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Support for First Nations artists telling authentic stories in urban landscapes 

Support for First Nations artists telling authentic stories in urban landscapes 


In the past 10 years, a notable increase in public art opportunities has been driven by the adoption of nationwide policies in the public art sector. As the urban landscape evolves, local councils have seized the opportunity to enhance community identity and establish lasting civic legacies by incorporating artworks into the built environment. Off the back of this trend, Tilt helps with opportunities for First Nations artists to tell authentic stories and weave cultural significance into the fabric of our urban landscape while gaining monetary support.

Art in relation to Country is an essential part of the Australian ethos, and the New South Wales Connecting with Country Framework is a positive step forward for our urban spaces. The framework is a guide for good practice to help project clients, project teams and the communities they serve respond to Country when they plan, design and deliver built environment projects. 

Dead trees reinterpreted through First Nations art.
Dead trees reinterpreted through First Nations art.

Unfortunately, there is a shortage of artists with the experience it takes to deliver such public art commissions due to the complexities of contracts and the hours of stakeholder management required. Public art commissions are often not tailored to delivering the piece of art alone, and artists can often become overwhelmed trying to manage the technical project requirements of commercial sites and excessive project documentation. Navigating the artistic opportunity and commercial obligations requires a collaborative approach to project delivery to support the artist and draw on the expertise of a public art project team.

Project support and mentorship

Tilt was founded with a mission to foster creativity in architecture and has since evolved to include creative aspirations of landscape architects and artists. Public art has emerged as a  substantial part of Tilt’s clientele with half of these projects featuring First Nations contributions. These initiatives serve as opportunities for cultural exchange, facilitating collaborative and innovative design processes that bring artistic visions to life through compelling public installations.

More than a design consultant, Tilt fully supports artists in showcasing their work to a mass audience by delivering impactful public art outcomes with a genuine curiosity to learn and develop an understanding of the artist’s concept and practice. With each project, the artist is at the forefront of consultation and decision-making to ensure the finished piece accurately reflects their original vision. Relieved of the commercial burdens of contractual obligations and project management, artists are free to focus on their true calling — creating art.

“When we met Tilt, everything was still quite conceptual. It was really refreshing because the first thing they said was that they wanted to honour the artwork — the actual artists and their ideas — because what often happens is you give your artistic vision and then there are all these constraints put on, and it turns into something completely different. But Tilt put the artist’s vision at the forefront at all times. They even had their hands in clay at certain stages, helping me,” says First Nations artist, Shay Tobin, who worked with Tilt in 2020.

First Nations artist Shay Tobin at work
First Nations artist, Shay Tobin works on the Western Sydney Parklands project.

Tapping into emerging artist talent pools, including those of First Nations artists, allows Tilt to bring rising local artists to the forefront through mentorships. This paves the way for expanded curatorial potential in the public domain, ultimately leading to greater diversity in the built environment. It is a way of providing financial support and galvanising communities by creating a mutually beneficial cycle.

Collaboration through listening

Central to Tilt’s involvement in working with artists on public art projects is their eagerness to listen to and learn from the artists with whom they collaborate. By listening closely and absorbing their creative process, Tilt can curate the design, materials and manufacturing processes that enhance the storytelling opportunity and ensure the outcome speaks authentically to the artist’s methodology. 

First Nations artists have their own approach to making art that is fundamental to their traditional skills, whether in poetry, linguistics, audio recording or science. Collaboration with Tilt results in an exciting meeting point of traditional skills and modern technology, providing a pathway to embed their artwork into public spaces and create more engaging and experiential outcomes.

An example of this process is the newly opened ‘Gabrugal Yana bushwalk in Western Sydney Parklands. Tilt worked closely with First Nations artists Tobin and Djon Mundine OAM, along with other artisans, to develop a unique series of artwork installations on trees. Tilt’s impartial approach to media and methodologies led to a combination of applications, including carving, painting, handmade ceramics and cast bronze objects. The  works represent the six seasons of the Dharug calendar. The installations are interwoven with the artists’ hand marks that are embedded in the artwork trees, weaving First Nations identity and knowledge into nature’s canvas.

The Gabrunal Yana bushwalk teaches us about connecting with Country.
Gabrunal Yana bushwalk.

“Gabrugal Yana was conceived as an accelerator project run by Michael Cohen and was just a generation of ideas from a collection of cultural artists, not just indigenous,” Tobin says. “We set up camp in the parklands and lived there for eight or 10 days. There were all these incredible dead trees around, and some had been scarred. It gave us a sense of place, and that’s where the idea of using the dead trees and turning them into a collection of artworks came from.”

The role of designers, architects and place-makers embedding First Nations artwork into our cities ensures that the empowerment of First Nations voices and the telling of their stories are translated authentically into the public realm.

Dive into other Tilt projects that redefine what is possible to achieve the exceptional.

Learn more about collaborating with country and the importance of Indigenous art.

Photography supplied by Tilt Industrial Design.


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