By Adrian Doyle
Published: January 22nd 2020
One of my friends who was recently painting in a local laneway runs an important blog on street art. He’s an interesting artist.
The laneway that he was painting in was Flinders Court; it’s that laneway which runs behind Elizabeth St between Flinders St and Flinders Lane. It was painted up as part of an indigenous youth art project run through Blender Studios and Signal and funded by the City of Melbourne.
This project worked with disengaged and indigenous young people who went to school in the City of Melbourne. It was a great project which gave me the chance to work with some Aboriginal elders and we were lucky enough to be given a guided walking tour through many of the historical and culturally significant indigenous sites around the city.
The young people were each paired with a respected urban artist and they worked over a number of weeks to design an artwork. The council and the owners of the building gave permission for the project to be painted on the walls of Flinders Court. It was pretty tagged up (tags and graffiti) so a rejuvenation would make a huge difference to the amenity of the laneway.
We painted it over a weekend with the art taking over the entire lane. Everybody loved it. So many people came together to discuss the content and to talk to the young people and artists. The owner of Nando’s even gave us all a free lunch! It was a very successful project.
The laneway has quickly become a new street art hotspot with spotters (people that photograph street art) and tourists breathing life into what was an ugly dirty and somewhat dangerous public space. After the youth project, Blender took on Flinders Court to keep it fresh and maintained. We look after a number of laneways in this manner. As the laneway gets tags and graffitied, we either fix the artwork or more commonly we send in an artist to create a new artwork over the old one to keep it fresh and clean.
For many years now, Blender has been setting up and looking after the artistic integrity of many laneways in the CBD. These include Blender Lane, Loveland’s, Maloney Lane, Flinders Court and many more. We generally try to send artists to trouble spots around the city. Many national and international artists who come to Melbourne contact Blender Studios to find out about the bests spots to paint in the city. We always send them to one of the lanes we manage or to Hosier, AC DC or Croft Alley. This is super helpful in the upkeep of the lanes and the beautification of the city.
Melbourne is now so famous for its awesome lanes and art. If it wasn’t for Blender helping to keep the lanes beautiful it would be very hard to find a laneway that is clean or interesting. It would all look like Union Lane, or worse AC DC lane precinct, were most of the space has been sold to advertisers. It is clear that the service that Blender Studios is providing is important and we require no funding or any other kind of support in order to do this. So, why am I writing this article?
Because someone called the police on my friend whom was painting in Flinders Court recently. And the police came, and my friend got in trouble for painting.
I know what we do is a grey area and it’s a very divisive issue for local government. But it is crucial to the survival of the creative CBD and its urban culture. The tourism dollars street art generates is in the tens of millions so we need to look after it! How would it look if I sent a well-respected international artist to paint in Flinders Court (like Thai artist Mue Bon, who painted Flinders Court late last year with our paint and ladder) and they were arrested? It’s a bad look for Melbourne and terrible for Blender. So, I am stuck in this situation where one person that complains to the police or the council are given a very large voice. This has to stop.
I also have trouble at the new Blender Lane (Maloney) with one guy continuously calling the cops and wasting everybody’s time. As we lose our laneway culture to gentrification and rich developers, we need to step back and think about our long-term goals for a future creative Melbourne. What it is that is important and what we are willing to sacrifice in the name of progress. At the moment, it seems like the person with the biggest wallet or who complains the loudest gets all the say.
These grumpy troublemakers paint a grim picture of a future they want to create: a dystopia Orwellian place where the rich control the police at their whim and creativity is some kind of thought crime.
It really is time that we took back control of our creative city.