Public art festival for Canberra

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CANBERRANS will need no persuading when you tell them that this is potentially a city of sculpture but that notion is about to take a great leap forward with the announcement today of a new public art festival to take place in in spring.

Neil Hobbs and Karina Harris
Neil Hobbs and Karina Harris

Spearheaded by landscape architects and art connoisseurs, “Contour 556”, supported by the ACT Government to the tune of $35,000, by the Australia Council and by many Canberra businesses and national institutions, is destined to put the national capital back on the sculptural map.

Minister Chris Bourke
Minister Chris Bourke

ACT Minister for Small Business & The Arts, Chris Bourke, in launching the festival, pointed to the existence of over 100 public art works in Canberra now but said ” Contour 556″ would focus specifically on the land and lake-scape.

It all called to mind, sculptors Michael Le Grand and Phil Spelman agreed at this morning’s packed launch, the heady days of the Canberra National Sculpture Forum in the mid-1990s where extraordinary sculptures, including a classical palace made out of hay bales by Fiona Hooton, graced the lakeside.

According to Hobbs there had been no problem getting sponsors to help with this event. Not only was there an acquisitive sculpture prize of $30,000 on offer from Canberra Airport  but, he said, “Everyone I approached said ‘fine’.”

Among the many supporters of the event was the ANU which would accommodate some international sculptors visiting for the event.

The National Capital Authority had come good for the launch with the former NGA Contemporary exhibition space on the lake, also previously used by the Gallery of Australian Design and the National Portrait Gallery.

The space, popularly known as “the beach bungalow,” this morning’s crowd heard, would be occupied by the Australian Institute of Sport in the lead-up to the Olympics, but would then be made available for “Contour 556.”

Adrian Brown, Ngunnawal descendent and Ngunnawal Country Ranger in the ACT Parks and Conservation Service, was on hand for the welcome to country, noting that with its focus on landscape the new sculpture venture clearly had potential for continuity with ancient traditions of Aboriginal rock art, and he suggested that a rock art tour of the Namadgi National Park could be incorporated.

Hobbs agreed, also stressing the possibilities for local Canberra sculptors to showcase their work.

Zoe Brand's badge
Zoe Brand’s badge
Harris showed off the original badge created for artists and volunteers at “Contour 556” by artist Zoe Brand.

As for the kind of art we’ll see from the 50 + artists involved, Dr Bourke said there would be dance, sound, song, poetry and textiles, as well as traditional and  contemporary international sculptures on land and water.

Canberra artist Katy Mutton explained her intentions to explore political and surveillance issues in an artistic boat which would remain afloat on the lake for 12 months. Her fundraising project, supported by the Australian Cultural Fund, can be accessed at

Letter-cutting artist Ian from Neringla NSW, we heard, would be setting poetry in stone around the lake.

In short, “Contour 556” would provide art the Canberra public could relate to over the three weeks.

“Contour 556: Interventions in the Landscape,” October 22-November 13, details (including how to volunteer) at

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