Is it a missed opportunity?

It’s not every day that a couple of lanes within a CBD get such massive exposure as has been evident of recent weeks. Following the courageous Rutledge Lane project entitled ‘Empty Nursery Blue’  by local artist Adrian Doyle the media has been abuzz with pics and stories about this modest space. Some love it, some hate it, but by and large, everyone who comes across it has an opinion or at least an exclamation. Its a good time to reflect on this project, and on the aims and hopes for the precinct generally.

This recent article by Hosier Inc chairman Luke McManus on Vandalog gives a pretty good insight into the word on the streets. CDH’s sentiments do make sense coming from an artist’s standpoint and context. However, the question needs to be asked – is this precinct still a graffiti zone, or has it evolved to become something completely different? Experimental art or dare I say it – a viable art gallery for street artists? Nursery for graffiti – ummm.

Is it still relevant to promote Hosier and Rutledge Lanes as graffiti lanes if one takes the illicit nature of graffiti seriously? Excursions of marker toting kids writing illicitly on walls as the teacher/s expound the wonders of the genre? Seriously – the idea of genuine graffiti in this precinct is dead. Time to move on. Even these taggers are able to restrain themselves when confronted by a Nolan or a Whitely at the NGV.  So why is it alright to cap serious artistic endeavour in a public, sanctioned art precinct? Why is it ok to cap a business’ facade who has paid an artist for their time and creativity? Why is it deemed acceptable to climb a fence and down-pipe to tag over an 80 year old resident’s lounge room window? What role does graffiti have in our precinct?  ‘Empty Nursery Blue’  was a blank canvas beyond one’s wildest dreams, but has it been squandered? Is it possible to activate and engage the art community in pursuit of a self-managed and iconic state? Not sure yet.

Residents of Hosier Lane are continually bemused at how often we hear ‘Hey – it’s legal to graf here!  Just look around  – I’m not doing anything different from anyone else!’ or ‘so and so said so!’ In fact, here’s the City of Melbourne’s list (from their website) of registered street art permit sites around Melbourne. The notion that this precinct is graffiti legal – we contend – is a self perpetuating myth. The more people say it, the more truth there is in it. So Hosier Inc suggest it’s time to call it for what it really is – an art space for street art ‘with the blessing of property owners.’

The lane way has definitely been embraced by a small but fearless crew – a bunch of youngsters turning up early, late, all hours to hover and reclaim this holy Rutledge outpost. This is not a new occurrence, just a mutation of a traditional meeting spot. It’s an act of expression in a way, and one which leaves no piece uncapped – no fence un-climbed and no expletive un-said. Look out for them, and say g’day… but don’t expect mastery beyond a sneer and a backchat and a lazy tag over a fresh work painstakingly created by an artist who’s only just crossing Russell Street. Thankfully many works are preserved in time by photographers. Check out the imagery of Hosier Rutledge over the past month by captured by Hosier Inc member Dean Sunshine.

Andy Mac must be wondering what cyclone hit his City Lights light boxes. Many of the adjacent businesses are miffed – and have a lot less faith in street art than that of Hosier Inc. However, with the burgeoning membership, new and supportive residents along with help from the City of Melbourne (because we don’t have the funds yet to do it ourselves) the many day to day problems will be addressed, such as the light boxes, and soon we hope. A swathe of new paint-ups will re-fresh again, but our hope is with greater longevity and a healthy discourse about what CBD lane ways can be.

Let’s not confuse the issues. ‘The City of Melbourne recognises the importance of street art in contributing to a vibrant urban culture.’ Naturally. Graffiti on the other hand, needs to be managed, just as the City of Melbourne’s Graffiti Management Plan outlines. This is not really the raison d’etre of Hosier Inc, but it serves as one contributing factor in our efforts to maintain some semblance of order in the lanes. We hope to encourage contributing artists with ongoing support – not just with wall space, but also with materials and equipment. It just takes a little time and discussion to create and sustain something amazing. And just a little cash. We’ll keep you posted.

As far as an outcome for residents and local business goes it’s early days. We’ve had an influx of new visitors to Rutledge Lane – of figures we can’t be sure – but significant is all we can say from a local’s observation. Increased traffic through the lane ways of Melbourne has been a goal for the City of Melbourne for some time – with the primary objective to increase the perception and reality of safe thoroughfare throughout the CBD. So from this, it would appear that Hosier and Rutledge Lanes are pulling their weight. We’ve had fewer reported cases of criminal offences, as reported by the police representative at the Hosier Rutledge Lanes Steering Committee (HRLSC).  Although the increased traffic due to the increasing street buzz would have helped to a degree, thanks must go in large part to the Salvation Army Youth Street Teams who have agreed to patrol the lanes late at night on the weekends. I should add that this service is not necessarily a permanent commitment but more a trial at the behest of the council and Hosier Inc (and in lieu of dedicated lane way personnel, think the likes of Andy Mac!)

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