This is the fourth in a series of interviews with alumni from the School for Social Entrepreneurs Australia which runs learning programs across Australia for people from all backgrounds that have an idea or business with a community benefit.
Established in 2008 in the Blue Mountains (NSW), Street Art Murals Australia (SAMA) has painted over 100 professional street art murals for a wide range of public and private clients. Notably SAMA has completed commissioned works for The Big Day Out Music Festival, international pharmaceutical company Pfizer, and Sydney Trains. Their innovative asset based community development approach to graffiti was recognised when they were named a 2011 ZEST Award Winner for Exceptional Project in a Not for Profit Organisation.
SAMA founder and coordinator Jarrod Wheatley is a published author and highly regarded authority in the area of Graffiti Management Strategies. SAMA works with the community to reduce the negative impacts of graffiti through employing the principles of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. Equally, SAMA aims to support young artists by fostering social inclusion and advocating for street art’s legitimacy on a national stage.
[Public Art] will have a positive impact on both individual artists and the overall quality of the area’s street art. It is also likely to improve the business image and beautify the space. Creating urban art on your business wall is also the most effective measure available to combat vandalism.streetartmurals.com.au/
Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
I am a social worker and enjoy working with young people. I spent four years managing a youth centre in Katoomba (NSW) and met the graffiti sub-culture. They are, as a whole, an at-risk, alienated sub-culture that has very little contact with community services and has high levels of criminality. They also are very talented and want to be engaged in arts projects. I decided to work with them, using an asset-based approach, utilising their talent and desire to be creative as the foundations for the project. I started organising walls for them to paint legal murals on, aiming to validate young people’s place in the community, foster a healthy creative outlet for youth and break down barriers between young people and the greater community.
After a number of years we started working with senior street artists, increasing the quality of our products and aiming to legitimise street art on a national stage. Now we also aim to provide professional development for our artists and build a more inclusive society.
To answer what made me jump in – I couldn’t bear to see a community asset like street art being squandered by government, while 100s of millions of tax payers dollars is washed away on graffiti management strategies that deliver poor results for young people and their greater community. There is a better way.
Please explain your business model
We sell three products to fund our social venture: Murals, Workshops and Consultancy Services.
We sell professional street art murals to public and private clients in all shapes and sizes. We act as the link between the community and some of the most talented street artists in the country. We provide the legal infrastructure and logistics to make sure that it is a headache-free experience for all involved.
We sell workshop and education products to a range of clients, such as high schools, youth centres and individuals who want to learn how to paint street art. Our youth centres and schools workshops allow us to continue to work at a grass roots level, teaching young people the practical and theoretical components of aerosol art and the difference between art and vandalism.
We work with local governments and community groups to help people understand and respond appropriately to street art and graffiti. We have assisted a number of Local Governments to implement community-friendly graffiti management strategies. We have a great track record of saving councils money while delivering strong results for the community.
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?
Right now we are working on a Street Art Walk in Katoomba. The space consists of 40 walls, the majority of which are three stories high. We plan to develop the space into a art precinct where street artists can paint their own designs. It will make a big difference to the legal space available to artists to showcase their work and will greatly benefit the town with increased tourism.
How do you make ideas happen?
We get excited about ideas; once we are exited it is contagious! We look to partner with people/organisations, there is power in numbers and its good to share the love and workload!
The key to our ability to make ideas happen is that we understand the street art culture and we understand the community expectations. Our ability to balance these cultures and act as the link allows us to gain legal project approvals and attract high quality street artists.
What does your typical day look like?
Most days I start in one of my favorite coffee shops. After a few hours of ‘paperwork’ on the laptop and a number of espressos, I head out for any meetings that are organised. On the exciting days I would then have a mural project in the afternoon, I would organise the logistics for the painting and then sit back with some more work on the laptop and watch the art come together!
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?
Unlike many countries around the world, Australia still has a very conservative approach to dealing with street art and graffiti.
Australia has opted for a zero tolerance approach to urban art and elected to rely on punitive measures to control vandalism.
Bringing legally sound street art into the community has been challenging at times. We have had to develop comprehensive policies and procedures to meet community expectations. Aerosol cans can be quite emotive for some individuals, however in our experience once they meet the artists and see the finished artwork the vast majority of people love it!
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
Daniel Flynn (founder of Thankyou Water) once told me that “people partner with opportunities, not ideas”. This is something that rings true for me with all the work that I do. I always look to move projects forward and to start them as soon as possible. Potential partners are attracted to momentum!
What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry at the moment?
In the street art industry in Australia:
Or google images from these great Aussie artists: “PHIBS” or “ADNATE”
There is a fantastic Urban art festival in Cologne, Germany called “Cityleaks”.
Or google videos from these international artists “broken fingaz crew” or “blu blu”.
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
Provide the wall space they have to public art! Either by commissioning art works or opening up spaces for artists to paint their own work.
This will have a positive impact on both individual artists and the overall quality of the area’s street art. It is also likely to improve the business image and beautify the space. Creating urban art on your business wall is also the most effective measure available to combat vandalism. SAMA has painted well over 100 murals, none of which were vandalised in the first five years.
Speaking of affecting social change, is there a particular charity you’d like our readers to support?
I think UNICEF do some fantastic work.
Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.
For great workshops in Sydney – http://www.work-shop.com.au
As a good news supplement – The Conversation
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?
We will be running a crowdfunding campaign from the 1st of August and any support would be appreciated!
Also, we are currently looking for some help updating our terms and conditions when selling murals.
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
A little known gem in the Blue Mountains, a restaurant called 1923.
Perfect for any weekend get-a-way weekends in the Blue Mountains. Fine dinning food and great prizes and you can BYO your own wine most days of the week.
17. We thought it would be cool to crowdsource an annual prize to award to the interviewee’s choice (each person interviewed gets one vote) winner for the year’s best interview. Are you willing to kick in a prize?
You’d be welcome to a copy or two of our hardcover street art books as a prize, Not really a big enough to be a first prize, but maybe for the runner up. 🙂