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A percentage difference


THREE projects in the Allianz Business to Arts Awards this year are part of the Government 'Per Cent for Art' scheme, each of which has shown remarkable innovation and community engagement.

The three projects are 'Breaking Ground' by John Byrne, Ballymun Regeneration's initiative; 'Casting Light', also by Byrne, commissioned by Cavan County Council; and Shelter Me From The Rain, an opera commissioned by Carlow County Council.

Started in the 1980s, the Per Cent for Art scheme is a government programme whereby 1pc of the cost of any publically-funded capital, infrastructural and building development can be allocated to the commissioning of a work of art. The 1pc is subject to a ¤64,000 cap and is available across all government departments.

Cliodhna Shaffrey, public arts advisor to the Arts Council, says the scheme has been very successful over the years, with 160 listings now featured on the www.publicart.ie website, which doesn't represent the total. "It is a great possibility for artists and has allowed a lot of experimentation. More recently, it has encouraged artists to explore different ways of presenting public art that don't necessarily have to be permanent. It has moved beyond purely being about public sculptures on a roadside. Composers, musicians and choreographers have started to get involved. It is open to all types of art forms.

"The scheme has led to new ways of communicating with the public, playing into the idea that to make art work, the artist has the responsibility to engage with and reflect the community it is in." Launched in 2002, Breaking Ground is a particularly good example of public art reflecting its community. Its two key aims are to bring attention nationally and internationally to projects organised within Ballymun, and to expand and enrich the lives of communities through experiences with contemporary art. In eight years, Breaking Ground has commissioned over 48 projects.

The Breaking Ground project highly commended in the Jim McNaughton Perpetual Award for Best Commissioning Practice in this year's Allianz Business to Arts Awards was a commission called 'Misneach' – a large bronze equestrian sculpture with a local teenage girl as its rider. The objective in working with Byrne was to commission a significant work of public art that was unique to Ballymun and its community. Byrne made a replica of the horse sculpted by the Irish sculptor John Henry Foley used in The Gough Memorial, which used to be in the Phoenix Park. Ballymun Regeneration had approached Byrne looking for ideas to address the area and what the people there would want in terms of art. He came up with a couple, such as a painting idea similar to his work Dublin's Last Supper in the Italian Quarter, but featuring Ballymun people.

"I had the equestrian idea in the back of my head because it struck me while in the middle of a town in Spain that statues on plinths denote the centre and importance. Ballymun is a place of importance, not least for the people that live there, and I thought it would be amazing to have a massive bronze sculpture there," he says.

"I was also interested in challenging the idea of what artists aren't supposed to do. Statues on plinths represent the old guard and I wanted to subvert and reinterpret the idea of a hero on a horse."