“Imagine the outcry in the Czech Republic, if not elsewhere, if this insult had been enforced?”
Manly is in the box seat to snatch the annual free-to-the-public festival that has for 23 years been held along the Bondi-to-Tamarama walk.
The council’s treatment of the festival has upset Arts Minister Don Harwin, though Mayor Masselos insists Waverley Council continues to have open lines of communication with event organisers. Meanwhile, political heavyweights on both sides are calling for an intervention.
Labor’s arts spokesperson Walt Secord called on the Berejiklian government to help Waverley Council keep Sculpture by the Sea at Bondi – and pledged bipartisan support.
“Moving Sculpture by the Sea from Bondi is like moving the Coliseum from Rome or the pyramids from Giza: we just can’t let that happen,” Mr Secord said.
“We saw the Berejiklian Government pour more than $15 million in taxpayer funds to stop Brisbane from stealing the NRL grand final; the least they can do is fight to keep Sculpture by the Sea at Bondi.”
Former Liberal Mayor Sally Betts said the contentious all-access pathway that Sculpture by the Sea said had compromised or eliminated 12 locations at Marks Park was unsafe with a young child already coming off their scooter close to the clifftop.
But Cr Betts said she didn’t know if anything could save the event at Bondi: “It seems to me that the current council wants to get rid of Sculpture by the Sea and they are intent on cementing over as much green space as they can.”
Mayor Masselos’ welcome intervention came in the lead up to the festival when artist Vaclav Fiala told organisers his sculptural tribute Tower to Jan Palach was within the event’s six-metre height limit.
It was discovered too late that the artist was referring to its size for freight, not in the field.
When Sculpture by the Sea sought the council’s advice, organisers were told they would need to submit a development application.
Organisers were faced with the decision to cut the sculpture down to below six metres from 7.2 metres to comply, Mr Handley said. Mr Fiala’s work had been designed to capture the first rays of dawn, to suggest the heavenly ascension of Mr Palach’s soul.
Mr Palach self-immolated in a political protest against the ending of the Prague Spring in 1968, resulting in the invasion of Czechoslavakia by the Warsaw Pact armies.
Just weeks before Sculpture by the Sea was to open, chairwoman Alice Spigelman and Mr Handley wrote to Cr Masselos asking if there was any way the council would consent to the sculpture being installed without being chopped down to size.
“Happily, the new Mayor agreed because it was a temporary structure it did not need a [development approval] – the same rules as had applied for two decades until council changes in 2018 – and an international scandal was avoided.”
Cr Masselos said she was happy to assist in ensuring that Tower to Jan Palach could be seen in its entirety, but was disappointed with Sculpture by the Sea’s characterisation of the process.
“We as a council prefer to focus on the success of the event and of the artists’ work rather than comment any further,” she said.
Mr Secord, who lives in North Bondi, said he supported Cr Masselos in her efforts to retain the festival and called on both sides to “take a deep breath and reconcile their differences”.
Linda Morris is an arts and books writer at The Sydney Morning Herald