Can Industry and the Arts work together? What are the obstacles to such a project? What are the ruptures and what is the nature of the success when it actually comes together? This is the story of street artists working with a large corporate sponsor: the ANZ bank. I was the curator and project manager of this event which resulted in four walls in Sydney’s CBD exhibiting the works of street artists: Adnate; Kaffine and Elk.
The following three videos showcase the content and significance of the works:
Jenny Munro by Adnate, Haymarket
Wiradjuri elder, Jenny Munro, is the founder of the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy.
One of Australia’s foremost street artists and big wall painters, Internationally recognised big wall artist Matt Adnate is famous for painting indigenous portraits.
Katherine Hudson by Kaff-eine, Bondi Junction
LGBTI activist Katherine Hudson is a co-founder of Wear It Purple, a schools-based anti-bullying campaign to arrest the scourge of LGBTI youth suicide.
Street artist Kaff-eine is known for her unique visual style in combining illustration and quirky caricature.
Father Dave Smith by E.L.K., Martin Place
‘Fighting’ Father Dave Smith is the founder of youth centres helping disengaged or disadvantaged adolescents challenged by drug addiction.
Sydney-based artist, Luke Cornish, a.k.a. E.L.K., is known for his interpretative approach using layered, handmade stencils.
This project was highly successful from the artists’ point of view and the causes they represent. Equally, it was successful from the corporate perspective: it was the second most successful online campaign the ANZ bank has ever had, gaining from it $5,000,000 worth of advertising. What I have asked myself is, is this partnership an anomaly or is this the reality of the contemporary world whereby former ideological enemies (capital and art) have no choice but to build bridges? I hope that it is the former. The processes of working with corporate management did not come without its challenges. I do acknowledge that some may have been a result of my naivete and eagerness to see the project realised; I am sure that anyone with experience in working with large corporations and government would have predicted that long delays and frustrations were inevitable. However, I feel that the struggles I underwent taught me the extent to which Australia’s cultural horizons have broadened. It is reassuring to experience the fact that a bank such as the ANZ, as the principal sponsor of the project, recognized that the Australian climate has changed and that it is within their remit and that of their customers to support an art project of this scale which advances the cause of marginalised groups in the community.
The agenda at first seemed straightforward. Firstly, I was to find the artists. Having long worked with street artists in my varied roles as gallery owner and director, this was the easy part. The second step was to find four walls across four suburbs. I viewed at least 100 walls and put in applications for 40 of them. It seemed to go well at first, despite the lengthy preparation of each application which took at least a week to formulate. After arduous work, I managed to get through the various and varied council processes (the complications of which would take an hour to outline). However, officials within the ANZ (and as anyone who has worked with large corporate entities will attest, there are always committees upon committees working at different tiers of importance and each step required ratification) then decided that the four walls must be in the CBD.
Unlike Melbourne, there are few available and suitable walls in Sydney. Naturally, after all my efforts, I felt blighted. Not only did I have to reject the ones that I had fought so hard to secure and for which the owners were enthusiastic to be used, and were understandably disappointed, but I had to begin lengthy negotiations again. This entailed at least 100 further meetings in the search and securing of the final walls. Daily, the project went from high promise in the morning to collapse at the end of the day There was the time I successfully attained a perfect wall in George Street. Follow up meetings with the ANZ were resoundingly positive and I felt that this was a major achievement. But woe to me, the owner of the building just before the contract was signed wanted to choose the artists. And it was back to square one.
I need a contemporary Franz Kafka to encapsulate the sheer absurdity of bureaucratic obstacles when trying to get a project of this kind up. I recall with some horror another wall that was secured and preliminarily approved for use by the council. I was ecstatic until I was informed that it must go to the City of Sydney Arts review committee. This committee does not meet often and so the approval, if secured, would only come through seven days after the agreed launch date. In order for this project to work, the four portraits were to emerge and be painted in the same week. To realise this, the launch date kept getting extended and I kept going to Sydney leaving my wife at home too many times with a newly born baby. I spent most of my time placating the teams of scaffold builders, film crews, traffic controllers, and very impatient artists all waiting on standby for the go-ahead.
Each of the final walls involved 180 meetings. There were different people at the meetings each time and sometimes a casual throwaway line like, ‘shouldn’t all the paintings be done in ANZ colours,’ would send me plummeting, although I did learn never to look flustered. Imagine the possible expression on my face when it was announced that one of the walls, selected so that a portrait 40 meters high would adorn it, must, according to a relevant official, be reduced to five metres by three metres. At one point I had to go to the Mayor to plead our case when yet another decision was made that undermined the project. These obstacles represent only a few of the many. All the while negotiations advanced at a snail’s pace, the artists had been paid and were waiting to commence the work. We were always in danger of losing them as timelines constantly changed.
I think during the period of this project I only ever talked about walls and my family has banned me from ever using the word ‘wall’ again. The Berlin wall came tumbling down at the end of the cold war; the success of the Sydney walls and the portraits were sustained by a turbulent hot war between the whims and necessity of capital; the awareness of new audiences championing the causes of the marginalised and downtrodden, and the desire of the artist to create something beautiful that would not only interpret the world but also change it. Would I take on a project such as this again? Judged by the reaction of Sydney to the wonderful work that was created by these artists, I would have to answer with a resounding ‘Yes!’