I have heard various people talking about establishing a street art museum or a street culture centre in Melbourne. Last year I woke up from a dream such a place so vivid that still felt like calling someone to raise money for it. CDH’s post on Street Art Salvage presumes that eventually some institution will be interested in the material collected. So I am writing this post to start a public discussion about the possibility of a street culture centre.
There are no other street art centres in the world – there is a proposal for a Museum of International Street Art (MISA) in Los Angeles, but it hasn’t got very far. I think that a “culture centre” is probably better description than “museum” and “street culture” rather than “street art” because it is a broader description. Street culture is an actively evolving and changing range of culture practices from aerosol art to zines. It would be good not to limit the place by defining its purpose only in terms of our current taste and understanding. And it does need to be a place that supports current street culture and not just preserve the past. The past must not be isolated from current forms of street culture.
The fact that street culture is largely ephemeral doesn’t mean that the past should not be preserved but that conditions mean that it is unlikely to survive. To repeat George Santayana “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And there is a lot of repetition in street culture – it is frequently repeating the past. A subculture requires not only a present and a future but also a past. And in preserving the past a street culture centre would facilitate and support future street culture.
Ideally what would such a place be like? It needs to be large, very, very large space, a former factory or warehouse that already has a history of graffiti. I would like to see a hybrid venue something between an art gallery, a skate park and a band venue. It would need to have some very large spaces for a permanent collection and temporary exhibition space. It needs to have walls that are part of the centre and not a barrier. And a car park and loading dock that are multi-functional. MISA’s design ideas are something close to what I am trying to envision. There also need to be a library (including a digital archive), indoor and outdoor space for classes, storage space for the part the collection not on exhibition and, yes a gift shop and café.
The centre would need to be in an area that has adequate infrastructure (public transport and cafes). It would also need to be located in an area that was sympathetic to the additional street art around the space, a tolerance zone like Hosier and Rutledge Lane.
Street art is worth preserving for future generations, this is not a radical statement, in 2004 the National Trust in Victoria’s graffiti policy statement acknowledges that some street art had should be recorded and protected. No matter how things change on the streets people will be interested in seeing examples of this decade of street art. And they will want to experience the street art from this era for real for themselves and not just in books, digital photographs and documentary films. The need to preserve the collective memory must be balanced with the understanding that these works were originally on the street and were intended as ephemeral gestures.
There are many issues with preservation but preserving something appears to be sanctioning it something the anti-graffiti state government appears loathe to do. The 2010 study into the heritage value of significant street art in Melbourne by Heritage Victoria that the then Minister of Planning, Justin Madden asked for, has not been made public. Politically such a street art centre will be difficult and it would need government support. It also needs the support of those active in street culture, something that, from my experience with the Melbourne Stencil Festival/Sweet Streets, is equally politically charged.
But what a fantastic monster this place would be. It would be a unique international tourist attraction for Melbourne.