Words by Scott Pollock
About 100 kilometres from the inner west of Sydney is one of Australia’s most recognised tourist destinations, the world heritage listed Blue Mountains National Park. People from around the world flock to the top of these inspiring mountains to get a glimpse of rugged ridges and valleys stretching way into the distance. Nestled on top of this mountain range is the township of Katoomba which is the home to some amazing lookouts but also a great variety of attractions.
It was only a year ago that a new attraction was added to the list – a new street art walk. This project had been in the making since 2013. Initially it was the brainchild of street artists, Dave Riley and Jarrod Wheatley from Street Art Murals Australia (SAMA). Dave had located a great location which was a delivery lane that ran behind the main street of Katoomba. It had great urban aesthetics, with external fire escapes, cyclone fencing and plenty of blank canvases.
Once Dave and Jarrod got the support from the owners of the designated buildings, the next partnership secured was with the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, especially with the Director, Paul Brinkman. Paul’s role in the project was to help secure the government approvals and also advise on a curatorial and planning level, and to ensure the project was sustainable.
"Although Jarrod had the owners onboard it was still complicated," said Paul Brinkman. "We had to address all sorts of issues such as road closures, being located in a heritage listed area. We also needed to develop a system of control for the project. Council needed to be confident that the art works and artists selected were appropriate."
After two years of hard work, the team managed to get council approval for 32 of the proposed 46 walls. The artists selected were from Australia, Brazil, Mexico and Chile.
It was during the 2015 Winter Magic Festival which attracts in the vicinity of 30,000 people that the Katoomba Street Art Walk was launched. The laneway was full of scissor lifts, spray paints, artists and the local community who had financially supported the project by crowd funding.
In the year following the launch, Paul Brinkman informed me that the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre and SAMA, ensured the project maintained momentum. "It's never really completed as it's an ongoing program. Since it opened there have been about three or four walls resprayed. Part of the contract that we have with the artists is that we have the right to respray over the work to introduce more works - the idea of this is to keep it interesting; not only the visitors but also from the street art world."
The walk is now promoted heavily as an outdoor external gallery to the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre. All visitors to the cultural centre are informed about the walk. Today it has a 4.5 star rating on trip advisor.
Paul mentioned that one of the great outcomes of the project is that it has encouraged private enterprise or government bodies such as Sydney Water to commission works on some of their water tanks (in the mountains) that used to be covered with inappropriate graffiti. As a result of this, there is now street art to be seen from the Great Western Highway as travellers head to the top of the mountains.
Another positive outcome is that because street artists come together to form one community they won't graffiti over the commissioned works. Paul said it was important that we ensure that we don't separate the street art community into two groups because then the commissioned works may be vandalised.
One thing that does seem to be missing when legal platforms are offered to street artists is that feeling that their work is sometimes inspired by being against authority and also that it is spontaneous. Paul shared his thoughts. "I'm not naive enough to believe that some of these artists aren't maybe participating in illegal stuff but maybe this opportunity is a strong link in making it more accessible for some. There will always be those who are anti establishment. That's life."
In totally different ways, this project is similar to Culture Scouts as it supports the world of street art and puts it in an environment where it can be appreciated and understood by the general public.
For further information on the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre and their Street Art Walk click here