CEL Masthead Winter 18

Taking art to the streets

Catherine Carter

A cancelled flight and unplanned stopover in New York recently proved a serendipitous chance to sample some of the Big Apple’s street art.

Pounding the pavement of SoHo, NoHo, Nolita and Little Italy, I stumbled across hidden treasures tucked away in courtyards. I was met with wild displays brazenly splashed on street corners. I discovered delicate mosaic tiling, stencil and sticker art, street installations and yarn bombing.

Post box

While many may associate street art with spray paint on a city wall, making your mark is as primal as the cave paintings of Lascaux, the rock art of Indigenous Australia or the hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt.

In its purest form, street art breaks boundaries and defies law. It is art made without consent. Once condemned as a social nuisance and even vandalism, street art has gained some respectability in recent years. In some cases – think Banksy – it’s even a hot commodity among art collectors and connoisseurs.

You are loved

Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani may have led the largest anti-graffiti campaign in US history, but street art is now celebrated and protected in New York. Many property owners are working together with street artists, legislation is catching up, and commissioned street art now plays a role in avoiding less desirable forms of graffiti such as elaborate spraying of signatures, otherwise known as tagging.

Me in New York

The Little Italy Street Art Project, founded in 2012 to build up the neighbourhood as a creative destination, has been particularly successful in creating Manhattan’s first mural district, while one work by Banksy on the Upper West Side is now covered with plexiglass, such is its value.

Turning a corner and accidentally happening upon spectacular street art was a sheer delight during my brief stay. Tristan Eaton’s multi-coloured mural of Audrey Hepburn on Mulberry Street in Little Italy transforms a classic beauty with feathers and fur, scales and stars.

Audrey Hepburn - Mulberry Street

A reworking of Rodin’s The Thinker ponders life on a lamp post. A toddler topples down the side of a post box. Street signs point the way to happiness, greed, sleep or sadness. A message on a white wall reminds us that we are loved.

As I marvelled at all the murals, I was struck by the idea that Canberra is also a clever, creative capital, with clever, creative people. Showcasing our artistic endeavours to ourselves and to visitors could be a drawcard that also adds to our overall happiness and pride in our city.

The Thinker

On returning home, I was thrilled to see some small transformations during the brief period I was away. A recent makeover of Canberra’s smallest bar, The Hutch at the Hamlet in Braddon, now showcases a spectacular splash of green frog against an eye-catching geometric backdrop by Canberra based artist Brad East.

The Hutch - Lonsdale Street

In February, the ACT Government appointed a street art coordinator for Canberra, Louise Emberson, who will work with artists, students, businesses and the community to uplift our laneways while also tackling unwanted graffiti. At its heart, street art is about engaging with the community – and a street art coordinator is a great start.

Street signs


Catherine Carter

A lover of books and beauty, a seasoned traveller and a creative thinker, Catherine Carter is passionate about Canberra. Head of the Property Council of Australia’s Canberra office for more than a decade, Catherine now provides specialist business and communication consultancy services with a focus on urban environments, new forms of collaboration, community building and diversity. Catherine was the recipient of the Telstra Business Women’s ACT Community and Government Award in 2010 and the National Association of Women in Construction Crystal Vision Award in 2017. More about the Author

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