Street Art is one of the less recognized art forms because of its close association with graffiti. Although they both exist in the public domain, the intentions behind them could not be more different. Whilst one is a rebellious (and criminal) act of vandalism, the other is perceived by the artist and the viewer as making a positive contribution to our urban landscapes. Proudly signed and more frequently executed in broad daylight, they are site specific Art works intended for the enjoyment of all.
Combining a life-long interest in Art with strong business minded skills, it is on the streets of Newcastle that Simone has found her passion and drive to improve a decaying city centre. Involved with Renew Newcastle from its early days, Simone was one of the co-founders of the ARThive, an Artist Run Art Gallery which is still in operation.
While she always had an interest in Street Art and even graffiti, it wasn’t until the wall of ARThive was tagged one night that she fully grasped the negative affect of this practice. Taking this attack on an almost personal level and struggling with the incomprehension of defacing a space fully dedicated to emerging artists (without mentioning the costs associated with its removal), this seemingly random act had the effect of planting a seed in Simone’s mind.
What would happen if rather than painting over the wall with a fresh coat of white paint, effectively providing a blank canvas and inviting another similar episode, the wall was offered as a legal space for artists to display an exclusive and site specific Artwork?
It has been shown that “the positive placement of Art over graffiti” has the effect of deterring such practices. Projects like the May Lane in Sydney or Hosier Lane in Melbourne have seen a natural process of organic curation take place. Although Street Art practices might appear to be born in chaos from an outsider’s point of view, a hierarchy exists within and only the misguided would tag a piece deemed worthy of respect. Other positive results include increased attention to otherwise neglected areas, a sense of “place making” and an opportunity to educate a wider audience to the various facets of an art form as diverse as any other.
This idea took form for the first time in the context of 2010 This Is Not Art (TINA) Festival with “WalkARTbout,” using a series of commissioned artworks to connect the various venues of the festival. While many property owners agreed to play the game knowing that the works would be removed, Simone didn’t expect the positive response that followed. Far from having a negative affect on their property, several owners requested that the pieces remain on a permanent basis. This transition from a temporary proposal to a permanent one naturally lead to Street Art Walking (SAW), Simone’s next initiative.
“SAW is a street art project and collective creating (temporary and permanent) public art spaces” throughout the Newcastle City centre with the aim of revitalizing and connecting dispersed and neglected areas. While Renew Newcastle is focused on activating vacant commercial spaces, SAW aims to create a visible and positive link between these spaces. With a growing collection of works within the city centre, it was essential to Simone for SAW to build itself as a brand and to represent each Artwork as being part of a wider collective rather than being perceived as an interesting but isolated event. I heard recently that a brand is “a promise, an experience and a memory.” Simone’s soft approach to creating a coherent message whilst allowing for unbridled self-expression is setting up a solid framework both for growth and focused curatorial intent.
As the brand gains in significance, so does the name behind the brand. With a growing list of online contacts (600 hundreds artists for which Simone is an informal agent) and increased attention, Simone is currently hard at work building her own brand “Simone Sheridan (creative broker).” Through the New Entreprise Icentive Scheme (NEIS) program, Simone was able to secure a 12 months mentorship and financial support to turn what she has learned into a business able to benefit others and herself. With “one year to make the best of this opportunity,” Simone hopes to secure more permanent sites for Artworks and offer herself as a consultant for anyone interested in developing similar initiatives.
“Simone Sheridan (creative broker)” has just announced her involvement with the Mattara Festival. “Newcastle’s Mattara Festival is a celebration of the city’s people and lifestyle. Established in the spring of 1961, the Festival has been a diverse mix of variety entertainment and an opportunity for local artists to express themselves.” In partnership with Cre8ing Growth, Newcastle will become the site for an outdoor Art Gallery with 10 sites currently secured for an exciting display of unique and engaging Artworks throughout the city. While the Mattara Festival has lost some of its appeal in recent years, Simone hopes that this new component will help attract people into the centre and rekindle a difficult relationship between the community and a city that is changing rapidly.
While the last few years have seen many achievements and significant developments, Simone doesn’t consider her work to be done, far from it. The next 12 months are an opportunity to “invest in herself,” as an artist and an entrepreneur. An attitude which she would like to see reflected more often in the way many artists position themselves, or not, as business makers. The most effective way to achieve something serious is to do it seriously, creating solid foundations able to support ambitious goals. While the list isn’t exhaustive, Simone would like to see Newcastle develop a network of alleyway projects, an annual street art festival and position itself on the cultural map alongside other Australian cities and the rest of the world. With the framework Simone has already started to build up, I can’t see any reason why any of these things wouldn’t be achievable. In fact, aren’t they all already in their infancy?
At a recent talk by Marcus Westbury, a key player in several Novocastrian creative initiatives (Renew Newcastle, TINA, Octapod…), he pointed out that rather than trying to convince people who disagree with your ideas, it is more effective to reach out to people who already agree. While preaching to the converted might seem like a limited strategy, it is also a clever way of building momentum and getting projects out of the ground. Many people may never agree that Street Art and Graffiti are at different ends of the spectrum but perceptions evolve even if it takes time. How does 12 months sound?
If you are an artist or designer and you are using your skills to help others through community based initiatives, I would love to hear from you and help you get the word out there. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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