Street Culture Centre for Melbourne

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.


About Mark Holsworth

Writer and artist Mark Holsworth is the author of two books, The Picasso Ransom and Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

11 responses to “Street Culture Centre for Melbourne

  • simon petkovic

    why build a centre just so as we can say-we are the first to have a street culture centre?also-indoors is not outdoors-a cultural centre (indoors) promoting street (outdoors) art-would be something of an oxi-moron.and finally-a centre would be a place of promotion,as in business promotion (exactly what the ethics of street art are opposed to) for a select few to capitalise short -it would become a wank,something stagnant,would hinder rather than help street art,would make street art become part of the putrid waters of commerce…

    • Mark Holsworth

      Not all street culture is strictly outdoors (zines, tattoos) but I would hope that such a centre would have significant outdoor area. Indoor areas would be needed for preservation etc. Such a centre could not be a private enterprise or it would as you point out become a promotion business. It would have be run on a similar basis to the NGV, ACMI and other state galleries.

  • sukiesoriginal

    I would have thought it would have to be along the lines of a sculpture park surrounding an ‘indoor area’. Between politics and the danger of wankiness, it would be a hard thing to get right. But definitely worthy of consideration.

    • Mark Holsworth

      I’d like to see an enormous atrium space with lots of outdoor walls in the center of the centre. I thought that a focus on street culture rather than just street art would help keep the centre current. Competent director and curators would keep it from becoming a wank.

  • simon petkovic

    still sounds like a street culture zoo rather than the urban jungle of the original..why exactly is it worthy of consideration?

    • Mark Holsworth

      Isn’t street culture worth preserving or should it just be consigned to the rubbish heap and forgotten?

    • simon petkovic

      street culture has its own rules-it is never consigned to the rubbish heap (those are just words,scare tactics to justify ‘preserving’ it)-it is just built upon by the next generation-it’s how it works.the lessons,the art is JUST THERE until it no longer survived until now for the past 40 odd years without a street culture centre-why so keen to place it under a magnifying glass,to ‘preserve’ it ?you make it sound like it won’t survive unless efforts are made to ‘preserve ‘ wasn’t created to be preserved,it is part of the natural flow,order of things-it has a life of its own-and as such doesn’t need the preserving,the walt disney frozen in time treatment..

    • Mark Holsworth

      Are you confusing the practice/tradition of street culture with the artifacts of street culture? Or maybe street culture has it own rules and the rules seem to be that it is only for you and your mates, of course, your memories of it are never consigned to the rubbish heap. Surviving for 40 years is not very long and street culture in general has been around for longer than that. Street culture is being preserved by collectors and photographers, it is being examined by academics, this is part of the nature of our civilization and street culture has not suffered from this treatment, if anything it has prospered. A street culture centre is simply part of this natural progression, street culture may not need it but it might benefit from it. Do I have to repeat that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

    • simon petkovic

      street culture is not for’me and my mates’-you’re sounding a wee bit there like johnnie howard calling the thousands who disagree with him-‘the mob’..i myself have studied art history in europe-am a graduated art historian from the university of zagreb with a major in contemporary art-so- please don’t lecture me or give me the oneupmanship on who is the authority on street culture (i know street culture originally started in the catacombs of rome where jews drew their religious symbols and practiced their beliefs far from the prying eyes of the roman authorities-or even further-to the pyramids of egypt or the caves of lascaux)-i am not and certainly you are not.make a strong case to ‘the authorities’ and apply for one of the curatorial positions at the street culture centre-what you are’selling’-i ain’t buying..oh-i lived in the squats of south london for a year and east berlin another year-vibrant art culture-don’t think you’d find too many people in australia prepeared to live under such extreme conditions-weather or otherwise (where it’s so cold and you only have cold water available,so cold your ass hairs are stuck to the toilet seat when you get up,where you see pregnant women mowed down by water cannons)..

  • rhbutcher

    What I see in an old MTC

    The now disused old MTC building – straddling Hosier Lane and Russel Street, just behind the Forum – is one of the few derelict building left in the Melbourne CBD. Strange really, considering its heritage, location and state of disrepair. Ever wondered why this is? I have, many, many times having lived next door for past 13 years.

    I get the sense that the Hosier Lane precinct is coloured by this anomaly – it’s definitely part of the charm, but it also presents a fairly desolate front to the community. It is clearly unloved by it’s owners, possibly due to the burden of cost a renovation would require. Nonetheless, situated in a neighbourhood which dribbles to the tune of rotting waste bins, unrestrained recycling and general pedestrian discards, one might suggest this site offers an unrivalled opportunity.

    I imagine a site which has been stripped back to the bones, and I’m sure it’s bones still have what it takes to strip elegantly. With a frontage on both Hosier Lane and Flinders Street, the access and presence appear destined to flirt with the thousands of passing travellers, workers, businesses and homeless. Is this the next Meat Market, Jam Factory (I refer to the Adelaide Centre for Craft and Design rather than the Prahran concoction) or inner city Ceres? I do wonder – and sketch fantastical stories in my dream states.

    At times I imagine the space as a mix of recycling, free studio space for the creatively broke, a touch of free university and a smattering of pop-up – all under a tensile membrane protecting the existing theatrical spaces. No need for a big end of town response, more a community centre.

    I wonder.

    Richard B.


    Richard Butcher Design and Marketing

    • Mark Holsworth

      Great suggestion, the old MTC building is in a perfect location with a link to Hosier Lane and the current street art culture. Why isn’t there a tradition of art squats in Melbourne like there is/was in Paris and Berlin?

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