Lismore streets pave way for artistic expression

17 September 2014
Van Helten spray-painted the first mural on Lismore's Ballina St Bridge in 2011. Photo: Guido Van Helten
Van Helten spray-painted the first mural on Lismore's Ballina St Bridge in 2011. Photo: Guido Van Helten

The Northern Rivers is known for the diversity of its residents and their carefree and artistic views, so it is no surprise that Lismore has become home to a growing collection of sanctioned street art.

Local artists have gained approval from Lismore City Council to create street art in the back alleys and on building walls.

The main site of street art can be found in the Back Alley Gallery. Located in Eggins Lane off Carrington Street, BAG is a council-approved space of mural art and is designed to enliven the streets of Lismore.

The gallery displays colourful art displays painted on the large exterior rear walls of CBD businesses.  

Erin Lewis is the project manager of the Back Alley Gallery and believes the murals are of great value for Lismore and provide a platform for local artists.

“It’s been about trying to give artists the chance to express themselves in a less conventional way and the space to do so. Graffiti culture is so appealing to young people.”

The community support aims to create greater room for artistic expression while conveying a clear distinction between vandalising graffiti and street art. The street artists have used spray paint to create colourful images on what were once plain and exposed walls.

Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell said the laneways provided an opportunity for the regional city.

“Lismore is unusual in regional cities in that the CBD is a square rather than a strip. The lanes were neglected and covered in tags,” said Mayor Dowell.

“We applied for and received initial funding for the first stage about five years ago. Now we add to it yearly with funds from council and the business community.”

The gallery is funded by the Lismore Promotion Program which program provides financial assistance for local events and maintains Lismore’s city centre and the surrounding streets. This is achieved through a levy that each business in Lismore's CBD contributes to.

Street art festivals are more commonly held in more populous cities but Lismore has enabled a pathway for ambitious artists and tourism by creating a street art culture in the Northern Rivers. 

The Back Alley Gallery, which held its third annual party in August at Eggins Lane with artists creating live street art, draws locals and tourists daily to view its ever-changing collection.   

The Back Alley Gallery is now being used as a outdoor venue for events including Sample Magazine launch of its latest on September 12.

Recognised artists in Australia such as Phibs, Basix, Snarl and Sbeck were involved in the street art of Eggins Lane. Local artists include Jeremy Austin, Fintan Magee and Guido Van Helten.

Guido Van Helten graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Southern Cross University and has achieved international success with his career. Most recently, Van Helten has created street murals in Greenland.

Van Helten was responsible for the 2011 Ballina Road bridge mural at Riverside Park, which was commissioned by Lismore Council. 

Riverside Park on the edge of the Lismore CBD is another location in Lismore where street art is regularly updated under the approving eyes of council. 

Murals at both locations have helped reduced graffiti and tagging on town infrastructure. The murals have received positive feedback from local residents.

Jonathan Bailey, a resident of Lismore for five years, is thankful for the artwork that has covered the graffiti on the bridge at Riverside park.

“The council permits [street artists] to use the supporting walls of the bridge for murals. It is a better plan than having people illegally graffiti in public places.”

“Before it was painted over it looked absolutely terrible, it resembled a slum. What is there now shows fine talent in our town,” said Bailey.