What was once barren brick walls covered in scrawls of graffiti and surrounded by long grass is now a bold and bright representation of Canberra’s local culture and history.
After sitting unused for 14 years, Canberra street artists have turned the old Police and Community Youth Clubs (PCYC) building in Turner into a work of art.
A group of 26 artists have spent the last eight weeks painting a little of Canberra’s story on their own slice of the building’s façade, visible to whoever wanders past.
The artworks are many and varied, from a tribute to Stasia Dabrowski, the beloved “soup kitchen lady” who died earlier this year, to a formidable portrait of Raiders player Josh Papalii.
It’s all part of Transport Canberra and City Services’ (TCCS) effort to beautify the area and make use of the site while it is unused — and for the project’s coordinator Dai Cameron, it was an exciting opportunity for street and graffiti artists to be part of history.
“These projects are extremely important for the street art scene,” Mr Cameron said.
“It’s exciting, and it was a pleasure to be a part of the project. It really brings so much to the space and for the audience walking by.”
Making use of a wasted site
The PCYC’s Turner site has sat desolate since closing in 2006 due to major water damage to its roof.
In the years since then it fell victim to vandals, with tagging and graffiti a common sight across its walls.
“There was a lot of untidy graffiti with a lot of foul language and that sort of thing all over it,” Canberra PCYC’s chief executive Cheryl O’Donnell said.
“It just really wasn’t appealing at all to the public.”
The building’s ongoing destruction had been of concern to the PCYC for some time.
So, when TCCS proposed a joint project between street artists and the PCYC, Ms O’Donnell saw a perfect solution.
“I jumped at [the idea], because it’s bright, it’s colourful, and it means that there’s less opportunity for people to damage it, because they respect the work of the artists,” Ms O’Donnell said.
In fact, TCCS graffiti coordinator Lisa Petheram said turning dilapidated buildings into canvases can act as a deterrent for future tagging.
“The way this project was designed, it integrated the artists themselves into the works, and that can help with illegal tagging,” Ms Petheram said.
“We would prefer people to ask us first [if they want to tag]. That way we can integrate artists into a project.”
An opportunity for artist and community alike
Alongside the project being a visual delight for the wider community, another highlight was seeing artists who don’t normally work together collaborate.
“A lot of the artists that were involved were from really different backgrounds,” Ms Petheram said.
“We had some people who hadn’t worked together and street artists and graffiti artists don’t commonly work together either, so it was really interesting for us to see that collaboration happen.”
And, the results speak for themselves.
“It’s just amazing to look at. It gives people something to wander around and talk about.”
What exactly will become of the old PCYC building in the future is still uncertain; there had been plans to turn the site into a therapeutic accommodation and support hub, but nothing has been formalised.
But for now at least, the brightly painted walls are there for all to enjoy.