The problem of urban art
People really hate bad tags. This is something that has made it difficult to navigate legitimate, quality street art and graffiti.
The council takes zero tolerance when it comes to branding, which I can somewhat understand. Graffiti culture has been a big part of Melbourne culture since the early 1980s and many great artists started out with graffiti (tagging) on their local milk bar. I definitely did, then moved on to trains, then to making parts. And then I went to art school and Blender Studios.
Graffiti isn’t ugly when done right, it’s a beautiful form of calligraphy. It’s just that if you’re not part of the graffiti movement, you’re unlikely to understand the art because the culture is exclusive and if you’re not part of it, you’ll never understand it. That doesn’t mean he’s bad or has bad intentions.
Many child graffiti artists do impressive things, becoming great artists or world-renowned street artists. Keep in mind that Banksy, Adnate and Rone have all started tagging.
Urban culture is like a sport for young people; they meet like-minded people, talk shop, and travel many miles to explore the city in search of art.
There are many more antisocial things young people could do. And it’s better than locking yourself in a dark room and playing video games.
I have worked extensively with young people in the city of Melbourne through its Signal program and as youth arts officer for the city of Yarra for many years, and I have never met a young person who not interested in urban art on certain levels. It’s awesome and kool and young people love it.
Urban arts culture is used as one of Melbourne’s and Victorian era’s main tourism marketing tools. And as we artists install more lanes, the marketing teams aren’t shy about pushing it like a true urban Melbourne. It’s in every magazine and all over the airport in every terminal.
Melbourne has taken so much from urban arts culture and given so little in return.
The reason all these giant skyscrapers pop up in every lane we create is because street art has made Melbourne cool and rich.
Hosier Lane was once the highlight of Melbourne’s artistic urban landscape, voted Australia’s number one free tourist attraction by Lonely Planet for many years. The council did little to maintain the Hosier and Rutledge lanes, in fact I think they deliberately worked against it. I personally gave the council a 10 page plan on how to fix the track, which was ignored.
I would be happy to meet them anytime to try to make urban culture in Melbourne what it once was. The truth, I’m afraid, is that the government wants to develop it and make money from it.
It’s nothing new and has happened in so many ways: Blender Lane, Electric Place, Lovelands, Union, Duckboard Place, Presgrave Place, Higgson, Literature and AC-DC to name a few. All these tracks have been completely modified since construction. Someone is making a lot of money with these alleys and their art, and it’s not the artists. I hope the government will understand how important urban culture is to Melbourne and stop thinking about short term gains, developing a place like Hosier Lane will change the city in a way that can never be fixed.
The government has a natural hand in the changes happening in the city at all levels.
Every part of the city went through some form of bureaucratic process. Every tree, every park and every public space has been carefully designed by governments to make the city the best it can be. In recent years, these spaces have grown into giant towers and usurped many of the only spaces in the city left free to young people and adventurers.
So tagging became easier than making art.
But people should remember that graffiti artists and street artists love this city. Often, what happens in the street has nothing to do with urban artistic culture. An example of this is that a few weeks ago the State Library was hit hard with labels all over the front.
This is not something the culture of urban art would do; we have rules about beautiful art and beautiful buildings. More than likely a bunch of drunk assholes from the suburbs came to town, one of them got a spray can and the rest of the story wrote itself.
Yet people use these types of incidents to condemn the movement and the hatred of graffiti artists. The council has adopted zero tolerance on branding, but said it likes ‘wall art’.
I don’t know who they consult on this idea. I know that when I worked for the city of Yarra, the graffiti removers became the unwitting curators of the streets. At the time, I realized this issue and worked closely with the engineering department to ensure this issue was mitigated.
Last week a famous and kool artist ‘Getnup’ (get’n up) did a beautiful mural in Howey Place – another alley which has been under construction and has lost much of its impressive art, now all stores are closed (the council ironically gives empty spaces to artists for a few months but that’s another article). Within a day, Getnup’s artwork was removed. It was a great piece of art that made the space interesting. So the next day, the artist returned to the removed mural and wrote “I won’t be obscene” repeatedly in reference to The Simpsons and the council’s rule to remove offensive art within 24 hours.
These artists pay for their own painting and risk horrible laws that the government keeps tightening to make the city more interesting. There is a suffocation in Melbourne that has been going on for a long time. The creatives make the city cool and the rich exploit it. Many of the changes that have happened in the CBD cannot be reversed and we are in great danger of creating a bland, sleepy city that has been exploited in mediocrity.
It’s a big problem that needs big answers, but it’s doable. Hosier Lane can be great again and the town can be the cultural hub it once was, but it would have to sacrifice exploitation by the wealthy and those benefiting from its gentrification.
It should be considered not as a financial opportunity, but as a cultural opportunity. There would have to be understanding and recognition of the problems before we could formulate ideas for solutions.
The city is beautiful and the back streets were the cultural veins of a once internationally recognized creative hub, but that was then. And now …