DOWN ON THE STREET: Byron Bay visual artist NITSUA in front of one of his murals, complete with seat, in Jonson St.
DOWN ON THE STREET: Byron Bay visual artist NITSUA in front of one of his murals, complete with seat, in Jonson St. Christian Morrow

STREET ART STOUSH

STREET art, murals and tagging have always created controversy. One person's bold social commentary is another's dirty vandalism.

Some of the most lauded artists of recent times, including Jean Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and the omnipresent Banksy, began as street artists before building multi-million-dollar art careers.

And the controversy looks set to continue here in Byron Shire, with well-known local visual artist Nitsua, as well as others, calling out Byron Council's Public Art Panel on Facebook over the Draft Public Art Strategy, which he claims would amount to a moratorium on street art in favour of sculpture.

"It's ridiculous, I can't believe they thought they would get away with it," Nitsua said.

He went so far as to brand the new council's Public Arts Panel as elitist and biased towards sculpture.

"The panel needs to have members on it that represent all types of art practices," he said.

Mayor Simon Richardson took to Facebook defending the Public Art Strategy saying, "There is no move to ban or place a moratorium on street art. Nor does it say so in the strategy. It is looking to try and increase focus on sculptural art."

"I love street art and will continue to find ways to get more of it in Byron. The panel is made up of good people, who are looking to diversify our public art forms."

The draft policy says that Byron Bay is currently "saturated with paint", with work ranging in quality from "legal professional to the illegal and swift, in an undifferentiated pastiche of styles".

"The overall lack of cohesion and the confusion about what is street art and what is graffiti is an ongoing issue that may be better managed by the adoption of a public art strategy," it said.

Under the proposed changes artists would have to submit a development application prior to any art-making in public spaces.

Nitsua celebrates the diversity and temporary nature of street art, seeing it as a cost-effective way to deliver art to the people.

"I like it when my work gets painted over, it's a kind of renewal," he said.

"With the money it would cost to produce one sculpture you could possibly have five different, fresh murals painted by new artists over its lifetime."

But the draft plan sets out to see that "preference is to be given to sculptural projects rather than murals, utilising more robust materials which reflect a higher quality of artwork".

It also looks to consider new art forms, possibly including light-based, environmental forms that use the land as a canvas, sustainable, temporary and even virtual art pointing to Sydney's Vivid Festival as an exemplar of this approach.

The debate over street art and the use of public space looks to be ongoing.

In the past, more formal approaches to revitalisation and activation of public spaces around Byron, such as the repainting of Surf Alley and transformation of Lateen Lane, have proven controversial.

To see the new policy go to: https://www.byron.nsw.gov.au/Home/Tabs/Public-Notices/Draft-Public-Art-Policy-and-Draft-Public-Art-Strategy


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