As a specialist in public art, Merran Morrison works to make our cities exciting places to live in – she’s even converted firefighting skeptics into art believers.
© Caroline Price Photography.
Merran Morrison (middle) with sculptor Phil Price (left).
How did you get into art consultancy?
My academic background is in planning and urban design but I never wanted to be a town planner! I was always more interested in the cultural layering of our cities – the stuff that makes them exciting places to live in and visit, both in terms of built spaces and cultural activation.
The first artworks I commissioned were for big events that had a performance component. Armed with a pyrotechnic licence, I focussed on the intersection between place, landscape, performance and art. The temporary art that I commissioned - fire sculptures for folk festivals, enormous inflatables in Canada, huge hand-made puppets, parades, fabric artworks - changed how people used and enjoyed their city and community. I saw planning decisions then change to support a creative city.
Eventually however, I tired of the ephemeral and began commissioning permanent public art. But don’t ask me to do a mural – paint doesn’t last. Sculpture is where it’s at.
How would you describe your current consultancy practice?
My company commissions architectural art, meaning site-specific sculpture that is integrated into its setting. I curate and frame a project with a client, select an artist and manage the process from concept to completion… I feel like I work in the construction industry really.
Years of experience gives me intuitiveness: I see a site and get a sense of what artist is right for the project. At every stage of this process, I am making creative decisions. By speaking the language of both the architect and artist, the consultant seamlessly facilitates the two, protecting the artist’s vision while managing its completion. I shield artists from the administrative complexities of a project, allowing them to do what they do best.
That being said, it’s always varied. Currently, I am doing a park on the Parramatta River for a public client, two projects with private developers, advising on the decommissioning of a work in a Melbourne lobby, and finessing a concept to Newcastle City Council with local indigenous input.
What do you see as the future of Art Consultancy – do you have future goals?
Public art is a high growth area for artist’s employment. For some, it’s where money can actually be made with their gallery practice remaining an arena of experimentation. The field is largely led by local government and delivered by the construction sector and while this may slow in the next few years, public infrastructure will likely remain a central stimulus to our economy.
Public art policies and programs are expanding with public art now recognized as an essential component of placemaking and urban beautification. It’s taken the death of modernism to re-embrace the artist as a contributor to built space, so I don’t see that changing any time soon. Public art commissioning is a complex, sometimes painfully long process that necessitates an art consultant. We are key specialists in this growing field. .
As for the future? I want to mentor people who want to get into public art.
“By speaking the language of both the architect and artist, the consultant seamlessly facilitates the two, protecting the artist’s vision while managing its completion.”
Tell us about a time your consulting services saved the day.
My greatest moment of professional gratification was when I was engaged by Queensland Fire and Rescue to curate and deliver a work for the new Surfers Paradise fire station. This was when the Queensland Government had their fabulous Art Built In Program that required every state project to spend money on art.
I found myself surrounded by eight fire fighters with zero interest in art. As I took them through the process however, they grew engaged in shaping the brief and selecting the artists, and eventually were incredibly passionate about the work of art.
I recall presenting three shortlisted artists and their concepts to the boys who loved them all. They chorused “We want them all!”. Eventually they settled on Stephen Hall’s concept ‘Turnout’- which is what occurs in a station when the fire call comes - a freestanding lively work that lights up as the trucks move out.
The project had a tiny budget of just $30k and yet, it remains a career highlight – I successfully converted non-believers into art lovers.
© Caroline Price Photography.
Merran Morrison with artist Phil Price.
© Hannah Leser.
Artist Xia Hang (right) with Merran Morrison (left) discussing Hang's commission for Harris St Ultimato.