May 19, 2014

Guest contributions

Every Wednesday night a group of talented young men gather in a studio, come to practice their art form and create amazing pieces of work. But rather than using brushes or pencils, these guys have a different sort of medium in mind.

Spray painting and street art are often only thought of as graffiti, the illegal defacing of someone else’s property. The guys involved in the Street Art program know this – many of them have been caught on the wrong side of the law through their own graffiti. The program offers them a legal opportunity to turn away from that, while still enabling them to continue developing their skills and enjoying creating street art.

The Street Art program is run by Banyule Council Youth Services’ Youth Engagement Officer Jess Sayers. Jess believes that the participants don’t “generally always realise the impact that [the graffiti] has on the community” – in her experience, it’s barely ever to harm anyone, it’s just about “being with their mates, it’s about feeling needed and wanted.”


Research had shown that street art style murals tend to prevent future and further graffiti tagging over the mural location, and in 2006 the program was started with the intent to use this proactively as a graffiti deterrent. Cam, a known and respected young artist, was appointed to create murals in areas that had been heavily ‘tagged’, and as the evidence of the effectiveness of this strategy mounted and the program became more known, young people began expressing their interest in becoming involved. Weekly workshops commenced in 2009, the program moved to Jets multifunctional creative arts youth facility in Bundoora, and the Banyule Youth Street Art Program was underway.

Workshops last two hours, and involve first sketching potential designs, while staff members catch up with each participant and check in with how they’re doing, and then the ‘painting’ begins. The participants’ designs are drawn with the intention of creating a mural of sorts in a graffiti-prone location agreed upon by both the members of the program and those of the community – the participants are heavily involved in this process of negotiation, learning great skills along the way. Together, the participants create works of art that they get to display publically and legally in the community.

The coordinators of the program want more than this for their participants, however. They ensure that the staff group is skilled in dealing with AOD (Alcohol and Other Drugs), homelessness and other issues facing young people in the community, so that they can better offer support for the young men involved. Cam, as a skilled and respected graffiti artist, was appointed to become a leader of the program, as someone who could demonstrate in practice the positive pathways in which the participants’ art could take them, and be a positive mentor to the group of young guys. He believes that the program is a “great way to reach out to kids that you normally wouldn’t come in contact with,” and a “good way to channel a lot of kids that are on the wrong path.”


The team delivers harm minimisation messages constantly in regards to illicit substances, which many participants are known to be using, and provide consistent approaches to unacceptable behaviour, racism, and inappropriate talk. Referral paperwork and information regarding housing, accommodation and drug issues are always kept on hand. This is all necessary when you consider the backgrounds of the young men involved.

The participants in the street art program, while ranging in age from 12 to 22, share similar backstories and problems. They are known to have been involved in the graffiti community, but more to the point are young people who are extremely at risk, with complex issues in their lives – the program is the only stable thing they have and that they attend regularly.

“A lot of them have never really been given a chance, to be honest,” says Jess Sayers.  “And they come here and do such amazing work. We have done murals for scout halls, to primary schools, to footy clubs – it really re-engages them in the community that might normally exclude them.”

The aim of the street art program is to increase their community connectedness and confidence – which helps them to make better decisions about graffiti and allows them to engage in more positive activities such as education or work. The participants value the program and the staff involved, and acknowledge the difference it has made in their lives. “It’s helped me defer away from illegal graffiti,” states James, one such member. “I’m here instead of on the streets.”

streetart 073

Participants of the street art program are given an alternative outlet through which to express their creativity and ideas, which Jess believes has benefits for the whole community. In March 2013, Greensborough Plaza was the venue for the first Youth Street Art Awards, in which participants’ artwork was displayed and voted on by members of the public in an effort to really promote street art in a positive light to the community. In the future, the group would like to start selling their artwork to the community through various mediums like canvases, shirts and hats, and creating commercial walls for profit. Future employment incorporating their street art and the skills gained through the program is on the minds of every participant, who are really hoping to put their graffiti days behind them.

After all, as James says, “Who wants to go to jail for art?”

Click here to see local murals.

For more information or to register interest for this program please contact:
Jess Sayers
Phone: 0428 522 656 or 9457 9855
Email: Jessica.Sayers@banyule.vic.gov.au
Private message the program organisers on Facebook: facebook.com/BanyuleYouthServices

– Kelson Hunter

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