More public spaces across Canberra are becoming canvases for street artists hoping to enliven amenities buildings and illegal graffiti hotspots under a new ACT Government initiative.
A perfect example of public art is Woolley Street in Dickson, where you’ve probably stepped foot on the work of well-known muralist and owner of Graffik Paint Geoff Filmer. He is one of 25 local artists awarded funding under the ACT Government’s Creative Endeavours Grants program.
While galleries closed and art shows were forced to cancel during the height of the pandemic lockdown, Geoff described the “beautiful nature” of street art, existing as a constantly accessible exhibition for the community.
“Street art is about inviting people into the conversation. When I paint the ground at Dickson, the people who are out eating at restaurants suddenly walk onto bright varied colours. It immediately brightens their day, they are interacting with art,” Geoff said.
The program aims to boost the arts sector, which has been one of the hardest-hit industries during the pandemic, with restrictions causing showcases to be abandoned and sources of income for artists to become uncertain and scarce.
The ACT Government has allocated $5 million to local artists during COVID-19.
“It has been a really fantastic thing because everyone’s revenue has dropped. To have the opportunity and to have this money from the government supporting the arts sector is fantastic,” Geoff said.
“I think art for Canberrans is really important and because of the nature of street art, being art that is made to engage with the community, I think street art is actually really important for lifting people’s spirits.”
Funding of up to $10,000 for each artist is part of the Creative Endeavours Grants program. A further $311,287 has also been allocated to support commissioned street art projects.
Minister for City Services Chris Steel added that the initiative aims at reducing graffiti “tagging” on unregistered public and private buildings in Canberra. Two large scale projects will be taking place in the city.
“Public spaces such as amenity blocks can often be the target of illegal graffiti, so it is important that we’re constantly refreshing these places with new art to reduce illegal activity and to keep our professional artists engaged and involved with the artistic presentation of the ACT,” Mr Steel said.
“This funding will support our creative community at a time when many artists are losing income as a result of projects being cancelled and events being postponed.”
The owner of spray paint and urban supply store, Sancho Murphy of Sancho’s Dirty Laundry, said business has started looking stable again after she struggled to keep her store afloat during the pandemic.
“Already being a marginalised niche business, my customer base is very small to begin with and then throwing that [COVID-19] in the mix, my income dropped by 80 per cent,” she said.
With assistance from her landlord and the ACT Government grant, Sancho Murphy can now return her focus to her art initiative. The approved work, which is part of the Creative Endeavours Program, consists of a new line of screen printed shirts featuring designs made by street artists.
“I do a lot of collaborative projects with street artists. For me, it’s connecting with these artists and then doing a ‘skill share’. Traditionally I am an illustrator and screen printer and these guys are muralists and painters. So by producing these t-shirts we are collaborating and crossing the two.
“Art has the potential to inspire and connect; art is therapy. I did notice an increase in people buying art supplies for personal reasons such as colouring books or sketchbooks and illustrating at home just as an outlet for the current situation. I think it is really important and street art can be a measure of the way a society is, in terms of free speech, and being able to express yourself on a public platform.”
The proposed street art projects will be exhibited in Cooleman Court, the Woden squash courts, Tuggeranong Seniors Centre, the PCYC building, Narrabundah public toilets, Yerrabi Pond and two major projects in the city.