Ever carve a hilarious dick and balls into your desk at school? Scribble that you were ‘ere on the local play equipment? Then you totally get how fun it is to publicly express yourself through street art… kinda.
The truth is, Street Art has come a long way since you were a little delinquent tagging stuff with your mates. It’s now seen as a powerful form of expression to often ‘voiceless’ elements of society, and a huge asset to beautify urban environments the world over, with huge social benefits.
Testament to this change is the exciting new project kicking off this weekend in the Blue Mountains, in NSW Australia; the Street Art Walk. On Saturday the 20th of June, Street Art Murals Australia (SAMA), in partnership with Blue Mountains Cultural Centre will open what is believed to be Australia’s largest outdoor street art gallery. The gallery consists of over 30 mural sites, with more than 3,000 square meters of wall space to be transformed into a canvas for some of the world’s best street artists. Many of the sites are up to three storey’s high, giving ample space for the artists to paint impressive large-scale murals.
DSM caught up with one of the major players behind the project, Jarrod Wheatley, ahead of this weekend’s launch to get the DL on SAMA and the SAW…
DSM: What’s your role with SAMA and what do youz do?
JW: I am the founder. I started the organisation in 2008, but back then we were called the Blue Mountains Street Art Collaborative (BMSAC). A few years ago we changed the name to Street Art Murals Australia (SAMA). Our scope has steadily grown and now we have a small team working on legal street art projects and promoting street art as a legitimate form of art
DSM: How’d you initially get into the street art scene?
JW: During high school I became interested in street art. I think I liked how free it was; it felt pure. It is up there in the streets to view and it doesn’t cost the viewer anything! It was part of my culture growing up in the Blue Mountains.
“If a 16-year-old bloke shows his mates a landscape he drew he is unlikely to get the same positive feedback as showing his mates a piece of street art.”
Perhaps that is one the influences that gets groups of mainly young guys to get inspired about art. This group’s voice is one we don’t get to hear much from in society. It is a voice that I found interesting then and still do now.
JW: I first got in to working with street art much latter when I was running the Katoomba Youth Centre, many of the legal walls around the state were being shut down and want to provide space for people to paint legally. I started organising murals to get painted, now we offer workshops and consultancy too. We act as the link between street artists and the rest of the community.
DSM: What makes you want to actively encourage something that a lot of people view as an expensive social problem and a crime rather than a legitimate art form?
JW: I do it because I believe the whole community benefits from street art. It makes a positive contribution to our creative economies, urban beautification and legal street art promotes social inclusions.
“I think good quality public art increases everyone’s quality of life.”
I also do it because I believe and street artists should be able to pursue their art form legally. In NSW we are really bad at providing them with legal opportunities.
Some people see it as the “graffiti problem”.
“They look to jail street artists and spend hundreds of millions of dollars cleaning up graffiti. This approach doesn’t work and shows no signs of working.”
I don’t want to go too far down the statistics rabbit hole but the truth is our government’s zero tolerance approach doesn’t stop graffiti, it only results in more tags and less complex pieces. If painters know it is going to be buffed (painted over) tomorrow they don’t do a complex piece of art, they just tag it. The governments current approach doesn’t stop graffiti it just lowers its quality and limits legal options for young people. However, perhaps the most damaging part of this approach is that it fails to capitalise on the strengths of street art (that I mention above).
DSM: The Street Art Walk is such an ambitious project! How did you get people in the community on board to allow gain access to so many amazing urban canvases?
JW: I worked on a Development Application for over a year with the Blue Mountains City Council to get the space. To do this we had comprehensively meet the community’s expectations in terms of safety and quality of the artists. We a running the space in conjunction with the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, so there are checks and balances to make sure that artists are quality.
Excitingly, all the artists painting in the laneway can paint their own designs. It isn’t a commercial thing for us, it is about providing space for artists to paint. There is wide community support for legal street art. Take the crowd funding we did as an example; the community raised $19,500 to launch the Street Art Walk project!
“I think the vast majority of people like street art and want it in urban environments.”
DSM: How can people get involved?
JW: Firstly people can come down and watch over 3,000 square meters of wall space be painted on the 20th and 21st of June!
Also artists who want to paint can apply via our website: http://www.streetartmurals.com.au!
We have filled up all the walls for the launch but we want to start recycling the walls once they have been up for a while so that it stays a living project.
People can keep in the loop with the project by liking and following the whole shebang on…
& Twitter here!