HALE W18 Masthead

How to turn building hoardings into brilliant art

Catherine Carter

Construction sites are filled with trucks and cranes, dirt, dust, noise and ugly hoardings.

Current industry practice is to use green or black mesh on the outside of scaffolding. This reduces the dust and debris falling from the work site, but often detracts from the streetscape.

Hoardings, by their nature, are designed to obscure. But some canny developers are starting to use them to enlighten and enliven.

As Northbourne Avenue’s newest precinct Soho takes shape, developer Art Group is showing how hoardings can add vibrancy to our city as it evolves, and support local artists at the same time.

Hoardings are the perfect medium for an artist inspired by landscapes and nature, maps and architecture. Amy Campbell, who completed her training at the Australian National University last year, says hoardings remove art from a gallery context and “bring it into the public sphere where it’s easily accessible to those who might not otherwise see it”.

Campbell is known for using colourful brushstrokes to create bold ‘pieces of chaos’ that appear to leap from their place. Her work on the Soho hoarding is instantly recognisable, saturated with deep colour and vibrant tones.

As Canberra grows, Campbell says the arts and developmental sectors need to “cross-pollinate and continually look for innovative ways to integrate the arts into new precincts”. She points to public art, pop-up installations, performances and festivals as some examples.

“Every place has the potential to be an artistic space,” Campbell adds.

Another artist featured on the hoardings is established artist Andrea McCuaig, who currently works from her studio at M16 Art Space in Griffith.

Andrea McCuaig

Andrea McCuaig

McCuaig paints in response to her connection with movement, and her work reflects the shifting and changing shape of Canberra’s gateway. She is encouraged to see Canberrans “expecting more art” as part of our “emerging new city” and says artwork invites people to experience spaces in more meaningful ways.

Art connects people with place by “challenging our expectations of conventional spaces and how we interact with them,” she explains.

McCuaig would love to see more public spaces that are well-designed to show art in all its forms. Think foyers, transit spaces, shopping centres and green spaces. In fact, in all the “spaces where people interact daily”.

“This would spur more public engagement with contemporary art and enrich the visual textures of the city.”

These hoardings are the brainchild of David Caffery (center in feature image) the director of cultural planner Dionysus. Caffery started Canberra’s largest arts festival, Art Not Apart, and coordinates NewActon’s cultural program.

He believes “art matters” to property development.

“In the same way that an apartment is enlivened by great paintings, a precinct is enlivened by integrated creative programs. People lose their natural energy when they live in bland boxes only built for profit.”

“Few of the functional elements of a precinct give a sense of soul and humanity. Most developments are built from a spreadsheet and are defined by building sizes, building materials and their tenants.”

A creative place embeds people in ideas and patterns, Caffery says.

Amy Campbell

Amy Campbell

“It’s the artist’s role to shape these patterns into something recognisable, and it’s the developer’s role to build functional spaces. Together, they can create places we want. Done well, the place can give us energy and contribute to a vibrant city.”

There’s a practical reason why we should employ more artists to bring life to our hoardings.

As McCuaig says, “affordability and opportunity are major issues in the arts in Canberra, opportunities for projects and funding few, and spaces to rent for studio practice and gallery hire are significant costs.”

In this environment, we need all parts of our business community to come together to support our local artists.

Campbell agrees. While she says “Canberrans are very open to the arts and crave a culturally vibrant city”, she thinks creative people need to be better supported in Canberra, and to be fairly paid for their services.

“Canberra’s arts scene has so much to offer by way of exhibitions and performances, but there is room for improvement in terms of the attitudes towards the value of the arts.”

As for Caffery, he says art can be an “honest reflection of a city”. Each of the hoardings currently on display suggest a “diverse place with an undercurrent of energy”.

Sounds like the city we all want, which we can build together.


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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