Why is this arts project happening now?
The William Crowther statue has long been a painful reminder for Tasmanian Aboriginal people and others aware of this history. Concerns about the statue have been raised numerous times by local Aboriginal people in City of Hobart consultations for other community and arts projects.
City of Hobart felt it was the right time to explore this contentious part of the City’s history. This follows from the City’s Community Vision and Capital City Strategic Plan. Following these documents, additional interpretation for the Crowther statue was a specific action listed in the City’s Aboriginal Commitment and Action Plan (ACAP), which was launched at the start of 2020.
Are you doing this project in response to the Black Lives Matters movement?
This project is not a direct response to the Black Lives Matters movement. Concerns about the statue have been raised repeatedly over time by local Aboriginal people in City of Hobart consultations for other community and arts projects.
However, recent events around the world have clearly underlined a very widespread and ongoing concern about racial equality in our societies. It would be a positive outcome for the whole community if this project contributes to healing past wounds and to building a fairer society.
Why can’t you just leave the past in the past?
This arts project is in response to ongoing concerns about the statue from members of the community, especially by many Tasmanian Aboriginal people. For many, the desecration of the remains of William Lanne needs to be acknowledged before we can move on as a society. Therefore, what happened in the past has consequences now. The City hopes that this project will allow the community to move forward into the future, together.
Why is the City of Hobart leading this project?
The Crowther statue is owned by the City of Hobar and it sits in a City-owned park. Additional interpretation for the Crowther statue was a specific action listed in the City’s Aboriginal Commitment and Action Plan (ACAP), which follows from the City’s Community Vision. It is our job to manage the arts project to ensure that it is done well and done respectfully.
Will everyone be able to have their say?
City of Hobart is launching this project to encourage broad public conversation about this contentious part of our city. We’re hoping to hear a wide range of views respectfully expressed about the issue over the coming months from all sides of the debate.
Crowther was a great figure – why can’t you focus on that rather than dragging him down?
It is true that Crowther was very active in nineteenth century Tasmanian public affairs. He served in the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council and was the first medical practitioner to serve as Tasmanian Premier. He was also a noted surgeon and naturalist. These are all commendable achievements which is why a statue was installed to him in the first place.
Sadly, he also chose to desecrate the remains of Tasmanian Aboriginal man William Lanne. Something for which he was punished at the time (by being suspended as an honorary medical officer at the Hobart General Hospital) and for which he is still criticised today.
Despite Crowther’s achievements in public life, his mistreatment of Lanne’s remains understandably is a source of distress for Tasmanian Aboriginal people in particular. They have expressed their discomfort about the statue and their desire for something to be done to recognise Crowther’s treatment of Lanne’s body. And that is why this arts project is happening now.
Why are they temporary public art projects?
Having several temporary public art projects (rather than one permanent artwork) allows for several different approaches and will prompt various kinds of discussions and engagement from the public. It also allows for responses from diverse arts practitioners.
Why are there four different public art projects?
There are differing opinions on the statue. It is important that several different voices are heard in discussing the monument.
What will happen to the statue long-term?
The artistic commissions and the responses of our community to them, will help inform a permanent response to the statue within the next two years. The permanent response to the statue does not form part of the current arts project and the nature of the permanent response is still unknown.
Will you remove the statue?
At this stage the City does not plan to remove the William Crowther statue, but the permanent response will be informed by this project.
Why are you giving priority to Aboriginal artists?
Priority was given during the selection process to Tasmanian Aboriginal artists. We welcomed applications from all arts practitioners, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, and committed to at least two of the four proposals selected being by Tasmanian Aboriginal people. This is appropriate given that the project came about because of Crowther’s mistreatment of the remains of Aboriginal man William Lanne and the Aboriginal community’s long-standing call for a response to the statue.
Ultimately, the panel for this project selected four teams/solo artists that all include Tasmanian Aboriginal artists. Selection was based on a set of three criteria that addressed the strength of the proposal, the relevance and strength of past work and the capacity of the artist to complete the commission.
Will the artworks damage or desecrate the statue?
No. The temporary works will be installed around or even on the Crowther statue. But the selected works cannot damage the William Crowther sculpture in any way or be indecent or offensive. They must also avoid damaging the sprinkler system or landscaping in Franklin Square.
What will you do if someone vandalises the temporary artworks?
Repairs will be made to the work as and when needed, under the guidance of each of the artists.
How much is being spent on this project?
Each of the artists is being paid $5,000 for the delivery of their temporary art works, which includes artist fees and all costs associated with installation of the work (materials, engineering, fabrication etc.). With four projects, the total cost is $20,000.
Why are you spending money on an arts project – aren’t there more important things to spend money on right now with COVID-19?
We believe the creative industries are extremely important to Hobart, and the City has a role in supporting artists. The creative sector employs many people in Hobart and is a key economic contributor that has been significantly impacted through COVID. The creative industries and arts sector provides us all with many important things including connection, enjoyment, and insight. The planning and allocation of resources for this project have been underway since the launch of the ACAP in January 2020.
Why are you worrying about an old statue – aren’t there more important things to think about right now during COVID-19?
This arts project is in response to ongoing concerns about the statue from members of the community, especially by many Tasmanian Aboriginal people. Naturally, we’re all concerned right now by COVID-19. But our many other concerns have not gone away during the pandemic. It's important that we do not ignore those other concerns, even while we are focused on COVID-19.