Wollongong’s earlier development was largely driven by heavy industry and especially the steel works at nearby Port Kembla. Now, with these mainstays of the economy in terminal decline, the city is facing the same issues faced by many others around the world – how to find a new identity and create new social and economic opportunities? While parts of the city certainly mirror its decline substantial efforts have also been made to encourage tourism and refresh parts of the city centre. The city hall, arts centre and newly renovated shopping areas at the top end of the mall certainly contribute to this renewal. As does the Wonderwalls street art festival held in October 2015.
One of the most degrading aspects of urban decline is the spread of low grade tagging and artless, messy graffiti by kids with no taste and even less talent. On the other hand, one of the most inspiring and energising options available is a carefully curated street art festival. While street art continues to draw on the anarchic spirits that drove its earlier development – and will likely continue to do so – the best work transcends these modest origins. A well-organised festival pays tribute to local artists and also draws in others who’ve made their mark, so to speak, elsewhere. Wonderwalls is a great example of this as there are now some 20 or more sites around the central city where the interested resident or visitor can find legal works of outstanding quality.
Take a look, for example, at the quite brilliant work of Melbourne street artist Smug high on a contemporary wall on Burelli Street. Work of this kind with its particularly Australian references is as good as it gets. Adnate and Rone, also from Melbourne, also have two fine pieces near the intersection of Keira and Smith Streets. On a modest wall in Town Hall Place, Scott Marsh from Sydney has a dramatic image of a boy that’s Fauvist in its striking use of colour. Alternatively you can chuckle at the humour of BMD from Wellington, New Zealand, just around the corner from the police station.
There’s a lot more to discover that reflects well on a city in transition. Further details of artists and their works can be found on the Wonderwalls site here.