Recovering Aotearoa New Zealand’s Public Art Heritage,
one work at a time.

In recent years there has been an increasing call from the public and arts communities for protection of public art in New Zealand, in particular 20th Century works.

From June 2015-July 2017, Toi Rauwharangi College of Creative Arts at Massey University ran a special project to mark its 130th anniversary: the E. Mervyn Taylor Mural Search & Recovery Project. Led by Bronwyn Holloway-Smith and Sue Elliott, this project sought to research, catalogue and documented the status of each of Taylor’s major murals and building decorations pursuing, where possible, the reinstatement and ongoing protection of neglected works. The results of this research are documented in the book Wanted: The search for the modernist murals of E. Mervyn Taylor (Massey Press, 2018).

Despite the project’s focus on Taylor, numerous members of the public were inspired to come forward with information on other works of art in New Zealand that were in need of similar attention. In order to capture this information, Holloway-Smith and Elliott began the “New Zealand Mural Heritage Register”, a basic spreadsheet capturing any information that they were given including names, sites, artist, and other details. The public’s unsolicited contributions to the register meant that, without trying, the list grew to over 200 works.

The removal of several significant works from the Post-War period, and publicity around this in 2016, prompted the then Minister for Arts, Culture & Heritage to ask her Ministry to investigate the need for a register to protect public artworks.

Joining forces, MCH and MUCoCA undertook consultation with interested parties to determine the most appropriate way to protect the most significant works for posterity; where responsibility for this protection might lie; and what definitions and parameters we might apply. The overwhelming conclusion of the consultation was that a register of public works throughout New Zealand was necessary.

In response to this need, the Public Art Heritage Aotearoa New Zealand project was formed as a research partnership between Toi Rauwharangi College of Creative Arts at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand and Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage. We are currently focused on establishing a New Zealand Public Art Heritage Register, with a longer-term vision to ultimately work towards protecting public artworks of national significance, and developing best practice in terms of contracting, commissioning, documenting, maintaining, and de-commissioning these works.


What is public art?

Works of art that are located within public space.

Along with accessibility, visibility is also a major contributing factor to this definition and works may also be considered public if they have become part of a community’s landscape – owned in the imagination of the public and contributing to the life of a space. Included in this definition are memorials, murals, fountains, sculptures, light-works, windows (i.e. stained, etched), and mosaics.

What is public space?

Spaces that are publicly accessible, including in de facto public spaces such as churches; malls; universities; schools; and private building foyers or exteriors.

What public artworks will you be seeking to protect?

While we are aware that the quantity of New Zealand’s public artworks is constantly expanding, our initial focus will be on 20th Century public art as this is currently the most at-risk category of public art in Aotearoa New Zealand.