New Zealand artist Mike Hewson selected to transform Crown Street Mall

Crown Street Mall could be in line for a radical artistic transformation, with Wollongong councillors due to vote on a major public art project next week.

Council staff have recommended they accept a proposal from New Zealand artist Mike Hewson to design, fabricate and install a $430,000 public art piece in the mall.

The work was part of the original makeover plan for the controversial city strip, with money already set aside in this year’s budget to pay for its installation.

In next Monday’s meeting papers, the council has given no indication what form Mr Hewson’s Wollongong work would take, only saying his proposal was named “Illawarra Placed Landscape”.

The work is designed to “animate the public domain and replace deleted water and music play elements which were shown in the original [mall] concept designs”, staff said.

According to his website, Mr Hewson worked on several urban art projects in Christchurch after it was destroyed by earthquakes, transforming old public toilets and dilapidated buildings with large scale printed montages.   

In one of his most striking works in the city (pictured), the artist has transformed a heavy, dated walkway – not unlike the one connecting Wollongong Central to David Jones in Crown Street Mall – by adhering a large scale digital vinyl print on the walkway to mirror its surrounds.

He has also worked on projects around the world, in New York’s Central Park, Moscow’s Pushkin Square and various places around Sydney and Melbourne.

Currently based in New York, Mr Hewson comes recommended by Wollongong council’s art curator Barbara Flynn, who previously worked with Sydney City Council to select its controversial “cloud arch” and giant milk crate art works.

Ms Flynn invited four artists to submit a proposal for the mall art work.

They were then interviewed by the council’s “city centre steering committee”, which voted to support Mr Hewson’s plans last month.

Council staff have urged all councillors to support Ms Flynn’s recommendation, as they said there had previously been “unsuccessful attempt[s] to procure suitable public art for the project through a traditional expression of interest and tender”.

“A satisfactory result would not be achieved by inviting tenders again.”

The Mercury contacted Mr Hewson’s art studio for details on the Crown Street Mall work but was referred back to the council.