Street art or Graffiti? A discussion of the Melbourne street art policy

Introduce something related to this blog

Obviously, street art have played a vital role in the city of Melbourne, not only observed at the famous and popular areas in Center Business Districts (CBD), such as Hosier lane, but also observed in the rural areas of Melbourne alongside the train rail. At the same time, Melbourne has been characterized by street art. However, street art also annoys the politicians and some residents of Melbourne, and it is defined as criminal behavior, so called ‘illegal graffiti’. This blog will focus on this field of cultural policy from three dimensions after a brief review of street arts and public policy in Melbourne, cultural matter, cultural policy matter and policy matter. It will argue that street art successfully promote the development of local society and economy, and the policy of street art balances power between artists and residents, providing the right of negotiation between artists and residents. However, it is not a perfect cultural policy because it does not protect and promote the development of street art.

Brief reviews of street art and public policy in Melbourne

Let us review some history of street art in Melbourne firstly. The first street art in the city of Melbourne can be referred to the 1850s, which were recorded by the city (Marr, 2016). Then, the form of street art was slogan graffiti, which is anonymous, legible, political in nature, and written with the goal of provoking dialogue, and it became popular after World War II from the beginning of the 20th century to the 1970s (Cooper & Sandlin, 2020). This character has been inherited to today actually. In the 1980s, the street art of Hip-pop style became popular because it is influenced by the style of New York, and also the street art occurred in the rural areas of Melbourne alongside the railway line (Cooper & Sandlin, 2020; Marr, 2016). After the 21st century, the style of street art is familiar to the public. Meanwhile, the municipal government began to focus on street art, accompanied by the redevelopment of Melbourne city.

There are a range of inconsistent policies about street arts in the city of Melbourne, accompanied by the development of the street art. On the one hand, street art are defined as criminal behaviors because it is thought of as a danger symbol of disorder and crime (Cooper & Sandlin, 2020; Marr, 2016).Therefore, it is defined as ‘vandalism’ by municipal government and police. On the other hand, the municipal government began to accept the street arts because it makes Melbourne becoming popular all around the world after the 21st century. Therefore, they re-defined the street art and graffiti. Here is the newest public policy of street art, namely ‘Graffiti Management Policy 2021’. They define:

‘Graffiti is defined as writing or drawings scribbled, scratched or sprayed on a wall or other surface in a public place. Graffiti can include images, writing, posters, stickers and stencils, but is often word based and can span complex or abstract letter based designs called tagging. A graffiti tag is a personalised signature of the graffiti writer’

‘Street art is a 2-dimensional, visual art form presented on surfaces in public places. It can include murals, graffiti, stencilled painting, paste up or sticker art, video projection, sculpture or material surface treatments.’

And divide the street arts or graffiti into legal and illegal forms:

‘If graffiti or street art is placed on building facades or infrastructure without the permission of the owner, it is classified as illegal graffiti or street art and can be removed.’

‘If graffiti or street art is placed on building facades or infrastructure with the permission of the owner, and complies with planning and heritage regulations, it is classified as legal graffiti or street art.’

Culture matter:

Street art successfully promote the development of local society and economy, not only in history, but also at the present. The behaviour of street arts can be seen as a democratisation and communication. This is because during the 20th century, it was used as a forum to send messages about local issues, such as unfair housing policy, gentrification of Melbourne, creating a public dialogue around political and cultural issues (Cooper & Sandlin, 2020; Marr, 2016). Moreover, Cooper and Sandlin (2020) identify five aspects of its benefits, including 1) subverting routine and authority; 2) reclaiming public commons and democratic forms of practice; 3) democratising art; 4) giving voice to disenfranchised citizens; 5) promoting critical learning and community among participants. Therefore, street arts as parts of local culture can improve social cohesion, addressing social issues.

On the other hand, it is obvious that street arts attract huge numbers of people, not only in Australia, but also all over the world. When people talk about the city of Melbourne, they must mention the street arts areas, and lots of famous people and celebrities post their photos in instagram and facebook. Therefore, it may attract more tourists to come to Melbourne. Meanwhile, the artists and creators will create new street arts every week or month. Therefore, it is a sustainable economy, and street arts can be defined as sustainable art forms as well. Street art plays an important role in the development of city economy and local culture.

Cultural policy matter:

This cultural policy may limit the development of local street arts. This is because it is not to protect and promote the interests of artists and creators. Street arts (including other cultural forms) is defined as ‘public goods’, which means non-rival and non-excludability, and this term can lead to market failure. Therefore, the common market phenomenon is that there is a thriving arts market, but the artists can not earn enough money to support themselves. Meanwhile, because of the spillover effect of arts, other industries such as tourism industry, hospitality industry and transportation would thrive as well. In the city of Melbourne, street art has attracted huge numbers of tourists all around the world, but the policy does not fairly distribute the interests that street arts provide to artists. On the other hand, if the government can not provide a fair distribution of interests, they can unfetter artists or creators, making them create arts more freedom. Although we have to admit that the disorder of graffiti is not beneficial for the image of the city, this policy looks like it offends the concept of ‘western democracies’ — public production of cultural goods and services.

Policy matter:

However, this policy successfully balances the interests between the public and artists. This is because politics can be understood as the behaviour of striving to share power or striving to influence the distribution of power among groups within a state (Weber, 1946). Therefore, the Graffiti Management Policy 2021 achieves a fair distribution of power because it focuses on the admission of property owners. If the artists get the admission from the property owners, their street art are legal. This reflects the concept of ‘liberalism’.

Conclusion something related to this blog

This blog has discussed the cultural policy of street art from three dimensions, cultural matter, cultural policy matter as well as policy matter, and has provided a simple history of street art and cultural policy in Melbourne. It has argued that street art actively contribute to the development of local society and economy, and cultural policy has achieved a balance between artists and residents. However, this policy does not address the issues of distribution of interests that artists create, thus not beneficial for the development of street arts. It is recommended that even though it is hard to achieve a fair distribution of interests, the government can provide some foods, drinks, vouchers or even dwellings for artists and creators, and thus keep them basic living standards. It is undeniable that street arts has played a key role in Melbourne.


Cooper, J., & Sandlin, J. A. (2020). Intra-active pedagogies of publicness: Exploring street art in Melbourne, Australia. Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 28(3), 421–443.

Graffiti Management Policy (2021)

Graffiti Management Policy

Gerth, H. H., & Mills, C. W. (1946). Politics as a Vocation. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, 77–128.

Marr, A. (2016). “Beauty is the Street.” The Evolution of Graffiti Practices in Melbourne, Australia (Doctoral dissertation, University of Otago).

Managing graffiti



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