mental wellbeing, and help the creative industry stay afloat during and following the pandemic.

Now, more than ever, local councils need to be considering opportunities for people to remain connected to their communities – and public art is one of them.
Peter Ciemitis is an award-winning artist and the lead Perth urban designer at RobertsDay. Peter has been a finalist in the Archibald Prize twice and has won the Black Swan Prize for Portraiture in 2010, represented Australia in the 2016 G20 Summit Exhibition in China, in addition to having his work shown in major galleries in Australia and internationally.

In 2007, RobertsDay partnered with ArtSource, WA’s peak visual arts association, to create a model policy in WA called Percent for Art, which encouraged local councils to seek a portion of development construction costs for public artworks.

Since then, more than 210 public artworks have been incorporated into buildings and projects across Perth, enhancing the city’s cultural identity. This week, a Percent for Art discussion paper, co-written by Peter Ciemitis and Senior Place Planner Alysha Saunders, was published on these results.

 Peter says, “Although art galleries, theatres, and other performing and creative arts spaces are closed to help slow the spread of COVID-19, public art has never been more important."

"Unlike museums and art galleries, public art is always ‘open’. People can run, walk, or grab takeaway coffee in areas where public art exists, and this is critical for enabling them to enjoy the cultural expression of a place."
A RobertsDay survey of 30 West Australian councils revealed that three in four (72%) had taken up the Percent for Art policy, with most having adopted it in the last five years of its 12-year span.

The survey also found that, of the councils that do not have a Percent for Art policy, most see it as a future long-term priority. In fact, three of those councils had a plan in preparation, though not yet adopted.
Report co-author Alysha Saunders noted that the survey also highlighted there is little consistency for where art should be placed within Local Government’s organisational structure.

Only half (54 per cent) said they had a Public Art Strategy in place, and an equal 48 per cent only had a Cultural Plan or an Events Plan in place. Interestingly, just 4 per cent had undertaken a Cultural Audit of practitioners in its community, and none had a current Arts Facilities Plan.
Peter believes that, so long as Percent for Art remains at the forefront of urban design and planning for local councils, it will help Perth’s creative industry stay afloat in the aftermath of the pandemic. Perhaps even more importantly, it will help drive the demand for more compact, connected, mixed-use liveable neighbourhoods – of which public art is a key component.
Peter says, “Even though there is sometimes hesitation among LGAs to apply Percent for Art, the impact of a nationwide shutdown has highlighted the need for animated suburban centres."

"No longer can councils be pulling money away from the arts. Instead, they need to focus on providing places that bring beauty and people together, as well as create opportunities for artists to earn money and generate employment across myriad industries."

"This is important if we are to continue to support the breadth of Perth’s art community, both developers and local artists, and local tourism. The present moment is a unique opportunity to re-position Perth in the global cultural context.”