It may seem unlikely to some, but this northern Queensland city is quickly emerging as a hot spot on the international street art map.
Buildings in Townsville’s CBD are adorned with eye-catching art that has transformed the city into a standout public gallery.
The colorful works form the basis of a Griffith University study of how public art is being used to drive urban regeneration and boost social capital.
Researcher Dr Tony Matthews reviewed 26 artworks that are part of a public art walk.
“They were equal to anything you would see internationally in terms of quality of art, quality of delivery, quality of materials, choice of location,” he said.
The city was one of three regional Queensland sites selected for the study, which interviewed researchers with key public art producers, elected officials, urban planners and public art specialists.
The findings are published in the international journal Cities, which, according to Dr. Matthews Townsville on the international stage.
“The great importance of this research is not that it looks at public art, but also that it looks at regional cities in Australia that are doing really well and that are emerging and should be getting international attention,” he said.
But it didn’t happen overnight.
When Townsville artist Garth Jankovic arrived in town in 1992, the scene didn’t exist.
“I was pretty much the OG [original gangster],” he said.
“The council came on board in the late 90s and started actively participating and nurturing the scene.”
Jankovic teamed up with friend Nicky Prior and pioneered combining First Nations scenes and Euro street styles to create the Girrogul and Soap Tree mural, which is part of the street art walkway.
“If you go to Melbourne, it’s very European graffiti style,” says Jankovic.
“Townsville is a little bit more, you know, you’ve got a little bit more understanding of demographics [and] if you combine street art and graffiti with traditional things, you win a lot more people.”
The 48-year-old has played such a big part in the scene, his portrait is on the art path, painted by mentee and close friend Lee Harnden.
“I don’t go there often because it drives me crazy,” said Jankovic.
The Griffith University research identified a variety of figurative and abstract styles and vibrant colors.
dr. Matthews said that, given the quality of the works, more could be done to promote the trail as a tourist attraction.
“I know the city has a walking guide for the public art trail and it’s quite popular with tourists and has brought in tourists,” he said.
Townsville City Councilor Liam Mooney said it was an ongoing project.
“We are always looking for diverse street artists to work with and property owners within our CBD and beyond to have a canvas for these artists to work on as well,” he said.
Councilor Mooney welcomed the research findings from Griffith University.
“It legitimizes what I believe — that we should devote our time, our efforts and our resources to art spaces,” he said.
Jankovic said the street art scene in Townsville reflects the character of North Queensland.
“It makes people who come there think it’s not just an outback city, or a sea city or a tropical city,” he said.
“It’s kind of a melting pot of all those things together and I think the street art really captures that.”
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