Organisers of Sculpture by the Sea, which pops up each spring near Bondi Beach and ploughs almost $40 million into the city’s economy, have said the new pathway is such an eyesore it will “kill” the event.
Sculpture by the Sea founder David Handley told news.com.au the site of the new walkway, through Bondi’s Marks Park, would mean fewer large blockbuster artworks would able to be installed, while artists would be less willing to send their works to Australia.
“Artists from around the world respond to this location; this is our window to the world and we are about to ruin it,” Mr Handley said.
But the local council has hit back saying it “suspects the impact (of the path) is being overstated” and that more services for people with disabilities “outweighs some inconvenience” for the event’s organisers.
Held every October, Sculpture by the Sea sees hundreds of artworks installed on the famous costal pathway which runs south from Bondi Beach in Sydney’s east.
Now in its 21st year, the show is completely free to wander around and often features out-size and whimsical works which have included a melted ice cream van and a giant frying pan in the sand.
Exposed to the elements, larger works are often displayed at Marks Park, a large headland where sculptures can be installed with a dramatic and uninterrupted view of the Pacific Ocean behind it.
Last year, just short of 500,000 people visited Sculpture by the Sea. The event injects around $38 million into the Sydney economy annually; $11 million of that just to food and beverage outlets in the city’s eastern suburbs.
But Mr Handley said a decision made last week by Waverley Council to push ahead with a new accessible pathway will destroy the event’s unique vista and mean 40 per cent of sculpture sites would be lost.
As the path will be cited on a ridge, it will be centre stage behind the sculptures blocking the views.
“The mundanity of this path is part of the issue. Why would any artist place their work beside a concrete path when what has inspired them is the sea, sky and horizon?” he asked.
“Putting a bleak concrete path behind the art will kill Sculpture by the Sea.”
Work has already begun on the path, which Mr Handley said had immediate consequences with nine planned sculptures now axed as they are in the way of construction works and another 12 having their locations “compromised”.
His organisation has suggested an alternative plan that links up current paths around the park and brings the route away from the ridge and so not in the background of the artworks.
“Let’s make Marks Park more accessible in a more meaningful way rather than pouring 500sq m of concrete onto a headland,” he said.
Almost 200 artists from around the world, including those who have previously participated in the festival, have sent letters to Waverly Council protesting the pathway.
But Waverley Council general manager Ross McLeod said he was “surprised” at the organisers’ outburst.
The area was “first and foremost” a local park, rather than the location of a renowned event, and the path would take up only 5 per cent of the area.
“Council’s view is that services for people with disabilities outweighs some inconvenience and potential aesthetic impact over a small portion of the Sculpture by the Sea event which will still be free to use the park,” Mr McLeod said in a statement.
“The path was located where the least number or no sculptures were previously placed, so we suspect the impact is being overstated.”
Council also said it consulted with Sculpture by the Sea. But Mr Handley said the group was only invited to one meeting with council on the matter, back in 2017 and no “meaningful consultation” had taken place.
TEMPERS ARE FLARING
The state’s shadow arts minister Walt Secord said Waverley Council should “take a deep breath and reconcile its differences” with Sculpture by the Sea.
“Tempers are flaring, but cooler heads must prevail; this event is too important to move to another location,” Mr Secord said.
NSW Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres refused to discuss the Sculpture stoush. Despite the event bringing in millions to the state economy a spokeswoman for the Minister told news.com.au it was merely a “local issue”.
Mr Handley said he wanted work on the pathway to end immediately, a dialogue reopened with council and a solution found that balanced the needs of improved disabled access with the siting of sculptures.
But if no way forward was found, it really could be the end of the now famous event.
“What people forget is (what artworks are installed) is not a decision by Sculpture by the Sea,” Mr Handley said. “If you are an artist and the best site in the world is going to be tarnished by concrete, why would you spend $25,000 to make (a sculpture) and freight it around the world?
“When we don’t have major works we’ll lose visitors, then sponsors will drop away, we won’t be big enough to get government grants and we will go back 20 years to when it was small suburban show.
“This path would devastate Sculpture by the Sea. Council can have the path or they can have Sculpture by the Sea.”