tbC feels that you can’t ignore the interest in graffiti practices in any community that has a large youth demographic and is working on developing a handful of legal precincts (in Upwey and Belgrave) where such an aesthetic is allowed, tolerated and even celebrated. Graffiti is not an aesthetic that the Hills communities are necessarily comfortable with, but it is a global youth practice that we simply can’t ignore or prevent.
It’s often a difficult thing to proactively push, but our hills communities need to acknowledge and provide productive and positive outlets for the energy and natural risk-taking needs of youth. We also need to offer young people age appropriate opportunities to participate in community and cultural development and decision making. Empowering, connecting with and appreciating young people will increase the likelihood of them becoming healthy adults with a strong sense of ‘self’ – something that directly effects the fabric of our communities. tbCs work raises the profile, status and level of productive participation by young people in its local community (and in partnership with other communities). This means affording young people a stake in the way our community functions, looks and feels. This is a frightening concept for some members of the community as young people’s aesthetic and cultural and social behaviours are often provocative, experimental, even anti-social. To encourage a distinctly youth aesthetic in our community (one that invariably includes suburban graffiti motifs and street art) is a contentious issue especially in view of the fact that the ‘idyllic hills’ landscape is often deemed so far removed from the usual suburban aesthetic. Graffiti is deemed by many in this community, even more so than in others, an ill fit. However the behaviours and interests of young people in this region are universally similar to any other community and graffiti has ubiquitous appeal.
Apparently the wider community is developing a good understanding and acceptance of young people and the issues they face, but our feedback, after working on the ground with local young people for over 8 years now, is that they still feel disconnected to varying degrees. Many still claim they feel undervalued and invisible and therefore become resentful and reactionary.
Actively connecting and engaging with young people in our hills and valley communities has become an important priority within our local council’s community action plans.According to the Shire of Yarra Ranges’ Vision 2020 Community Plan the Yarra and Dandenong Ranges can be characterised as a ‘young’ Shire, with a higher than average proportion of the population aged between 5 and 17 years than typical across Melbourne.
tbC manages a graffiti art project in Blacksmiths Way Belgrave. A group of young (and established) artists are gradually painting the length of Blacksmith Way. Our experience suggests that acknowledging and supporting this youth aesthetic and outsider art culture empowers young people, reduces risky and criminal behaviour and betters our communities in general. Developing deep and respectful relationships with young people and acknowledging them for their creativity, intelligence and passion can be profoundly rewarding and the community is in resounding support of this initiative.
tbC is currently rolling out a graffiti art project in Blacksmiths Way Belgrave with some interesting results. The works are not being tagged. This is partly due to choosing the right young people to make the works – young people that have a reputation and profile in the local and neighbouring graffiti community. The other reason is that the word is getting out that there might be some legal walls to paint and this is attracting interest, respect and inquiries from a number of illegal graffitists. We are also getting interest from crews from neighbouring suburbs. Our experience also reveals that if we include street artists from neighbouring suburbs in our graf projects they develop a certain ownership and pride in the work and this actually deters tagging and vandalism and diffuses some of the political and territorial issues.
tbC is in the process of rolling out a discreet but active graffiti/street art program, that began with a pilot project in Upwey at the bike path and train station and the Upwey Skate Park (A project in partnership with the councils youth services, graffiti and parks departments and township groups), as well as the development of the Blacksmith Way, Belgrave location. We believe that commandeering a couple of key, vandalised sites and progressively activating them with a curated graffiti/street art aesthetic will appeal to the youth demographic and begin to develop a youth street art culture that is much more attractive than the unmanaged, volatile and criminal culture that currently exists. We also truly believe that over time this strategy will deter tagging and vandalism. This project affords young people artistic control and a positive sense of ownership and inclusion in their local community and is building a strong artistic identity for the communities of Upwey and Belgrave.
tbC has embedded its artistic engagement with young people into the front line, working on the ground with young people and exploring their perceptions and manifestations of community and culture. tbC has several street artists as members and these artists carry significant respect in our young communities. Our understanding is that negative aesthetics and social and cultural behaviours often occur when young people don’t feel valued, appreciated or empowered. Our experience suggests that acknowledging and supporting a youth aesthetic/culture (rather than wishing it didn’t exist) empowers young people, reduces risky and criminal behaviour and betters our communities in general. Young people quite simply just want to be valued and noticed. Developing deep and respectful relationships with young people and acknowledging them for their creativity, intelligence and passion can be profoundly rewarding.
Click here to view all tbC's street art videos
tbC is also exploring projection art. In some respects tbC sees projection art as a kind of street art and our interest in it is inspired by stresses and tensions surrounding graffiti and tagging in tbC’s local community. Limina is an ongoing project that projects artworks on-the-street, in lane ways and from empty shop fronts.