Street Art Acceptance: A complex road

Words by Scott Pollock

Over the decades, the general public have associated Graffiti and Street Art with terms such as spontaneous, challenging authority, social commentary, and sometimes even vandalism. Although acceptance of this art form is slowly increasing, the road toward it is very complex.

There are numerous publications, community groups and education-based businesses that support this process. Two such enterprises are Culture Scouts and Street Art Murals Australia (SAMA). Culture Scouts hosts regular tours that showcase and explain this sub-culture, whereas SAMA has numerous roles and processes to help the art form gain due respect. One of their roles is to support young artists by fostering social inclusion, and advocating Street Art legitimacy on a national stage.

SAMA’s founder, Jarrod Wheatley, is constantly happy to offer assistance in any avenue which will educate or break down some of the barriers for his fellow street artists.

One of the simplest questions that arises here is also one of the hardest to answer - what is the difference between graffiti and street art?

Jarrod managed to answer this with clarity,

The difference between graffiti and street art is a complex question. These are terms in transition. Five years ago I would have said the only meaningful difference between the two is the distinction the community makes, dividing one culture into two categories; differentiating between the art they like and the art they don’t. “Community friendly” art would be called the street art and the rest (especially words they couldn’t read) would be called graffiti. Over time, I do think these two terms are having an effect on how individual artists see themselves and their culture. While these terms are still in movement, I think that most people are using the words in the following way: “Graffiti” is painted by “writers” (those who’s main aim is to create complex lettering in a unique style, with tags, throw-ups, pieces, etc.) and “street art” is all other art in the public domain. I would maintain that both street art and graffiti are two arms of one movement. It is understandably tempting for the community to want find terms that divide the art into these two categories. However, it can be counterproductive to understanding the culture. Having two terms might lead community members to believe they can have one and get rid of the other. This isn’t the case. Similarly, if the community’s aim was to have higher quality art on the street, it is difficult to achieve this without understanding the nature of the culture as a whole.
WORK BY WILL COLES @mrwillcoles

WORK BY WILL COLES @mrwillcoles

One of the big issues that street artists have to contend with is that the majority of their work is classified as illegal. Although the artists can lodge a Development Application for street murals and alike, this tends to take away the spontaneity of the process, and also the stance against authority which some see as a necessary part of this sub-culture.

Our current laws regarding graffiti have severe consequences, consequences which SAMA believe are disproportionate to the act itself. “I think that street artists should be able to easily pursue their art form legally,” says Jarrod.

As a society, we are performing poorly in this respect. I think we should rethink what is currently illegal. Perhaps a better solution than Development Applications, which can have a negative impact on many artist’s creative process, is to look to ‘zone’ areas where this activity is allowed or look to other examples like Valparaiso in Chile for inspiration. In the Blue Mountains, Street Art Murals Australia (SAMA) organised a space called the Street Art Walk. I think this is the future of Australian street art. I believe taxpayers, artists and the general community have a lot to gain by rethinking our public art policies.

Identifying whether street art is 'vandalism' or 'art' is another grey area. Like all art, the plethora of style and genre is so large that what some people call art, others will not. This is another example where legality seems to dictate how street art is defined. Jarrod pointed out that a recent Western Sydney University study (yet to be published) found that community members indicated that the quality of the art, rather than its legality, influenced their opinions. It appears that most people are more concerned with seeing quality art in the public domain, and less concerned by who if anyone, approved the artwork.

Jarrod suggested that if our aim is to have quality art painted on the streets, save tax payer dollars and increase social inclusion, then we should steer the conversation in the direction of a healthy and vibrant street art culture, rather than waging a war against graffiti.

WORKS BY STEEN JONES (left) @steen_jones and GUIDO VAN HELTEN (right), @guidovanhelten

So, how does Culture Scouts help support the same intentions of SAMA? Culture Scouts classic Newtown + Enmore tour ultimately aims to celebrate street art throughout the inner suburbs of Sydney. One of the main tour guides is Melinda Vassallo, the author of Street Art of the Inner West, a creative mind who  has spent the last 15 years photographing, researching and advising graffiti and art of all forms found on Sydney's streets. Melinda is a mighty storyteller, making her tours incredibly engaging and informative. For this reason, Culture Scouts is helping this genre to be, as Jarrod says, a healthy and vibrant street art culture rather than another pawn in the war against graffiti.

For anyone who is considering entry into this interesting world of art, see below for a few do’s and don’ts from Jarrod Wheatley:


  • Always look to create a unique style. Originality is king.
  • Learn about the roots of the culture, you can start by watching a documentary called Style Wars.
  • Sketching is your friend. Draw as much as you can, you can save yourself a lot of time and money if you learn with pencil and paper before you bring your designs to a wall.


  • Disrespecting other people’s art will get you in trouble pretty quickly.  Don’t, “bomb” the background, “cross” or “cap” people’s work.
  • Every local scene has their own rules, but you can pretty much guarantee that no one thinks private cars, religious buildings, war memorials or cemeteries qualify as appropriate canvases.

You can find out more about these great organisations at:

* header image by Will Coles, @mrwillcoles

Wendy KimptonComment