Adrian Doyle, artist and co-founder of Melbourne Street Art Tours, reckons Melbourne is the best place in the world to see street art. Facter, also a Melbourne-based street artist and editor of webzine Invurt, agrees: “I do believe that there is absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind, globally, of those who follows street art, that Melbourne is one of the very top destinations, anywhere – it’s not just valid, it is fact,”
Early this year, Christa Larwood, writing for BBC travel, claimed that Melbourne has emerged as an unlikely leader in urban art, and is now compared with Berlin, New York and Sao Paolo, attracting “urban art A-listers like Blek le Rat (the Parisian “godfather of the stencil”) and Banksy.”
Melbourne’s street art is marketed as a tourist attraction, a must-see for Lonely Planet backpackers. But not everyone is enamoured with street art. For many, there is little difference between graffiti (tagging) and street art of value.
Last month, anti-graffiti laws were back on the State Government agenda in New South Wales were graffiti removal costs the state more than $100 million a year. In Melbourne the clean-up bill also runs into the millions. Lord Mayor Robert Doyle told the ABC’s Jon Faine “I celebrate street art; the destructive mindless vandalism of tagging I can't stand.”
While some bemoan the rise of street art in our urban spaces, others see an opportunity to nurture and give back to their community.
Hurben is a 35-year-old street artist from Perth, who made the transition from tagging to street art to public commissions and gallery exhibitions.
“I guess I questioned why I was doing it,” he says as explanation for why he turned away from graffiti.
“I wanted to actually do something good with my art and create change and add to the culture. Not take away.”
Another Perth local Michael (mike) Shime has been making art on the street since the ‘80s. He is adamant that street art can nurture a sense of community, but acknowledges it will not always appeal to everyone.
“In my experience, street art definitely has a place in nurturing the community, but it can equally alienate them.”
“Young people today need to be able to voice themselves and many choose to use graffiti as a means of doing this,” he says.
“Most street artists are young people. Political and social issues have a large impact in their life and generally they are not in positions of power to enforce change on governmental levels. So they make and create awareness of political and social issues where they can. And more often than not, that is on the street with their art.”
Some will argue there are more appropriate ways to build a community or voice societal concerns than street art, but as National Gallery of Australia curator Jaklyn Babington points out: “throughout art history, artists have often created and displayed their works in public spaces and numerous art historical movements have had a political and/or socially motivating element to them. Street art is no different, it is just perhaps more proactive and determined than other forms of contemporary art today in its strategies and efforts to reach the widest possible audience.”
Peter Drew, a young Adelaide-based artist, considers street art a vital part of the city because it “marks the point of conflict between two great principles of western democracy, the freedom of expression and the sanctity of private property.”
He suggests community can form when there is a collective sense of ownership over a public space. The popularity of Melbourne’s CBD street art or the Condor Tower Carpark Project in Perth (which attracted around 3000 visitors on opening night in July 2009) can attest to this.
Fiona Hillary, the founding coordinator of the City of Melbourne’s youth arts project Signal Youth Arts Studio and an researcher with RMIT’s Art in Public Space program, says street art can be a great vehicle to engage community and usher change; especially in terms of regeneration projects.
“A great example was a project that occurred a few years ago in Dandenong when Grenda's Bus Depot was being relocated and the old site being demolished. The City of Greater Dandenong commissioned a number of artists to engage with the space and provide the local community with a different view of the site, and to an extent farewell the space.”
What do you think? Can street art bring communities together?