Businesses in Newcastle’s city centre are set to benefit from a council-funded mural program, which seeks to deter vandalism and beautify the streets.

Merewether artist Nick Fintan painting a colourful mural for a small business. Photo: Wall Station

The Small Walls program will deliver 10 murals throughout the CBD between May and October, supporting local artists and increasing physical appeal for businesses.

Project organiser Jacinta Fintan said she was motivated to act after repeatedly encountering vandalism in the city. 

“After the last lockdown I went back to my office in Newcastle’s CBD and there was so much graffiti and tags around my building and throughout the city precinct,” Fintan said.

Art consultant and curator Jacinta Fintan secured $50,000 from City of Newcastle to fund the project.

“It’s not a good feeling walking around the city and it’s all grimy and there are tags everywhere.

“So I thought it was important that something should be done to beautify the area.”

Inspired by a similar initiative developed in Sydney, Fintan set out to secure funding from the City of Newcastle. 

“In Sydney, there was this great initiative that matched businesses with artists who installed murals on walls that were being regularly vandalised,” Fintan said.

“So I thought it would be great if we could get some funding from the council to run a similar version of that here in Newcastle.”

Fintan, who is an art consultant and curator promised it would bring a plethora of benefits to small business owners, and increase the overall aesthetic of Newcastle’s wider CBD.

“For cafe or restaurant owners where patrons are dining outside it can be demoralising to have big tags and vandalism right in front of you,” Fintan said.

“If a space doesn’t look vandalised and grubby, people are more likely to congregate in the area.

“Murals also improve the sense of place, and activate spaces to make them feel safer.”

Fintan engaged in an extensive community consultation process before applying for the grant, and revealed the response from local businesses had been “really supportive”. 

“I went around door knocking and chatting to business owners in the CBD area to get their feedback and to see if they thought a program like this would be relevant to them,” Fintan said.

“I got some really good support and letters of support from a number of businesses and organisations within the CBD.”

The orange zone depicts eligible areas for Small Walls business applicants.

She said that while she only just launched the initiative last week, she’s had a lot of contact from interested business owners and artists wanting to participate.

“Businesses are beginning to register for the information session that I’m hosting in April so they can learn more about the program.”

As a pilot project of sorts, Fintan said she wanted to minimise the costs associated with large-scale mural work. 

“What you find with larger mural walls is that you need big lifts and so much paint, so the costs are much higher,” she said.

“I applied for a smaller amount of funding so that I could work with emerging artists – Small Walls is all about installing murals on walls that you can access with a standard 3- metre A-frame ladder.”

She said the plan would create opportunities for emerging artists across the Hunter and diversify art throughout the city.

“It allows me to work with artists who are at the beginning of their career as far as painting murals goes,” Fintan said.

“While they may be successful artists who exhibit regularly in galleries, they may be looking to step into large scale outdoor mural paintings which is really important.

“It’s a great way to bring in the next generation of street artists and mural artists in Newcastle.”

Small businesses targeted by vandals within Newcastle’s CBD have been encouraged to apply. Photo source: Small Walls

Artists selected for the program will embark on a collaborative process to ensure the murals were appealing to all stakeholders.

“I’m going to secure the walls, then I’ll talk to the different business owners about what might be relevant to put on their walls,” Fintan said.

“Some owners may say anything will do, while a different business may want flora and fauna specifically.”

After Fintan gets a sense of direction of what business owners have in mind, she will link them with different artist portfolios to determine which artist is the right fit. 

“If the business owner and their landlord are happy to proceed, the artist and I will have a discussion with the business owner about the theme.”

A spokesperson for the City of Newcastle said the council was pleased to support the initiative.

“The initiative has been supported through CityCentre and Darby Street Special Business Rates funding, which is reserved exclusively for the promotion, beautification and development of these business precincts,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added that more mural initiatives would be delivered in the coming year to further beatify the CBD precinct such as Big Picture Fest, and the inaugural Little Festival.

Fintan has encouraged small businesses and artists to get involved.

“I just really encourage small businesses in the CBD to apply,” she said.

“It’s a great way to beautify the street fronts if they’re getting vandalised regularly, and it’s a great way to put yourself on the map.”

Maia O’Connor