Story & photos Melissa Hargraves
A grey slab of concrete has recently morphed into high-end street art. The levee wall, near the Lismore Transit Centre and neighbouring Regional Art Gallery, received attention as part of the Cultural Pride Project. The aim was to not only brighten up an ordinary space, but to empower young people to make good life choices and engage in what they love in a way that is healthy for them while acknowledging and celebrating the diverse community they live in.
As part of the Cultural Pride Project, 15 young Aboriginal, African, and other non-Aboriginal people have completed a six-week course at TAFE on art in the community. The art is colourful and vibrant and the word PRIDE is the loudest image.
Ian Yuke, an Indigenous teenager, told Echonetdaily, ‘It is important to have places of cultural pride around our town’.
Nicholas Walker, a local Indigenous man, commented, ‘it was an amazing experience, working with people from all around the world’.
Jack Tinning, a local teenager, spent a long time preparing the foundations for the art.
‘It has really brightened up the space and it invites people to come and look at it,’ he said. ‘It’s not every day you get this many cultures working together on a project as big as this,’ he told Echonetdaily.
Paul Phillips was responsible for obtaining the grant from Council for the Cultural Pride Project. His intention was to work with all the cultures in the area to start having some ownership of the town. Paul is a youth worker and a community development worker. He works for The Buttery drug and alcohol rehab centre, which has an outreach philosophy of capacity building and early intervention.
‘A lot of the young people here don’t necessarily have drug and alcohol problems, but they are at risk. So we try to engage them in positive activities and bring in role models as well,’ Paul said.
‘This project is street art, not graffiti. Graffiti is an old word that people associate with vandalism. We chose this space in the CBD for maximum exposure.’
I asked Paul if he has any future spaces he has his sights on.
‘Always. We currently have one going at Wardell, under the bridge, with the local kids. We are starting another one in a couple of weeks at the Goonellabah skate park.’
Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell was present to admire the space. On a personal level she explained how great it made her feel when she drove around the Magellan/Molesworth Street roundabout.
‘It is one thing to say to young people you are welcome in this space. It is another step to say this is your space. That is what this says.’
I asked Jenny to comment on uniting different cultures on a shared project.
‘It is true that in the early days when our African refugees first arrived there wasn’t a good relationship with our African young people and our Aboriginal young people.
‘This collaboration is really showing that each one has talents and artistic expression forms that can work together. It is a wonderful message of togetherness and I am delighted.’
Teachers and mentors joined in for the experience. Ballina-based Southern Cross Distance Education employs Alex O’Reilly, who runs a support centre at Coraki. Most of his students are disengaged from school, usually around Year 8.
‘This project is about making participants feel proud and comfortable to come out into the general community and be who they are.
‘Actively doing things, especially for these younger guys, works so well. You can sit in class and theorise about it, but life experience is what makes the difference.’
Lismore TAFE art teacher Rene Bolten was involved in the project. His birthday nicely aligned with the final day of the project. He cooked an amazing flourless chocolate cake that was distributed amongst the gathering.
There to add local Indigenous references to the project was local Indigenous artist/educator, Luke Close.
‘Ceremony ground designs, shield designs and line markers from the Bundjalung and Widjabul traditions have been used. The local content flows in with the running river behind the wall. It feels good giving back to the whole community in a positive way.’
There is Indigenous significance at the site. As the project was a multicultural joint effort, I asked Luke if he could expand on Indigenous relationships in a multicultural context.
‘We live with all the cultures in Lismore and that is important to be represented. This is Widjabul country. It is host to people from a lot of nations and cultures. We all share the air, we are all sharing the land and the energy so why not represent that in art.’