Collingwood and Fitzroy, both a part of City Of Yarra, are two neighbouring suburbs whose name have become almost synonymous with Melbourne street art, and, indeed Australian street art. Chances are, if you visit Melbourne and have a passion for art, you’ll find yourself heading there almost immediately. Unfortunately, the magic of spontaneous, unsanctioned street art and graffiti may be a critically endangered in the area under a new “draft” graffiti management plan that was launched last Tuesday.
Funnily enough, in the same week, we were confronted with yet another image of one of Melbournes most iconic walls, the Leicester st art wall, buffed and destroyed. The Leicester street art wall had stood as an outdoor gallery of iamges for almost twenty years (with a piece from MERDA and KABS from back in the 80s existant upon it). It was also well known for its stencils, with many that had been created during the stencil hey-day of the early 2000s – irreplaceable shit. That the wall was allowed to be buffed is a terrible thing – furthermore, that it was allowed to be buffed, and then “Poster boards” which allow companies such as Plakkit etc, to place advertising upon it, is even worse.
Basically, in my view, an iconic wall with historical art upon it was allowed to be buffed so that advertising space could be placed there instead. Nice work.
Once upon a time this wall was art – image via Dean Sunshine
Interesting timing, though, perhaps?
Over the past few months, the City of Yarra has been consulting with a company who has been writing up a report for graffiti “management” “Off The Wall”. That company, Capire, promised to try and look at all aspects of the issue, and even consult with artists and other creatives, not just those who were opposed to street art. They even held an event last week (Tuesday 23rd October) to showcase the new policy, followed by a “tour” of local street art.
Alas, I wasnt able to get out of work to attend this “launch”, but after having spoken to several people about the meeting as well as the new report, the opinion is, overwhelmingly, that it falls very short, and is quite regressive in aim. Speaking in plain english, which you all understand, its sounds shithouse. I’ll also preface this whole tirade by saying that I haven’t as yet seen the report, and have only garnered comments from those who were at the briefing.
From all accounts, it appears as if the input from artists and other like minded people have not been taken into consideration with the report, whatsoever, and it is a complete re-hash of everything we have heard before. For such a vibrant area such as Yarra to go backwards in terms of policy is not a good thing, and we were all hoping for something more understanding, and less recalcitrant. Where once Yarra felt like a progressive council in terms of street art, we now find recommendation harkening back to the 90s and a low tolerance attitude. Isn’t this 2012? Haven’t we moved forward since 1992? I guess not.
The first sign of the shift in attitude in City Of Yarra, and possibly one of the worst decisions the council has made in terms of graffiti management, was the closure of Napier studios in 2010. Napier studios was a haven, mentoring project and helping hand for youth who were particularly interested in graffiti and street art culture (their website is now gone, but here is some info on OnlyMelbourne). Napier studios ran for many years, and was guided along by none other than Adrian Doyle – who did so much for the youth in Yarra that its not funny, but, was ultimately shafted when Yarra decided to shut down Napier studios. Allegedly, it was budget cuts were the reason for Yarra closing Napier, which is kind of funny, becasue now there is an increase in graffiti in the area, which is costing more money to clean up than every before …
Adrian Doyle heard about all of this, and posted the following comment to his facebook page:
“Napier Studios street art program was shut down in 2011 here is the graffiti statistics from then until now….
‘Requests for graffiti removal from private property increased in Yarra from 2500 in 2010-2011 to over 4000 in 2011-12.’
Seems like the City of Yarra made a very expensive mistake shutting down Napier Studios…..”
Costly indeed. Funny that the increase in graffiti marks the end of Napier and other youth projects – funnily also, apparently there was no mention of Napier studios at the forum – I wonder if it will appear in the report, and, if not, why – and, if so, is it being pointed to as a part of a solution that once worked?
The great thing is, is that Adrian Doyle is still doing amazing things with youth around Melbourne – it sounds like the City Of Melbournes Signal, where he has moved his services to, is doing great things. Very much along the lines of what Napier accomplished – and we absolutely love Signal, its such a positive thing that CoM is doing with it all, and we hope it has a much long life. Yarra really fucked up a good thing with Napier studios, and it looks as if they are now heading down the treacherous path of fucking it up even more. Indeed, there could very well be some correlation, as Adrian Doyle says, between their cutting funding to youth art practices in the area, and the increase in graffiti – but all of that seems to be, conveniently, absent from this new report. Perhaps they could do some research into that and some analysis as to how much Napier helped things?
The closing of Napier Studios seems, now, in retrospect, a harbinger of what may be to come.
From my perspective, this whole draft recommendation (that, again, I haven’t seen) looks be be driving yet another nail into an already crucified outlook on street art tolerance in the City of Yarra. Call me a bit paranoid, but it was also funded by the Victorian Department Of Justice – you know, the guys who helped put the Graffiti Prevention Act of 2007 in place. You know, the one that hasn’t worked or been effective in any way, shape or form. That act that for some reason has stood for fives years whilst being highly discriminatory, anti-art, and which reverses the burden of proof from innocent until proven guilty, to guilty of an offence if you even deign to carry a can of spray-paint near public transport. The one that turns artists into criminals on par with rapists and violent offenders.
Specifically, the funding for all of this came as a part of the Graffiti Prevention and Removal Graffiti Grants Program from the Victorian Governments Community Crime Prevention Program – titles which already put things on a back foot; these policies have nothing to do with art, these are programs that further the mindset of treating graffiti and street artists as dangerous criminals.
I wasn’t exactly sure if my writing about any of this would really do much good, and as I wasn’t able to attend Tuesdays meeting myself I didn’t feel in a position of being able to formulate an opinion on it all. Firstly, though, I saw a post from Black Mark about the meeting over at his website, Melbourne Art & Culture critic – he stated:
“The review was focused on prevention and removal of graffiti. There was no idea about what the implementation of a graffiti management policy would actually look like on the street. The review did not have a cost benefit analysis; the cost of the current graffiti management policy compared to the financial benefits to City of Yarra in terms of visitor numbers or businesses that are based on graffiti scene.
The review appeared to be based on a naïve belief held by many people in local government that a distinction can be made between good and bad graffiti, between street art and tagging.”
So, for all its research and all of its “new thinking” this report also appears as if it holds on to the same “distinctions” that are miring any progression in “graffiti management”. So, pretty much, again, the council goes “Oh this picture is pretty, thats okay” and “oh, this picture/tag is ugly, lets buff it and charge the offender” – well, lets then say that I hate the picture, and yet I love the tag – why remove the tag that I, as a member of the public love, but leave some shitty piece of “street art” that I hate? Can the council make that decision for me? Who amongst them is qualified to judge art on such a level? Do these people, in this modern age, where a tagged painting by someone like Retna can go for thousands of dollars, really know what modern art is, and isn’t? It’s the whole “I love that street art stuff but hate that graffiti shit” load of crap that we keep seeing over and over and over again.
This whole thing seems to have gone down a well trodden road of typical graff vs street art; not only is this same argument boring, but it hasn’t worked in the past and it wont work now. No, I don’t know the solution (thats up to all of us working together to find out), but pitting two elements of the same thing (they both go up on fkn walls!) does not add up to a “policy”, it hasn’t worked in the past and surely, with all this money being thrown around to write the damn thing, some different approaches other than the same old shit could have been applied.
After reading Marks post, I then saw Alison Young post up on her facebook.
For those of you who do not know Alison Young, she is a researcher and criminologist, and has been researching presenting and writing papers and writing about street art in metropolitan areas for a good long time – there are several “authorities” on these matters whose opinions I agree with and trust when it comes to well researched opinions at this level, and Alison is amongst them. She was also present at the meeting to launch “Off The Wall” earlier this week.
Alison has kindly allowed us to re-publish her notes and breakdown on what she heard about the new draft policy for the report, and, I’m sad to to say it, but the outlook seems pretty bleak for street art and graffiti in the City Of Yarra.
“The key points:
- Requests for graffiti removal from private property increased in Yarra from 2500 in 2010-2011 to over 4000 in 2011-12. This figure appears to indicate ratepayer dislike of graffiti. (More significantly, it indicates a massive increase in the graffiti removal expenditure for Yarra.) Is there increased ratepayer dislike of graffiti? Not necessarily – the figures indicate only those who dislike it enough to want it removed; they don’t speak to the proportion of residents/traders who either don’t mind it or actually like it. However, vocal minorities of ‘concerned citizens’ or simply those who ring up council like this are usually the constituents who influence policy-making.
- The Report (which is with Council, though not yet finalised) is called ‘Off the Wall’ which indicates the flavour of the approach!
- The Policy: influenced by the Dept of Justice framework for graffiti management which emphasises its criminality (ie they use the Graffiti Prevention Act definition to frame graffiti as a crime unless done with permit or with consent). The policy recommends an approach equally divided between prevention, removal and enforcement. Any kind of ‘engagement’ has been downgraded. ‘Youth programs’ and ‘working with artists’ appear as an aspect of prevention. Both of these would direct artists/writers towards legal murals. Examples at the briefing were shown in a talk by the Dept of Justice speaker of good mural projects – old-fashioned 80s-style ‘civic’ murals.
- So: prevention includes: legal walls, permit systems, youth programs, crime prevention through environmental design, maintaining a database of permitted works so that works without permission can be targeted for removal. Removal: rapid removal policies, prioritised removal policy, kits for residents. Enforcement: ‘partnerships with police’, and the maintenance of a database that could be given to police for ‘enforcement purposes’.
In the ‘guiding principles’ for the report, the consultants listed: criteria to determine ‘good’ and ‘bad’ graffiti . This was explained in the session – ‘bad’ is tagging, works done without permission; ‘good’ is work done with permission.
The policy is claimed to be based on consultation, context, comparison with other municipalities, and academic literature.
- But: No evidence that the academic literature had any effect on the policy that is promote (it can’t have, otherwise the policy would be differently worded, recognizing that some form of active and meaningful engagement is essential in order to avoid antagonising the community of people doing graffiti and street art).
- Further: little consultation. The consultants spoke to a number of people working for other councils, and to some individuals (including an academic and some artists, who expressed very different views to those taken in the policy). No public/community consultation. Surely Yarra should consult before adopting such a policy?
- Further: comparison with other municipalities. This is important in that one graffiti management policy can often have displacement effects into another municipality, so it’s important for the consultants to speak, as they did, to Darebin and Melbourne and others nearby. However, the consultants also drew on advice from councils such as Stonnington and Knox, where the local community is extremely different from the one in Yarra.
- Context: there was no recognition of the specific context that we find in Yarra, where we have streets like Brunswick St or Smith Street, in which graffiti and street art play very significant parts of the aesthetic and economic vitality of the area ie become key parts of an area’s character (there’s research on urban character that looks at Fitzroy, in which graffiti is mentioned by residents as an important part of the area’s character).
Apparently the report is with council, and I imagine there is a small window in which people could make their views know to Yarra (or perhaps with a phonecall/email to Dick Wynne, MP based in Collingwood). Let people know what the policy involves.
If you are concerned about the impact such a policy might have on suburbs like Fitzroy, Collingwood and Richmond, it’s important to indicate to Yarra that people locally and in the arts community generally will push back if such a policy is adopted, and that there may be negative consequences for the area’s vitality if it is adopted.”
Contact Richard Wynne:
Phone: (03) 9415 8901
Fax: (03) 9415 8918
For those of you who want to help do something about this before it is too late, contact City Of Yarra and voice your concerns.
Alison also weighed in on the aforementioned graffiti vs street art/art vs vandalism issues, and said it really well –
“I’ve written … about tagging and the value that I think it can have… I have to say that I’m a property owner, and that there are many occasions when I do think tagging is an art (I give some examples in those earlier blog posts). I also recognise that tagging is closely connected to (and inseparable from) those forms of street art and graffiti deemed ‘acceptable’ by those who dislike tagging (or murals or ‘pieces’). Sometimes I wish that a tagger had chosen a different placement for a tag; sometimes it’s just part of contemporary city life. Any property owner who doesn’t like tags is of course free to remove them from their property or seek help in removing them. But I don’t think that that view should be imposed upon those of us who do recognise the connection between tags and street art.”
Exactly – government bodies need to stop actually lumping people together, and maybe actually do some unbiased research into peoples opinions, instead of just going “tag bad, pasteup of cute girl with kite good” – where are the statistics to back this up? What kind of testing and research was conducted to arrive at the opinion that “tags are vandalism”? Show us the numbers, and show us the statistics, and show us the demographics of who was spoken to – I’d really love to see the raw data from this forthcoming report.
There’s little doubt in my mind that this “imposed viewpoint” that is pushed on communities further exacerbates the issue. Automatically, if you put artists on the back foot, they will rail against the authoritarianism – councils and governments have set up this “war” and they created their own opponent, a focal point to rail against, something to argue about, to show they’re doing a “civic duty” in fighting it and all the whilst they have not, actually, been able to stop it. Oh, and lets not even talk about all the “graffiti removal” contracts that are existant – have these admitted “multimillion” dollar contracts been factored into this report at all? Thats a lot of money being made by someone off the removal of what many probably deem as art. How are these contracts awarded, exactly?
On a closing note, I’d like to go on the record, and I’d like to propose a change in tack. I think that new directions in formulating policies and laws around street art and graffiti could possibly be enacted with respect for all parties concerned, if we changed a simple word that is well and truly over used in government rhetoric.
There is, and never will be, any real way to prevent unsanctioned work going up on walls, in any local area, in any city, in any country. Like the “War On Drugs”, policies and edicts that utilise these kinds of negativity espousing words continue to fail, and graffiti, rather than be lessened, continues to rise. Are councils so worried about “saving face” that they wont go as far as to examine the actual words that they use for these issues, and subscribe to new ones that may actually stop pitting artist against councils, and furthering the extraordinarily costly “war on graffiti”? (Millions of taxpayers dollars to buff walls across all these cities – shit! Give me a million dollars instead and I will show you a painted city of art unlike any seen before!)
So, to end, I just say here, right now, that “management”, “deterrent” and “prevention” when it comes to graffiti and street art are all outdated concepts. Prevention is for the naive – the “war on graffiti” was lost before it began. Be brave, councils, step forward and admit it –
I really think its time us to all start talking about graffiti mitigation.
For a long time I have steered clear of posting too much up here on Invurt that contains too much of a “political” or opinionated nature. As of today, thats changed. I do have an opinion. I am an advocate for street art/graffiti. I want to see walls painted, not artists arrested for merely carrying spraycans. I’d like to see governments and local councils give something back to the artists who beautify their cities – even if it is purely a modicum of respect for what they do, and not continuing hypocrisy.
So, this is a new column – and I’m going to use it to spout tirades, talk shit, probably write too much and actually tell people how I feel about it all. If you don’t like it, say so. If you don’t agree, comment. If you have an opinion, make it known and contribute to the conversation. Not everyone will agree with me on these things – and thats exactly how it should be. I hope that by sharing some of the knowledge I have and that is shared with me on a number of issues relating to art in the public space, that people can be informed enough to be able to make their own opinion. Debate is healthy, and if you know me, you know that I love a good debate. If you particularly feel passionate about something, and want to write about it, do it and send it to us, and we’ll probably put it up – affirmative or opposing, all opinions matter.
I admit to feeling a little wary of entering into these waters here on Invurt, but hey, too late now …