Harbourside Festival Marketplace


Harbourside Festival Marketplace, DarlingHarbour - 1987/88
Director of Applied and Decorative Arts : David Humphries
Art production: Public Art Squad at Harbourside studios
Architect: Robert Perry Architecture Oceania
Developer: Merlin International Properties 

Part of the New South Wales Government's historic DarlingHarbour redevelopment, the 100,000 million dollar Harbourside Festival Marketplace was a new showpiece for Sydney's Bicentennial year.

 It contained, and this is what makes it distinctive, one of the most exciting collections of original art and craft works ever assembled in Australia.

 The developer, Merlin International Properties and Architecture Oceania believed that a comprehensive artworks program would create a more meaningful and enduring facility, which would form emotional connections with the people of Sydney as well as visitors.

 To achieve this David Humphries was appointed as Director of Applied and Decorative Arts for Harbourside in 1987. Inspired he set up a program for the integration of site-specific artworks into the very fabric of the new building.
The Public Art Squad was selected to coordinate and create the artworks because of their proven ability to forge a large number of artists with different ideas into a team, and because of the depth of their experience with art in community environments. As visual artists rather than designers or decorators they took care to assure originality and creative integrity throughout the project from conceptual development to installation of the artworks into the building. In just 12 months a massive, free-enterprise, two million dollars worth of original artwork was hand produced and installed into Harbourside.

The philosophy of the Public Art Squad perfectly matched the ambitions of Merlin International.

The project involved the talents of more than 30 Australian artists and craftspeople; whose works formed an integrated part of the Harbourside building.
The results are multi disciplinary, involving the work of ceramic, textile and multi media artists, painters and sculptors. Hand painted ceramic tile murals, artist designed terrazzo floor works, hand painted and printed silk banners and flags, three-dimensional mobile and fixed sculptures monumental trompe L'Oreal illusionistic paintings, lyrical welded iron entrance gates, and muti coloured shoals of mobile tropical fish and flocks of parrots, together with a host of decorated pots, transformed this public retail marketplace into a show piece for art. making Harbourside one of the most thrilling commercial spaces in the world.

"Involving artists is not about patronising the arts ,its about management and perceiving that there are people in the community who can do things much more skilled and beautiful than going through traditional building industry channels'
Robert Perry architect for Harbourside
Harbourside's philosophy is simple but radical: art should not only adorn buildings, but be part of them. It should be an everyday experience for people shopping, strolling and sightseeing.

According to Dr. Lindsay Sharp, Director of Sydney's PowerhouseMuseum, the result was: "joyous, vibrant and quintessentially Australian... the most complex and vigorous public arts project yet attempted in Australia. and the product of this artistic outpouring is an unqualified triumph."

Merlin International Properties objectives - to revitalise the decorative arts movement, promote the work of young and innovative Australian artists and set an example to other developers of the way public art should be used, was achieved

Andrew L. Urban, noted art critic and writer, praised the "philosophy of excellence" throughout the project. "This extends from the architecture to the interior design, and to the works of decorative art specially created as an integral part of Festival Markets by the most eclectic, yet also the most homogenous group of group of artists and craftsmen assembled in one studio"

In the words of Barry Cohen, M.P., and former Federal Arts Minister: "Nothing excited me as much during my period as Minister for the Arts as my visits to the Harbourside Studios. Here lies the model for the future. An opportunity for artists and entrepreneurs working together to create a new and exciting urban landscape that will enhance the lives of us all. The Harbourside venture will not only provide pleasure for today, but a rich legacy of art for future generations.''

Public Art Squad met the stringent budget and completion deadlines. This says much for their commitment, professionalism and competence. For architects and developers, there will be a living example of how public art; architecture and commercial development can be brought together.