On Friday 1 December I was lucky enough to take the Strategic Planning Team from Port Stephen’s Council out on a city adventure from Newcastle East to (nearly) Cooks Hill. It was positively rejuvenating to meet such an outgoing and vivacious team who had so many questions around the process of engaging artists and commissioning creative projects.
Starting in Newcastle East at The Grain Store, which was The View Factory when This Is Not Art Festival used it as a canvas for walkARTbout, to show the energetic team some of the best creative projects in The City of Newcastle. Our walk revealed DIY gardens that residents share with those who walk by on the street, showing how residents taking pride in the public spaces has such a profound impact of creating a unique identity for places, including ground murals and bunting down secluded laneways.
The Newcastle Beach Tunnel is an example of a public artwork commissioned by The City of Newcastle as part of their Graffiti Management Program. The artwork by Trevor Dickinson (who first created Newcastle street art as part of walkARTbout in paste-up form) was commissioned in 2011 to rejuvenate wall which had the historic Time Tunnel mural by Birgitte Hansen which was painted in 1990. Twenty-one years had resulted in a great deal of wear and tear so a new commission was made. Respectfully, Trevor pays homage to the former artist on the wall by leaving a section of Hansen’s work to peek through his new design. Trevor’s work has become highly well-known since these two projects were completed and Newcastle is a key subject for his designs – one attendee on the tour even had a deck of his Newcastle Productions playing cards!
Estabar provided the perfect rest stop as we picked up our coffee for the journey from the start of Hunter Street through to a range of hidden locations to reveal artworks by Adnate, BMD, Mike Watt, Jumbo & Bafcat.
Many of those in Newcastle would know there has been a huge community response to the painting over of the Guido Van Helten mural this week. This has raised a number of questions from a range of people, such as, what rights do the community have in privately owned spaces that face and impact the public domain and what exactly is the nature of street art; temporary or permanent?
As a person whom has worked in the arts community in Newcastle for a number of years, focusing on murals and street art style works, when I worked as This Is Not Art Festival Director in 2010 I identified an opportunity to engage businesses (and venues) working with the festival to create a public art walk. This project was funded by Copyright Agency Limited and provided the opportunity to hire a curator, Carli Hyland. Carli and myself worked on doing a call-out and we had a great response. Carli worked with artists from a range of locations. The project saw many artists including Ears, Damien Mitchell, Umpel, Ben Foster and Trevor Dickinson who have all continued to increase their portfolios since this project.
Notably, this public art project was actually Newcastle’s Trevor Dickinson’s first ‘street art’ work which was a series of letterbox illustrations as temporary paste ups, after this I was contacted by Council’s then Graffiti Team Leader, Saul Standerwick, who saw a vision for Trevor’s iconic work on the then boarded up Lucky Country Hotel after seeing the pasteups as part of walkARTbout. The Renew Newcastle shop Little Papercup did a blog about it here.
The graffiti team management team and the placemaking department have been vigrously contributing to the beautification of place with murals. Really, I had to pitch to owners with graffiti problems for them to consider paying for art. After all, they were already paying for repairs. Luckily, the art did slow done the tags.
Trevor’s murals have since become iconic in Newcastle with securing a number of commissions in Civic near the Newcastle Museum, Newcastle Beach tunnel, Mayfield pool and the Merewether Tunnel. It is my belief that the open-call out process by Octapod and TiNA Curator allowed for artists of all background to apply and this is one of many reasons that cultural projects require some kind of governance and ongoing management.
When I was working on walkARTbout with Carli, one of the challenges was convincing owners that the street art works would not start a graffiti war on their wall. Owners were reluctant because the perception is that ‘graffiti’ sends a bad message. Yet, one thing people didn’t know is that the community love seeing the art and this kudos can bring all kinds of positive benefits to a place.
As the founder of Street Art Walking (SAW) in 2011, I saw a chance to link artists with businesses, mainly because all those businesses and property owners I had spent time convincing that the art would be positive, were now keen for more art.
I was lucky enough to have the support of the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS) helping me set up a business that would seek walls and commission art for proactive businesses, local government and community groups. It was vital for me to try and create a map of these works, a marker on them so that people could find the artist and the story of the art. This has always been important, the artist recognition and telling the story so that projects are not exclusive and that art is accessible to as many as possible.
An example of a project which was actually conceived by Newcastle Council’s Graffiti Team Leader, at the time, Saul Standerwick is the The Theatre Lane Project in 2012. Without the vision of Saul to allow a temporary, pasteup artwork, which was funded completely by Council this project would not have happened with the vigour and consistency that it did. I was able to do a call-out, which drew artist submissions all over the world, and continually change the posters over a three month period. This project is proof that governance does not have to taint fun street art projects. I even got in a real life graffiti feud doing this project! Shout out to KAYE ONE!
Some artists out there might say, but street art is for fun. Of course, go and make it! No one forces artists to work within governed or managed art programs. Yet, the benefit of having inclusive programs that are funded are immense. I have seen artists come forward to SAW that have never made large scale murals and they leave with huge smiles at the new opportunity that a call out has provided.
SAW projects often asked artists to quote their fee, not offering a set sum of money, rather giving artists a chance to truly value and cost their work – on their terms. Sometimes, owners couldn’t afford works and they would say ‘I will just get my mate to paint it’. My response to this was always ‘Great. Just so you know, artists need to be paid for their work’ It is a passion of mine that artists can, at least, cover their costs and that businesses do not exploit the artists desire to create by offering them a ‘free wall’. I believe artists’ rights are important and is one reason why it was a mission to get artists decent fees for their work. I would be lying if I said we never did freebies. We did. We spent our own time and money on a number of works. Because, yes we love it!
The flipside of being an independent and doing call outs is that it is so much work! For years I have been fielding questions about how can I get walls for artists, how much does art cost for owners, how much should artists quote for projects and so on. It’s complex and each to their own with quoting their time. National Association for Visuals Arts (NAVA) have some guides and I use these when working with, or representing, artists.
When you are a sole trader working in a unique domain of being an art consultant it can be overwhelming to manage the interest that comes in various forms of communication. From other arts workers sending you project details to promote, artists asking for help on grants, getting information from artists for grants, keeping an up-to-date register of all the artists expression of interest which comes via facebook messages, instagram, twitter, website and email. There are so many artists that wanting to make art, especially in Newcastle.
Have you heard the statistic that Newcastle has more artists per capita than anywhere else in NSW? I don’t even know if it is true anymore but that little fact was well touted when I was at The University of Newcastle in 2004 until 2009. This is why it bewilders me so that the arts and cultural department of council is lacking the resources to support the creative community.
Today, I am lucky enough to get requests for walking tours to find some of the amazing projects out there and I make a point of including all kind of projects from publicly funded ones like the murals near the museum and beach to the illegal graffiti and community gardens.
Yesterday I received an email from one of my Newcastle street art tours who stated;
“This destruction of Guido van HELTEN’s mural on the corner at Stewart Avenue shows two things.
(a) The Phillistines are many; and (b) judging by the outrage – the project has succeeded in raising awareness of street art to the level where it is part of the identity of Newcastle – for many of us.”
Now, if a guest from one of my tours can see that street art has become part of the Newcastle story, when will it become part of the cultural action plan beyond being a beautification box ticker and be recognised as the value art form that it is. Remember, Guido Van Helten is currently a finalist for The Sulman Prize for The Brim Silo Project. I feel it is time for these street art works to be recognised in the arts and cultural domain.
Whilst there have been numerous set backs for the creative community, from a council perspective with a defunct public art program, two roles lost (public art officer and gallery director) and the revitalization of the gallery halted the cultural identity has been growing, DIY style, with organisations like Renew Newcastle, This Is Not Art festival and events hosted by Idea Bombing Newcastle.
An exciting street art and pubic art movement has been growing from strength to strength with projects like Hit The Bricks and graffiti events which have been concieved by independent businesses. Artists are ready to take the initiative and it is due time that artists locally were given the opportunity to be involved in the ‘revitalisation’ of the city.
In terms of responding to Newcastle Mirage’s question of ‘Is Street Art Temporary or Fixed?’. Of course, the very nature of street art is ephemeral, often political stencils, pasteups and protest imagery are all part of street art. Are these legally commissioned works ‘street art’, when considering ephemeral work? Perhaps not. They are akin to a big outdoor gallery, a series of gifts bestowed upon our city, made possible by the tenacity of creative people whom live and invest their art, passion and time there. The pace of change is slow and I am hoping this is an opportune time to create a dialogue around how to better support more art changing, as clearly the community values these works as proven by the response to losing a work in a prominent location.
‘Does the community have a right to complain?’ My answer, passion from community is not complaining. This is one of the best opportunities for community engagement around the cultural identity of The City of Newcastle, yet most people want to argue about who is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.
Is there a duty of care that needs to be taken when curating private commissions in the public domain? Yes. As a curator of murals in public spaces, thought and sensitivity are taken into consideration, balanced with a cultural understanding of the area and the artist selected for the wall. Owners of buildings are reassured the subject matters of the works will be respectful and sometimes there are even vetting processes through committees like strata boards. Does this happen in ‘street art’ in Hosier Lane? Not exactly.
If there is one thing I have learned from this week is that the culture of street art is still growing in Newcastle. For a truly evolving scene of ephemeral artworks, artists have to be brave enough to be vandals or councils have to have rigorous cultural policies and visionary staff that include street art – not just community murals.
I haven’t even had a chance to mention the importance of graffiti to this conversation and how graffiti is not the enemy of street art. All of the projects; graffiti festivals, the artworks and pieces, connect to contribute to a culture that has been growing (albeit slowly) since before I was born in 1983.
Failure:Lab the USA founded event focused on crushing the stigma associated with failure is coming to Sydney on 28 May 2016. With the theme of ‘The Highs & Lows of the Creative Journey’ this night is filled with successful creative professionals whom are going to erase the negativity associated with the F word – Failure, that is.
Seven creative professionals each share a story of failure, joining Failure:Lab’s global mission to eliminate the fear, stigma, and isolation around failure which, in turn, helps remove roadblocks to communication, innovation, and community.
Failure:Lab is a raw and intimate event showcasing personal stories of failure. With a refreshing environment of openness, it helps pave the way for change by crushing the isolation and stigma around failure. Failure then takes its rightful place as the crucial first step to the next big thing.
Our storytellers share memories of failure in a safe space for mistakes – no lessons learned or talk of who’s to blame! The audience can reflect on Twitter using #failurelab during the moment of reflection between stories.
Performances follow each story to recharge the audience. Electro poetry, spoken word, ‘gyp-hop’, acoustic melodies and oscillating guitar strings will lift the air between stories.
Don’t let the name fool you – while the stories may be about failure, the event is really about courage, determination, and the strength to get back up.
Crush the stigma around failure. Embrace it, learn from it, build on it.
Storytellers (who will have 9 minutes to share their failure story before dropping the mic and exiting the stage!)
Marcus Westbury Marcus Westbury is the CEO of Contemporary Arts Precincts Ltd that is leading the development of the Collingwood Arts Precinct in Melbourne and the founder of the multi award winning Renew Newcastle and Renew Australia. Marcus has been a writer, media maker and festival director and is the author of Creating Cities (Niche Press, 2015) and has been the writer and presenter of the ABC TV series Bespoke and Not Quite Art.
Somaya Langley Somaya Langley has a built a career at the nexus between the arts and technology. She has worked for multiple government cultural institutions, broadcasters, festivals and not-for-profit arts organisations as a curator, director, producer and technical specialist. As a creative practitioner, her work primarily focuses on embodied and immersive audiovisual experiences. Her life is equal parts failure and success. Somaya is the Digital Curation Specialist at the State Library of New South Wales.
Jeremy Staples Jeremy Staples’ work is all about creating spaces for community engagement and providing a platform for people to be heard and share their skills. He enjoys questioning, documenting, reading, writing and travel. He’s passionate about inspiring people to think and helping them along their own journeys. Over the past five years, he has been researching the future of radical print media abroad and worked alongside with and met with everyone from Maximum Rock and Roll to Tokyo’s largest English print magazine.
Dr Annetta Mallon PhD Annetta was awarded her PhD in Social Science in 2016, and she specialises in feminism, identity, personal stories, sociology and professional practice. She is currently employed as a lecturer and tutor, with Western Sydney University in the areas of Social Science, Sociology, and qualitative research methods. In addition to her academic pursuits and teaching, Annetta is also a freelance writer & editor, and is currently involved in developing works in both the academic and fiction arenas. Her previous career was as a practising counsellor, advisor, and psychotherapist for over twenty years working in Australia, Italy, and the USA in the fields of injury and trauma recovery, grief and loss, mental health, and personal growth and development.
Chloe Beevers Chloe has over 15 years experience as a creative strategist, collaboration broker, program producer and keynote presenter. As the founder of the consultancy firm Strategic Artistry, Chloe builds the capacity of governments, organisations, industries and communities to deliver creative outcomes.
Adam Monaghan Intermittent breaks from nursing to work in office jobs (not his thing) as well as dabbling in photography. Never quite believed in himself as photographer. Made redundant in 2013 and took another leap into video production. Taught himself to shoot, script, edit, produce and direct. Has grown the business into a six figure turnover enterprise in under three years.
DA Carter DA Carter is a musician & lyricist who’s toured globally on streets and stages from Berlin to Burning Man to the Sydney Theatre, National Young Writers, Subsonic, Regrowth, Crack Theatre & Fringe Festivals.
DA performs his heady mix of beatbox, spoken word & freestyle with a microphone & loop machines.
Performers (who will shift your mood with a 4 minute entertainment piece!)
Casio Gloria “The Kook, The Keys and the Curious. You decide who’s which.” From the grottos of Newcastle to the far reaches of the imagination, this eclectic/ electro performance-poetry explosion will have you sidestepping and your sides splitting. Launching the newest version of their bespoke music software MusicFox for Vivid Ideas Sydney 2016.
The Tinderbox Lullabies The Tinderbox Lullabies are Blue mountains singer /Song writer Nic Alexander, and Sydney soul poet Brent Clarke, also known as B.C. They perform a mongrel breed of roots music and rap delivery, creating the affectionate term on which they’ve grown from, ‘Gyp-Hop’.
Structured on acoustic guitar, sweeping vocal melodies and rhyming poetry, The Tinderbox Lullabies tell their stories through a truly honest dialogue using humour, hindsight, tongues in cheeks and big, dumb hearts on sleeves.
Spindles Spindles is a Sydney-living musician who spins songs about the two things she thinks are most important: love and revolution. Sometimes her feelings about these things become so strong that they demand physical space – for guitar strings to oscillate, vocal cords to vibrate, stereocilia to reverberate. Spindles has spent the summer adorning these spaces with sea glass and cicada shells and midnights and Blue, and you are invited in.
Ebb Tides A tiny town musical duo comprising the abilities of multi talented writer, director, choreographer Erin Brookhouse and childhood friend, poet and rap artist Brent Francis Clarke, also known by the stage name B.C.
Ebb-Tides take their name in reference of the river they both grew up by on the mid North Coast of N.S.W. before moving to Sydney and meeting again later as fans of each other’s work.
Beginning from beautiful melodies Erin would draw from the sounds and songs Brent was creating as B.C, a series of collaborations turned into a project that both agreed to continue, taking shape as the colourful duo. Two friends who truly love creating art together.
Get tickets now whilst you can to this Australian first!
Last year we found out that some of our art and placemaking friends were working on an exciting project for the stairs at Wickham train station. Mark Aylward (who has been a key driver in some great placemaking projects in Newcastle West), had sparked a project online with artists Lu Quade and Erynwithawhy. As we are all pals online, we had seen each other commenting on a photo featuring a brilliantly coloured mural over the face of a long set of stairs. Mark, being the proactive and ambitious artist that he is, decided to find some stairs so that Newcastle could have it’s own version.
Mark sought permission to paint the stairs, sourced sponsorship for paint from Dulux (special thanks to representative Steve Kiem) and mustered up artists Lu Quade, Erynwithawhy and myself to join in. This project was probably the most fun (aside from the somewhat awkward posture posed when painting stairs – it’s hard work!) painting project that I have been involved with.
It was great seeing people smile as we painted the bright colours over the dull concrete. Some people asked, ‘Why?’. To which we would say, ‘Why not?’ or ‘Because we can!’.
The stairs have since been featured in an article by The Herald which you can see here. I would like to personally give a shout out to Shrek for his comment. We agree, this is a first class piece of art, indeed. Oh and my favourite part of the day was when the popo turned up to see if we were vandals. No, sorry. We sought permission.
Unfortunately, most of the photos I took of the two days of painting have been lost after having my phone stolen (boo!). Yet, here are some photos which we shared on Instagram (lucky we have those, I guess).
You know it has been a busy when you log into your website to find your last post was calling for volunteers for a street art festival that happened over three months ago. So, what has happened in Newcastle Street Art since November? Plenty!
Hit The Bricks Festival, produced by Look Hear, was a great success with over fifteen new artworks being produced across the Newcastle CBD during 22-24 November 2013. The program began with a Street Art Panel featuring Askew One, Shida, Phibs and Numskull which was hosted by Jonathan Boonzaaier. If I took notes, they would have probably said something about the great discourse addressing what is means to be an artist in a gallery and on the street, what is means to work in both realms of (high and low) art and why graffiti should not be seen as something to battle against.
My favourite part of this talk was when Askew made a correlation between Newcastle, Australia and Detroit, Michigan based on the urban landscape. The two cities that have experienced a post-industrial shift, affecting their urban environment, resulting in empty shopfronts and development lots. Whilst Newcastle may not have the extreme population decline of Detroit, the closure of steel magnate BHP certainly had economical impacts to the city. I have personally been making connections between to the two cities since my visit last year, so it was rewarding to see that I may not be the only ones who sees potential for connections between the two places. Art based interventions are doing fabulous things for both cities, as I type. I am looking forward to seeing the video of this talk which was documented by Look Hear.
I will be doing some posts on each site soon but to give you a taste of all the cool new art in Newcastle here is a selection of photos taken on the weekend of HTB. All in all, it was an epic weekend for our city and it was feel the city buzzing with excitement.
Yesterday I was lucky enough to share some time with Naomi Hersson Ringskog from No Longer Empty (NLE), a New York based organisation with a focus on renewing and revitalising urban space.
Naomi’s background is in urban planning and it was fantastic to tell her about my home city in Newcastle, Australia.
As anyone from Newcastle knows, we have some seriously divine empty buildings, some of which are of a very large scale.
What kind of buildings, you ask?
Well there’s some heritage ones that come to mind which are the Post Office, two old department stores, local icon The Star Hotel and The Victoria Theatre. Oh, and the Ammityville Terrace house near Wickham Station, plus the big green empty terrace house next door to where I live. Oh, and Pigeon Palace, as I call it in Hamilton. These are such grand buildings (or would have been in their hey day), yet slowly slipping away right in front of the community. Here’s some pics for those who may not know Newcastle, Australia.
Luckily, we have Renew Newcastle supporting the good cause and making use of the spaces that can be matched with an eager creative industry business. This amazing organisation has helped launch over eighty creative businesses in many empty spaces with the heart of the Newcastle CBD.
My work with Street Art Walking has
been looking at the in-between spaces like laneways and blank walls. Or worse yet, grey walls. I’m also particularly interested in how arts intervention into these empty spaces can bolster the communities and businesses together. A good place, filled with art, is so much better than an empty space.
It was great to chat with Naomi about their process of interacting with a site to produce exhibitions or events that not only activate spaces but also engage in important dialogue. The NLE team go through stages of research such as looking at the phstical space, researching the history and interacting with local community groups and organisations to find out what the space means to the people within the area. There is a sensitivity to their process that I feel is perhaps the key thing I will take away from this meeting.
What’s a good place? Well, for me, it could just be a local moment, an event that celebrates the story of an area, it’s people and the history that is important to the identity of an area.
As I’m out and about in the streets doing my research (photographing and measuring up, are usually what I get up to in empty and disused laneways) I always meet someone who is curious about what I’m up to. When I get a chance to speak to them about my vision for what could be in the area, I’m met with such enthusiastic tones and excitement. And there is always a story. Or two. Or three.
One NLE project that resonates with me is Living Walls, The City Speaks which is an annual conference on street art and urbanism in the city of Atlanta.
There’s so many good links, resources and projects coming from NLE that I urge everyone reading this to follow them, if you aren’t already. Email subscribe, Facebook and Twitter follow and if you are feeling generous like I am, why not give a donation. It truly is nice to support a project like this and if I lived in this country I would certainly be heavily engaged with what they do as a punter, volunteer and anything else that I could be involved with. But for now, I shall continue to support this organisation online by clicking through to their articles and sharing with fellow ’empty space’ and arts enthusiasts.
I am inspired to come home and follow the path that I am on in intervening with empty slaves through arts based projects. A term that Naomi used yesterday reminded me of the powerful role we can have as ‘Agents of Change’. I had read the term before but hearing it out loud was validating and confidence boosting.
I realised after sharing my ideas, vision and current processes with Naomi that I am well on track with the revitalisation projects that I am working on. The main areas for me to pursue are now to engage with wider community groups beyond the arts sector such as historical societies, elderly citizens, youth groups and church groups. It’s time to find the mass community and start finding out what stories they have to share, as well as what ideas they might have for Newcastle.
On that note, I am pleased to be a judge for Newcastle2020, a local exhibition ran by young Novacastrians who want to inspire brighter visions for our city, as well as find out what ideas out cities young people have for their place.
I’m confident we (all the various groups and organisations) are well on-track with revitalising Newcastle and look forward to bringing together more people to help lift dreams into realities. We just need to bond and work together a bit stronger. Many hands make light work, as they say.
Thank you to Naomi for her time and feedback on the projects I am involved in back home. I look forward to continue to build on this newfound connection and will happily be a tour guide for NLE, should they find their way to Australia.
Don’t forget to follow Street Art Walking on Facebook www.facebook.com/streetartwalking
and Twitter @streetartwalkin