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Tag Archives: Boo

Stencil Festival to Sweet Streets

This is the insides story of the Melbourne Stencil Festival, at least the part that I know and I was involved 2008, 2009 and 2010 aka Sweet Streets. The history of the Stencil Festival is longer than my involvement; it goes back to 2004 when the first stencil art festival in the world is held in Melbourne.

Melbourne Stencil Festival 09 exhibition

Melbourne Stencil Festival 09 exhibition

Even now this story needs to be told to dispel any idea that it was being run by paid administers in an office with lots of sponsorship dollars. Melbourne might be a festival city with all kinds of spectacles completing of attention but this makes potential sponsors festival fatigued. Festivals are not recipes for economic success and we struggled to attracted sufficient corporate or government sponsorship.

Every year the stencil festival would gets an angry email about how the festival does not ‘represent’ the ‘real’ street art community. The real is a symbolic category; the festival never claimed to represent street art. The festival was never about being the poster child of street art, nor about owning the concept, the brand name of ‘real’ street art. It was about creating a bridge between the mainstream and the street art community, providing a forum and a festival for the art. Each year there has been workshops, employing artists to teach their stencil skills to children and adults. Art is an exclusive affair but the paradox of street art is that it is open to everyone on the street and is not the exclusive privilege for insiders.

I initially became involved in Melbourne Stencil Festival in 2008 as the volunteer coordinator and award judge (along with four others including Chor Boogie). I became involved because I thought that it might be a good opportunity to show some practical support and make some contacts in the street art scene. I took a Gonzo journalist approaches to reporting the MSF – a participant observer, in Malososki’s opinion is the best kind of anthropologist, and what is the difference between an art critic and anthropologist anyway?

2008 was an ambitiously international festival with Chor Boogie, A1, John Kolaczar, Pete Wollinger and other artists from around the world. I was not involved in the politics of the 2008 festival but I could see that JD Mitmann had a major conflict of interest with the festival as he also ran the gallery Famous When Dead where he showed and sold many of the artists. I doubt that JD Mitmann actually profited from this relationship but this was also a matter of perception; you could look at the relationship as symbiotic. The 2008 AGM was a very interesting affair; there was a mea culpa from the previous committee and, except for Adi, the newly elected committee was completely new.

I was then parachuted into an emergency committee in 2009 after Satta van Daal’s resignations. I didn’t see anything of Adi; the committee was no longer functioning. I became the festival’s secretary; being the secretary is not the most glamorous of jobs – lots of emails, typing minutes of meetings, finding meeting venues and other mundane or bureaucratic matters.

I quickly found that I’m not the only one that has been parachuted in to run the festival; there was also Phil Hall, Tessa Yea and Anna Briers. Phil Hall is an energetic, enthusiastic and experienced public arts worker who had work in Collingwood before. Tessa Yea and Anna Briers were then adventurous curatorial students from Melbourne University doing an internship at the festival.

I have yet to mention Coops, Paul Cooper of Arttruck was keeping the whole transition between 2008 and 2009 going. His advertising and design business had office space and computers that we could use along with chocolate cake and biscuits because photographing food produces some great left-overs. This was over when the relationships with Coops and the rest of the festival organisers cooled over poster design.

We found more volunteers, lots of them, all competent and eager to get the festival happening. Somehow it all came together. The new volunteers were all excellent, many of them were students doing work in curatorial studies and marketing, others were just random people like me interested in street art. MSF 09 was thrown together in three months mostly by email with only support from the City of Yarra and in-kind support from sponsors.

Boo & Tom Civil, Sweet Streets 2010

Boo & Tom Civil, Sweet Streets 2010

After managing to put together the festival in 2009 the team was ambitious to run another festival. There was an obvious need to re-brand and redefine the festival to include more than just stencil art. The initial focus on stencil art came at a time in Melbourne when stencil art was very popular and there were a lot of stencil art on the street. Since then street art in Melbourne has expanded, new techniques and ideas have come along (yarn bombing and street sculpture).

So the Melbourne Stencil Festival became “Sweet Streets – urban and street art festival.” The use of the term “urban and street art” was used to sidestep the debate about street art in the gallery.

The festival 2010 was bigger and better than all previous years – a real arts festival with a program of events, multiple exhibitions in several locations, but not the budget that went with that. On top of being secretary I was running the film night. The ancient Geeks had a word for it – ‘hubris’.

In the end the committee was exhausted and without a succession plan. This is the problem of running an annual festival, at the point where everyone on the committee was exhausted you should have been preparing for next year’s festival and finding sponsors. It was hard to keep volunteers motivated for a whole year preparing for the festival. I could go on about all the problems and forget the success of a street art festival running in Melbourne for seven years.

Does it still exist? Rumours that it will be revived occur from time to time over the years. Unfortunately attempts to revive the festival proved futile.

Read my reports from the front line as an embedded blogger:

MSF 2008

Opening Night 

Conversations with John Koleszar and Russel Hosze

Melbourne & Graffiti (reflections on talks given at MSF 2008)

MSF 2009

Opening Night

Underground 

Sweet Streets 2010

Sweet Streets 

Award Exhibition

Urban Intervention @ YSG

Street Art Politics Forum

Week 1    

Week 2 

Black Mark at Sweet Streets auction.

Black Mark at Sweet Streets auction.

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Street Art Politics Forum

I did get to the Sweet Streets artist’s forum at 1000 Pound Bend on Saturday 23 October. The forum focused on “the challenges and politics surrounding being a Street artist and working on and off the streets.” (Festival website) The panel featured Kirsty Furniss (from KA’a), Tom Civil, Junky Projects, Haha, and Boo. The forum was organized by Boo (who is on the festival committee) and facilitated by Mickie Skelton, a circus performer who did an excellent job in introducing the artists, keeping the questions coming from the audience and the discussion moving.

Street art is not exclusively political but there is a political dimension to claiming a space, the personal empowerment of not being locked out and DIY. The decision to be arrested for a political empowers the individual to take dramatic actions like painting “No War” on the Sydney Opera House roof.

There was a small discussion by the Newcastle artists – Junky Projects, Civil and Boo about the differences between Newcastle and Melbourne’s approach to graffiti. Newcastle is fighting a loosing war on graffiti – “Dig a hole and throw money in it.” Junky Projects. All of the artists are currently living in Melbourne because it is more tolerant than Newcastle of graffiti.

All of the artists in the forum were interested in the political issues of street art but not all were political activists unless HaHa’s offer to fill USB sticks with conspiracy theory videos counts as activism. Junky Projects is not a political activist but his propaganda by deed of creating art from recycling junk bring attention to the politics of consumption and waste. The other three artists in the forum Tom Civil, Kristy and Boo have all used street art in political activism. Culture jammin’ was the entry into street art for both Kirsty and Boo.

It was a rambling discussion Tom Civil pointed out early anarchists propaganda techniques that have been taken up by street artists, including paste-ups. He has recently published a new edition of “How to Make Trouble and Influence People.”

Boo talked about her use of cognitive dissidence in her art to make people think. But even the way that she puts up her work on the street has some cognitive dissidence – Boo puts her work up with a tube of liquid nails on the way home from doing the shopping.

The discussion moved on to what is the future of Melbourne’s street art? “Brunswick” Junky Projects said it in one word. Junky Projects also pointed out that there is less hip-hop graffiti and more graffiti from other subcultures like, punks and metal. There are punk street artists with names like Snotrag, Neckface and the Looser Crew making ugly pieces.

Other predictions for the future were more proscriptive. Civil wants bigger street art, whole building size, but deeper subjects rather than the current shallow content. He is looking forward to more mature street art and hoping for break from the American aesthetic that has dominated street art. Boo is hoping for a less masculine street art, not just more women involved but less machismo in the street art produced. Boo noted that there were more women artists participating in this year’s festival.

(See my entry on Political Street Art)

 


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