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Tag Archives: Melbourne Stencil Festival

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 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.


Jet Set Street Art

Where in the world is HaHa? Dabs and Mylar have returned to Melbourne after several years abroad. Melbourne street artists are travelling the world. Street art is the most extensively travelled art movement of all times. It is one of the necessities of working on the streets means finding news cities and places to exhibit.

Many street artists from other countries have visited and left their mark on Melbourne’s streets. Looking through my collection of photos of Melbourne street art I have many examples of these international artists. I have listed the visiting along with their country of origin and year/s that they visited Melbourne. Most visited in conjunction with an exhibitions as and I have noted if they also participated in major festivals or events.

A1one - Gertrude St. Fitzroy

A1one – Gertrude St. Fitzroy

A1one (Iran, 2008, Melbourne Stencil Festival)

Aerosol Arabic, Thirst for Change, Sparks Lane, Melbourne

Aerosol Arabic, Thirst for Change, Sparks Lane, Melbourne

Aerosol Arabic (Britain, 2008, Melbourne Festival)

Above, Melbourne

Above, Melbourne

Above (USA, 2011 & 2012)

Now destroyed Banksy's  "Little Diver"

Now destroyed Banksy’s “Little Diver”

Banksy (Britain, 2003, a covert visit, see my post)

Blek le Rat under perspex Parhran

Blek le Rat under perspex Parhran

Blek Le Rat (France, multiple visits)

Choq, Fitzroy

Choq, Fitzroy

Choq (France, 2012-13)

Celso Gitahy, Brunswick

Celso Gitahy, Brunswick

Celso Gitahy (Brazil, 2008 & 2009, see my post)

Keith Haring, Collingwood

Keith Haring, Collingwood

Keith Haring (USA 1984, see my post)

Nash, Sparta Place, Brunswick

Nash, Sparta Place, Brunswick

Nash (Netherlands, 2012, Project Melbourne Underground see my post)

Snyder, Rocket Pop Boy, Hosier Lane

Snyder, Rocket Pop Boy, Hosier Lane

Sydner (USA, 2012, private initiative see my post)

Peat Wollaeger, Keith Haring Stencil and tribute at Collingwood Technical College

Peat Wollaeger, Keith Haring Stencil and tribute at Collingwood Technical College

Peat Wollaeger (USA, 2008, Melbourne Stencil Festival).

This is not at all a complete list of artists who have visited Melbourne. Nor does it include foreign street artist who have made Melbourne their home.

I am not writing about these international artists out of a cultural cringe away from local artists. Australian culture has long had a belief in a superior foreign culture – be it French, British or American. I am writing about these artists to demonstrate that street art is a global style. Images of street art are so easily transmitted around the world by the internet and travel is also easy. So many notable street artists have become international nomads. And it is one of the strengths of the art.

Which, if any, visiting artist do you think has been the most influential on Melbourne’s street art?


Sweet Streets – Week 1

This week at the Sweet Streets festival of urban and street art there was the exhibition opening at Brunswick Street Gallery. My mind was on preparations for the Thursday film night for most of the week. Organizing the film night has been my public bit of the festival, aside from all the secretarial duties and other little things. (My interest in the Sweet Streets festival has been stated.) I have only heard about the workshops and the live spraying events going on during the festival.

On Wednesday at 1000 Pound Bend a large temporary wall was being undercoated in preparations were being made for Secret Wars.  Secret Wars, for those who don’t know, is two street artists covering several square metres of black wall in competition with each other and in front of a paying audience. It was not officially part of the Sweet Streets festival but 1000 Pound Bend had booked it in for Wednesday night anyway.

Bandos Earthling at Brunswick Street Gallery

Wednesday night was also the opening of Sweet Streets exhibition on the top floor of Brunswick Street Gallery. It was part of their “Urban Art” series of exhibitions (see my review of previous exhibition in the series). Although Tessa Yee curated both the Sweets Streets exhibitions at 1000 Pound Bend and Brunswick Street Gallery the exhibitions are a distinctly different. Under the broader category of “urban art” this exhibition has more illustration, comic book, photography and stencil art. It is a broad category that includes everything from Heesco’s fantasy illustrations to Debs aerosol paintings. But the street was not far away, even in, Jo Waite’s paintings of four panel comic strips that showed a vision of Melbourne with Spanish instead of English graffiti in the background. Bandos Earthling made an appearance in costume, carrying a large blank speech bubble made of cardboard and posing for photographs (I’m meant to catch up with him sometime during the festival). There were also some small Ben Howe’s stencils at the foot of the stairs at Brunswick Street Gallery. Last year Howe was highly commended emerging artist in the 2009 Melbourne Stencil Festival’s award exhibition.

Besides my own biased view you can read what other bloggers wrote about Sweet Streets. James Donald writes a long thoughtful researched review of the Award exhibition and The Earth Died Screaming has some bad iphone photos of the Award exhibition opening. Images to Live By wrote about Dscreet’s film “Dots” at the festival’s Thursday Film night. And Invurt wrote about Sweet Streets@BSG & Secret Wars.


Sweet Streets Award Exhibition

I’ve been involved in preparing for the Sweet Streets festival for over a year. There is still a lot to do and I’m very tired, so I’ll keep this brief.

 

Junky Project, Don't Shoot, 2010

 

The opening Sweet Streets Award Exhibition at 1000 Pound Bend kicked off the festival. The Melbourne Festival was also opening that night and the Melbourne Fringe Festival is still going and even though Sweet Streets was competing with a two larger festival for the attention of Melbourne’s public 1000 Pound Bend was packed with hundreds of people.

I had been around the award exhibition earlier in the afternoon with Fletch who writes the blog Invurt. It was the first time that I’d met Fletch, although we had exchanged emails before. We were both amazed at how affordable the prices were with very few works over $1,000. Expanding the festival to more than just stencils appeared to be a good move; the exhibition had a lot more variety with sculpture, illustrations, painting, soft toys and yarn bombing. Although without as many stencils there were only a few works with political messages.

The judges for the award show were: Alex McCulloch (Metro Gallery), Din Heagney (editor Un-Magazine and the Art pimp) and Luke Matthews (director/founder of Gorker Gallery). Din Heagney announced the winners: Highly commended (with a $300 cash prize) were Junky Projects, Ben Ashton-Bell, Jonathon Fischer and John Koleszar. The winner of the $1000 Sweet Streets Award Exhibition prize was Jussi TwoSeven for “Go East” a work of spray paint stencil on stickers, incorporating two forms of street art in one piece. Congratulations to the winners. The prizes are not a lot of money compared to many other Australian art prizes but the Sweet Streets festival did not have any sponsors providing cash for these prizes.

It was good start to the festival – another 15 days of exhibitions, workshops, films and other events to go.

 

Apeseven applying the finishing touches before the opening.

 


Sweet Streets

This is not the insides story of the Melbourne Stencil Festival 2009, I haven’t got time for that, not with the Sweet Streets festival about to start. But briefly, after the entire previous committee resigned and imploded the Melbourne Stencil Festival 2009 was run by a small emergency committee that included Phil Hall, Tessa Yee, Anna Briers and myself.  We put the festival together in three months with almost no budget and only in-kind support from sponsors. It needs to be said to dispel any idea that it was being run by paid administers in an office with lots of sponsorship dollars. After managing to put together a festival last year the new committee became even more ambitious for the 2010 festival.

This year the festival is called Sweet Streets and it is bigger and better than in previous years. It is now a real arts festival with a program of events and multiple exhibitions with multiple curators in several locations in Melbourne, Fitzroy, Collingwood and Abbotsford.

There was an obvious need to re-brand and redefine the Melbourne Stencil Festival this year to include more than just stencil art. The festival’s initial focus on stencil art came in 2004 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 like yarn bombing and street sculpture. So the Melbourne Stencil Festival became Sweet Streets – a festival of urban & street art. The use of the subtitle “urban & street art” was used to sidestep the debate about street art in the gallery (see my entry about this debate).

Fortunately this year we have had a lot longer to plan and more than just an emergency committee and a few volunteers to help put it together – we had a few more volunteers. And we could do with a few more. We still don’t have an office and we still don’t have any sponsorship dollars, just generous in kind support.

My role as the secretary for the festival is not the most glamorous of jobs – lots of emails, typing minutes of meetings, organizing meetings, finding meeting venues and other mundane or bureaucratic matters. On a more interesting note I have been organizing a night of short films at the festival hub, 1000 Pound Bend, 361 Ltl. Londsdale St. on Thursday 14th October. There have been so many documentaries made or are currently being about Melbourne’s street art scene. My selection of films is aimed at showing the diversity of approaches and voices.

Melbourne Stencil Festival Inc. presents

Sweet Streets – A festival of urban + street styles

8th to the 24th October 2010

Follow the Sweet Streets festival on Facebook.


Stencil Festival Underground

Part of the Melbourne Stencil Festival 2009 took place in a disused underground carpark in the middle of the Collingwood Housing Commission flats. It was a real urban environment and perfect for street art, apart from the ventilation and the cold.

Melbourne Stencil Festival Underground exhibition

Melbourne Stencil Festival Underground exhibition

Junky Projects robot

Junky Projects robot

Junky Projects robot at the end of the festival

Junky Projects robot at the end of the festival

stencils in the underground

stencils in the underground

It was a car park so a van was brought in and painted.

Van painted during the Stencil Festival

Van painted during the Stencil Festival

I have kept this entry short  and full of photos because I am the secretary of the Melbourne Stencil Festival so I have a biased opinion. The festival may be over but I still have things to do.

HaHa stencil in Underground

HaHa stencil in Underground


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