By Simone Sheridan.
Over the weekend I was lucky enough to host two tours across The City of Newcastle, taking people through laneways and along streets, to seek out the street art murals in the beach city. Being an accidental tour guide is part of an interesting creative journey that I have been on since 2011 when founding Street Art Walking (SAW) to transform empty places into creative spaces. It’s not my day job but, rather, a hobby and a passion to share the stories of the artworks, the cultural history and background of the DIY movement which has sparked so many great programs in Newcastle. You can read a bit about how SAW started up here in this article.
Like any good story, it goes back further, and links to many other projects and people who have helped build Newcastle up as the creative city that it is today. You cannot have street art without graffiti and I acknowledge the importance of the graffiti crews in establishing a culture that paved a ways for street art to grow. Some people are only into graffiti (often graffiti artists who have taken many risks to make their work visible) whilst some only like street art (often this is the resident who hates tagging) but the interesting thing is that street art brings all of these people together, whether they know or like it.
Newcastle covers a wide area and there are pockets of street art and graffiti from Cardiff to Mayfield all the way Carrington and Newcastle East. There are pieces that have been up longer than my time living in Newcastle (2004-2014) and I am still discovering new works each time I visit. Graffiti artists have been seeking and sourcing walls for much longer than street art works have been popping up.
One thing I have always been passionate to see in Newcastle is legal walls (walls that give people permission to paint on them) and this was a huge driver into why SAW was created. To create a name that building owners could go to find artists, to create opportunity for artists to make art safely (and legally) all year round and to create a walking trail for people to find it. It wasn’t to commercialise graffiti bur rather create legal street art works. Some may debate that this is against the ethos of why graffiti and street art exists – sanctioning the cool or trying to make it compliant. I say, creating safe and legal walls, is a way to celebrate a culture that will exist – no matter what. It’s a shame the legal system will criminalise graffiti artists and this is why we need to create legal opportunities to develop these artmaking skills. After all, graffiti and street art have become tourism and cultural drawcards for many places all over the world – proven by the tours I have been able to host with journalists’, food bloggers, tourists and many locals in Newcastle.
From humble legal local murals to street art festivals featuring internationally renowned artists; Newcastle has been showing it’s passion for the street art movement. Originally, SAW approached creating more art on walls with a ‘graffiti management’ approach. After close to four years of coordinating murals with committees and this was often a rather exhaustive (and not always a satisfying creative process for artists) process to go through as a sole trader.
One of the most existing things to happen since the three festivals in Newcastle between 2013-2014 is that street art and graffiti became further embraced by the Newcastle community including more property owners to accept the street art as a legitimate form of public art. Today people are finding the SAW website and asking about tours, artists are registering information and asking questions about how to run their own businesses via the contact form, property owners are looking for artists to paint and requests for quotes are all coming into the website which was I set up six years ago this June. This is an exciting time for Newcastle, with opportunities to create art on the buildings that are transforming.
Recently a SAW mural by Cogs and Umpel which had been commissioned by a property owner, supported by local residents and Newcastle NOW in Beresford Lane is now gone, which can totally happen when buildings are knocked down for redevelopment, yet there haven’t been any expressions of interest (to SAW) from this (or any other property owners) in Newcastle West for more art. This is somewhat disheartening because there have been a number of lost murals in this area now including works by Sofles and Guido Van Helten. These artists are gaining international notoriety but in Newcastle, there works are being forgotten and erased.
Really, is street art intended to be a large museum of static artworks that will not change? Sure, art works need to be looking fresh and care taken to ensure works are presented as artists intended. Yet, what happens after the art fades and the building owners sell up? This is a question that Newcastle faces today as property developers are buying up buildings, blanking out previously privately commissioned art and making themselves hard (basically impossible unless you know someone who knows someone) to contact.
Without the tenacity of artists and makers to create artworks with permission in daylight in Newcastle, there would still be a number of blank or tagged walls and the high quality works produced would not happen. We accept that street art will change but it seems like a total loss to a supported and growing culture to see murals disappear with no prospect of creating more. I have experience managing these projects and I currently cannot get contacts to property owners that have SAW artworks on them, as the building are marked for development with new owners.
Newcastle artists (as festival organisers, cultural brokers and artists) have gifted the city with over a hundred murals including street art, graffiti and placemaking murals. Don’t miss out on finding some of them and go to this ABC website to see a directory (which may be old now). Public Art should include legal walls for street art, graffiti and other temporary installations. The City of Newcastle would benefit from setting up an accessible initiative that allows for public programming of street art in public spaces.
These cultural gifts (the existing street art murals) are getting lost and the community wants more art, evidenced by the response to the [painted out mural in Newcastle West. Once, The City of Newcastle had a Public Art Officer and a Public Art Committee that would be involved in ensuring that lost cultural assets will, at least, be replaced in other places by other artists. Yet, since the local boom of street art in 2011, there has not been an active public art committee, which is troublesome when considering there have been over 50 commissions in the area. This scenario is bound to encounter issues with community outrage at lost murals because there is a lack of investment to see street art and graffiti as valued public art.
Looking for examples of publicly managed street art programs? Find out more about some really governed projects here:
Marrickville Council’s Perfect Match
City of Sydney’s Art and About
Simone Sheridan is the artist, creative producer and placemaker behind Street Art Walking, a programme of over 20 street art works in Newcastle, NSW which has gained international attention.
Since graduating from Fine Art at the University of Newcastle Simone has founded Street Art Walking, and acted as consultant for This Is Not Art Festival, the Create Innovate Gosford City Project and Hunter Development Corporation. She is a member of Project for Public Spaces Placemaking Leadership Council.
More can be found about Simone’s work here: