30 March 2022

Innovative graffiti program creates capital of colour

| Jimmy Bernasconi
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2022 ACT Surface Festival

It’s hoped the ACT Surface Festival’s murals will inspire the next generation of artists. Photo: Britt Nichols.

Like any modern metropolis, there’s a fair share of graffiti on exhibition in our nation’s capital. From the Yerrabi Ponds Spillway to the stormwater drain under Tharwa Drive, more than 25 spaces in Canberra host legally permitted graffiti.

Yet, much of the ACT’s infrastructure continues to attract vandalism.

In attempting to simultaneously tackle vandalism and nurture local artists, the ACT Government’s Graffiti Management Program has recently coordinated a number of exciting new campaigns.

At its core, the program is designed to help unauthorised taggers apply for artistic funding and engage in commissioned projects. Not wanting to dilute the program with governmental interference, its coordinators encourage local graffiti artists to get involved on their own terms.

“We also try to take a restorative justice approach to working with individuals found doing unauthorised graffiti,” program coordinator Lisa Petheram says.

READ ALSO The Woden drains or the Southern Hemisphere’s longest street art wall?

“So when a private asset owner approaches us when they have identified people doing unauthorised graffiti on their property, we try to find a solution that helps support the asset owner manage the graffiti.

“For example, have artwork installed and try [to] create a professional opportunity and experience for the graffiti artist if they’re interested.”

The program recently sponsored the 2022 ACT Surface Festival. Curated by acclaimed artist PHIBS, the festival boasted 35 local and interstate artists who worked across 30 walls and structures throughout Canberra’s streets and laneways.

Not only did the festival embrace street art and graffiti, it displayed portraits, stencils, Indigenous art, and geometric and abstract pieces.

Eager for the festival to include graffiti artists, organisers installed an ACTION bus in Haig Park where taggers could wield their spray cans and sharpies with full artistic licence.

“We love collaboration here in Canberra, so having artists working alongside each other with different skills and passions made for some incredibly rich experiences,” says local producer Britt Nichols (aka ‘BRT’).

“As an artist in the festival, it was awesome to see the different techniques and approaches some of the other artists took to work at such great scales. From traditional signwriting techniques, to ‘doodle grids’ and ways to scale your work from an iPad screen to a seven-storey building.”

READ ALSO The Woden drains or the Southern Hemisphere’s longest street art wall?

Bringing a fresh atmosphere to Canberra’s cityscape, many of the festival’s newly-installed murals will continue to inspire our next generation of artists.

“A lot of these artworks will stay up permanently and will no doubt play a role in how these public spaces are used and how they might develop and change over time,” Britt says.

The success of the 2022 Surface Festival has seen a burst of urban culture in our streets. Rather than relegating local graffiti artists to toilet blocks and stormwater drains, their work is finally getting the limelight and creating a much more colourful Canberra.

A street trail map of the art works is available here.

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Gosh. A bit of creative colour in regimented, uniform Canberra! I thought that was banned! What’s next? Colourful, creative, neon advertising signs like bustling cosmopolitan cities (not Canberra) have. Dear me! Heavens!

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