Second sculpture planned for Taree's civic heart

Graham Brown shows what the abacus might look like.

Graham Brown shows what the abacus might look like.

A GIANT abacus will be installed in the main street of Taree in front of accounting firm GPB Partners.

It will be the second major sculpture in the civic heart project being lead by Graham Brown of GPB Partners and organiser of Tidy Up Taree, and one that comes with a $5000 price tag.

Graham is vocal in leading the campaign to transform the central business district of Taree, and is choosing to put his money up to secure submissions from local artists for the design and construction of a giant abacus interactive sculpture.

Graham's brief is simple. "The abacus can be made of anything, be as funky as you like ... but it will need to be constructed and ready-for-installation by November 29."

The concept for the giant abacus came from acclaimed placemaker, David Engwicht, during an initial visit to the Manning Valley a few months ago. It was one of many ideas for the central business district of Taree and one that captured Graham's imagination.

Since that seed of an idea was planted in Graham's mind, the desire to nurture and grow a culture of positive change has seen draft plans created for the development of a civic square in Victoria Street.

Mr Engwicht is a key player in the push for change and returned to Taree this week to again meet with Centerpoint Arcade landlord, Maurie Stack, arcade tenants, Graham and around 18 people at a fundraising event on August 5.

As an accountant, Graham will normally look to numbers as the measure of success of an endeavour. He chose to organise a civic square fundraising event with Mr Engwicht in the hope of raising quick cash to kickstart the civic square project. The goal was 200 business owners at $100 a head would deliver $20,000 to enable civic square works to begin. The outcome was 18 people and $1700. It is not the outcome Graham sought but says "the low attendance numbers hasn't knocked my confidence in the push for change".

"It's going to go ahead, no matter what happens, but what did disappoint me is that so many local businesses who decided not to attend missed out on seeing slide, after slide, after slide of ideas from David on how to transform space on the street," Graham said.

"They didn't get to hear just how simple and inexpensive the things were that they could do to add vibrancy to their footpath, to lift their retail space and to get people to slow down and stay in the street.

"It was a brilliant session. It was just superb. There were new people at the meeting, who had never heard David speak, and they got on board big time. There is always something good from every situation."

Graham says the objective for the broader civic square project is to now secure decking timber and very large cement pots. He says those materials will be used to create seating decks around the trees and the pots used to connect areas in the civic square. He says the goal is to acquire 14 very large pots but with the limited funds available, initially they will work to create what they can, when they can.

The absence of a civic square in Taree is viewed as a glaring omission from our central business district by Mr Engwicht, who says that, "you need a civic space in a town. The only way the area will survive is if businesses in that area are providing an experience that is different to the experience of shopping in the malls."

He says the civic heart of Taree should be the "place where people hang out and where you feel a sense of attachment to your community."

"You want elderly people in your town sitting in the civic square, swapping stories with whoever comes past, it's about seeing kids playing around groups of people and interacting with them," he explained.

"It's vibrant and inclusive and that's a civic space."

Mr Engwicht contends that "every retailer needs to embrace the footpath, to display goods on the footpath and if you're a cafe, then create inviting settings."

"You don't need massive money to makeover that space. You can go to a very poor person's house and feel absolutely engrossed in the experience and atmosphere the space offers. You can feel more comfortable and connected in that place than in a display home. So it's not about how much money you spend on a space, it's about the atmosphere that you create and the interest within the space."

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