Article by Alison Young – Alison Young receives funding from the Australian Research Council to conduct research on street art.

Do governments know what to do with street art?


Governments have a paradoxical approach to street art.
costa cobosta/flickr

Australia prides itself on its attractiveness to tourists, but for many, to the eternal frustration of Melbourne, visiting Australia is synonymous with the Great Barrier Reef and Sydney Opera House.

It may then come as a surprise to learn that Melbourne is the only Australian destination to feature in the top 10 lists of a number of international travel websites. What is it about Melbourne that is so alluring to visitors? The answer is Melbourne’s street art.

On Reuters (Life!) and Travel and Leisure among others, Melbourne is named as one of the best cities in the world in which to view street art, alongside New York, Berlin, London, Sao Paulo and Los Angeles.

The presence of Melbourne in lists like these means that some tourists come to Melbourne because of its street art – the dizzying variety of images including hip hop graffiti, stickers, pasted-up posters and paper cut-outs, objects fixed to walls, and street-based sculptures, which appear illicitly on the walls and other surfaces around the city.

Tourists are not the only individuals drawn to Melbourne because of its accomplishments in urban art. Artists from Tasmania, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Japan, France, America, Canada, Germany, Britain and Mongolia have made Melbourne their permanent or temporary home and have contributed to the melting pot that is Melbourne’s culture of street art.

The result is a large community of artists who often share resources and ideas, collaborate on gallery shows, and generally work together to create art both in the streets and in galleries.

The quality of the work displayed in suburbs such as Fitzroy, Collingwood, Brunswick, St Kilda and the CBD itself is such that the National Gallery of Australia began purchasing pieces by Melbourne street artists in 2004, and has now amassed a collection of several hundred artworks, some of which were exhibited as part of its show ‘Space Invaders’ touring nationally throughout 2011.

What has made Melbourne so successful as a home to street art? Part of the answer has to do with geography. The formal grid system of the city centre is organised around main streets cross-crossed by narrow laneways, which have become one of the main sites for street art in Melbourne.

Artists have often found it easier to put up stickers, paste-ups, stencils and tags in the privacy afforded by the narrow laneways, and their central location in the CBD guarantees a large audience for any work placed on the walls.

The rapid turnover of work on the walls makes the laneways into ever-changing outdoor galleries, accessible to all. Their proximity to the city centre means that they are easily found by tourists who imagine they are experiencing a ‘hidden’ or ‘secret’ aspect of Melbourne.

Other cities in Australia lack this extensive network of laneways, and their street art tends to be more diffusely located, lacking the abundance found in Melbourne.

The association of Melbourne with street art has not gone unnoticed by the State Government of Victoria. Walking tours promising ‘art in the street’ are offered by Tourism Victoria, which has also developed a series of television advertisements featuring Melbourne’s street art as one of the reasons why it’s easy to ‘lose yourself in Victoria’, as the campaign’s tagline advises.

But Melbourne’s street art has been the object of State government attention in other, less positive, ways.

During the early years of Melbourne’s street art explosion, there was little direct regulation of the activities of street artists: police and councils initially seemed unsure as to how to respond to street art. But that early uncertainty disappeared, with street art now regarded as an activity to be policed and controlled.

The crackdown began around 2005, as Victorian authorities prepared for the upcoming Commonwealth Games being held in Melbourne in 2006. Many local councils announced zero tolerance policies towards graffiti and stencils; a number of artists were prosecuted for criminal damage; and hundreds of posters, stencils and stickers around Melbourne were removed.

Around the same time that Tourism Victoria was creating its ‘Lose yourself in Melbourne’ adverts, featuring the graffiti-covered walls of Melbourne’s laneways, the State Government enacted a new piece of legislation directed at graffiti and street art: the Graffiti Prevention Act of 2007.

Although willing to make use of images of stencil-filled laneways in their promotional materials, the authorities did not warm to the idea that urban art was now synonymous with Melbourne, opting instead to create new offences with accompanying harsh fines and possible prison sentences.

In the statute, the activities of street art are merged with those of graffiti: ‘marking graffiti’ is defined as anything that ‘sprays, writes, draws, marks, scratches or ‘defaces’ property by any means so that the result cannot be cleaned off with a dry cloth’.

The Act was designed specifically to give the police greater powers of search and arrest. Any individual found to be in possession of a ‘graffiti implement’, such as a can of spray paint, must prove to the police officer that they possess these items for a legitimate purpose: this reverses the burden of proof, since ordinarily the police are supposed to prove there is sufficient evidence that an individual possesses these tools for the purposes of graffiti.

In reversing the burden of proof, a cornerstone of the legal system, the Victorian Government has indicated the deep-seated nature of its antipathy towards graffiti and street art.

Many governments share such an antipathy: graffiti and street art are not regarded fondly by any of the municipal or State authorities in Australia.

But what’s striking in the Victorian context is the apparent hypocrisy of a government willing to deny fundamental legal principles in order to enhance the ability of the police to stop, search and arrest young people engaging in a popular cultural activity, at the same time as the fruits of that cultural activity are utilised by the government in its tourism advertisements.

That Melbourne features in lists of the top 10 cities in the world for street art indicates that its artists have not been intimidated by the government repressive legislation into eschewing the street as a location for artwork. Thus far, artists in Melbourne continue to produce high quality street-based artwork, and artists from elsewhere in Australia and internationally continue to travel to Melbourne in order to participate in the city’s urban art culture. Tourists still seek out Melbourne’s street art. Wedding parties flock to Melbourne laneways to pose in front of its graffiti-covered walls, and schools bring art classes to the laneways to study stencils and paste-ups.

The National Gallery of Victoria has in February 2011 opened NGV Studio, a site dedicated to the promotion of graffiti-derived art and street-based artists. And still the State government and many of Melbourne’s local councils continue to promulgate a zero tolerance policy on graffiti and street art. As the gap widens between those who enjoy what street art can bring to a city and those who want to arrest its practitioners, perhaps it is time to seek some middle ground that will not criminalise the young people of Melbourne who practice the art form for which the city has become world-famous.

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Winter Wander Wrap Up

We had a great night last night at the Renew Newcastle Winter Wander event.

Big thanks to Tez and Ben Foster for doing artist talks. It was great to have a large crowd, all together, listening to the artists describe their process and their passion. The opportunity was a chance to throw some light on the intricacies of producing stencils, from conception of design, preparation of stencils and installation.

Tez managed to hand out some great promo stickers and I still have a few left if anyone wants one – email us your contacts and we will post you a little surprise 🙂

Thank you to L!vesites for the gas fire and to Marni and the Renew Newcastle volunteers for the best hot chocolate ever.

We will post some photos soon 🙂

Where have you been?

Wow, where did the last two months go??

Well, we can tell you they went down with a little bit of rain in Newcastle town. So much so, that we have had some delays on the completion of Project ARThive.

The moral of the story?

Well, you can stop the rain. W have we been doing in the mean time then?

Oh, only Tez’s, largest stencil EVER!

One the same day that we were unable to finish Stu McDonald’s artwork on ARThive, Tez was lucky enough to have some coverage from the drizzling rain to install his artwork ‘The World is Your Monster’.

And, golly, were we impressed with this stencil! The installation began at around midday and involved a series of delicate steps to get everything ‘just right’.

Tez will tell you it was only a “two layer” stencil, but we saw much more layering going on here. Each layer had to be cut down into various sections to fit in the somewhat awkward alcove. Each section of the stencil then involved careful placement, marrying up the registration points to get the image scale right.

Tez used traditional blending techniques, using his hand and the can to control the flow and layering of paint, a skill that must be highly commended!

Here are some images from the day:

(wordpress won’t let me upload, images coming soon – sorry!)


Thanks to everyone who made it to the launch last Friday night!

A huge thanks to Angus Arley for providing us with a beautiful atmosphere with acoustic appropriations from some of our favourite performers. My favorite was his rendition of ‘Song 2’ by Blur. Gus has great taste music and made each song his own, whether using his harmonic (AND strong!) vocals, the sweet strummings of the ukelele or the guitar. It was all such a great mix of personal style and homage to what are some of the all time best songs for our generation. Gus is also the super talented design whois the brains behind the branding and design of SAW. You can find out how to get him at your next do by clicking here.

After the first set by Angus Arley, I presented a powerpoint slideshow telling the SAW story; past, present and future. If you missed the presentation you can contact me via email and I will send you a PDF copy.

The main gist of it all is that we have a small amount of funding to paint ARThive ARI in Morgan Street. The first project is to paint ARThive (Super, cool and awesome, right?!!). There are some details involved about what areas are open for ‘arting’. So please click the link below and get thinking about your designs all over Newcastle’s most exciting artist run gallery and studio hub.


We really love all the support and interest from all the individuals and groups who have been interacting with our project. Please let us know if you enjoy the artworks in the Hunter Street mall. We especially want to see images or any references to the artworks. So if you took some sweet photos, made a blog entry or anything related to our project, we would love to know about it. The more we can show that SAW is supported by our community, the more public spaces we get to beautify!

We will be setting up a ‘Friends of SAW’ link on our blog to show all our our newfound friends like Renew Newcastle, Make Space, Urban Ballerina and Urban Insider.

As you can see, we are collating some really cool links to share with you like articles, flickr pages and photographs featuring SAW artworks by individuals and groups.

A very special thanks to Christina Robberds from The Octapod Association for all her help in producing SAW. Marni Jackson and Renew Newcastle must be commended for all their assistance with the launch. Sara from Sushi Koo also did an amazing job supporting us with part sponsorhip for the evening. We had a lovely time sipping wine and nibbling sushi!

Thanks again for all your interest in our work. We hope to meet and hear more stories from you soon.

If you want to contact me directly, please go to contacts for further info.

Simone Sheridan


This is Street Art Walking (SAW).

SAW wants the city to come alive with artworks, dispersed throughout the streets, creating a public art walk for all to enjoy, locals and tourists.

Our main goal is to bring back a sense of pride within our streets, while showcasing artistic talent.

This project has stemmed from a visual arts project called ‘walkARTbout’ developed as part of 2010 This Is Not Art Festival. The success of the project has resulted in securing a number of public art sites on a permanent basis.

SAW is a place-making project creating (temporary and permanent) public art spaces. We aim to enhance the current aesthetics of the city by creating positive art solutions to public spaces.

SAW is supported by The Octapod Association and Renew Newcastle.