Over three days in October, large-scale street art festival, the Big Picture Fest, will see world-class artists and local creatives leave their legacy on Newcastle’s skyline and streetscapes by creating awe-inspiring murals on 13 inner-city buildings.
The festival has previously been held in similar post-industrial communities including Port Adelaide and Frankston, drawing upwards of 20,000 people to the inner city throughout the event.
“I moved to the Hunter four years ago, and I’ve had an eye on Newcastle’s large scale buildings since that first time I came here,” said Festival Director, Becky Kiil.
After securing more than $120,000 in funding from City of Newcastle last year under their Special Business Rate grants program, Becky reached out to Adelaide artist and founder of The Big Picture Fest, Vans the Omega, to turn the dream of staging her own Big Picture Fest in Newcastle into a reality.
Other major funding partners have since come on board to support the project, including the Hunter and Central Coast Development Corporation and the University of Newcastle.
Redesigned to be a socially-distanced COVID-safe event in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the festival will hit the streets of Newcastle from October 2 to 4, although locals may notice a few of the larger-scale murals beginning to take shape in the days leading up to the event.
Above: Olas One
Becky believes giving people a chance to see art being created before their own eyes will help form an emotional connection between the crowd and the artwork, especially when so many will showcase the talents of Hunter-based artists.
“We’ll have large scale and medium to very large-scale murals being painted live by 14 artists at 12 major sites throughout the city,” Becky said.
“The nature of this event means it can be spread out, and we can manage each site to ensure people are social distancing, so it’s really lovely that people get to see public art being made, and they get to be out and active while still being COVID safe.
“People will be able to wander as they like throughout the city to see these walls being painted, so they’ll actually have a long sort of emotional connection to the mural because they’ve seen it happen.”
“The artists are local up-and-coming and Australian national level professional artists, and also a couple of really respected international artists.”
Becky said she was excited by the inaugural Newcastle Big Picture Fest line-up, with its three internationally-renowned artists including festival creator Vans the Omega, Sydney artist Fintan Magee and former Toowoomba-based creator Brontë Naylor, who has been living in Newcastle since last year, working alongside 11 talented locals.
“One of the major things that COVID changed was that we had to let go of a couple of international artists because obviously, they couldn’t fly over. But this year we’re just so happy to be supporting so many locals. Out of 14 artists, three are not from the Newcastle region, which is pretty cool.
“Part of what drew me to Newcastle in the first place is that there are some exceptional artists and it’s a creative space. We have this fascinating creative culture that’s very strong and maybe not recognised by mainstream Australia, so this event is going to be an opportunity to establish that recognition.”
Also on the lineup is Newcastle artist Jasmine Miikika Craciun. A proud Barkindji, Malyangapa woman who grew up in Newcastle, Jasmine graduated with a distinction in Bachelor of Visual Communication Design at the University of Newcastle in 2018 and has spent the past three years freelancing as an artist and graphic designer, turning her hand to everything from textiles, painting and illustration to murals, photography, design and animation.
Her participation in Big Picture Fest will be supported by her alma mater, which is the latest funding partner to sign on to the event.
University of Newcastle Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous Strategy and Leadership, Nathan Towney, said the university has a strong track record of providing students with a culturally safe space and remains committed to increasing students and staff’s cultural knowledge and understanding.
“Art provides a window into all cultures and history and hence provides a platform for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the wider community to come together to learn about and celebrate culture,” he said.
“To see our graduates go on to work in the creative field and create art that provides the community with a lens into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is something that makes our university extremely proud.”
Aside from being able to watch the art being created, Big Picture Fest will also involve a range of public programming. While the final details are still being worked out in line with COVID-19 restrictions, Becky said they are discussing everything from live music and artist workshops to roving theatre and guided walks.
Paper maps and a digital guide accessible via the City of Newcastle app will help direct visitors around the art festival trail, while also encouraging them to explore and interact with businesses in the Hunter Street Mall, Darby Street, Civic and Newcastle West precincts.
Becky believes the impact of the festival will last far longer than its three-day program.
“It’s going to create this ongoing amazing vibrancy in the CBD. The whole goal is to be able to bring foot traffic into the city, bring excitement into the city and economic growth from that,” she said.
“It’s also about increasing the visibility of Newcastle and identification of Newcastle as a vibrant creative space that is desirable not just for locals, but tourists as well. Big Picture Fest is just going to be emphasising that we are a cutting edge, modern city for locals and visitors to enjoy.”
It’s little wonder that Becky is so passionate about promoting Newcastle, given the first thing she did after moving here was create a business designed to highlight its attractions.
Called Newcastle Afoot, the small tour business offers guided walks and experiences that focus on Newcastle’s exciting community.
Big Picture Fest will run from October 2 to 4. For more information check out their Facebook page or visit www.newcastleafoot.com.au/big-picture-fest-newcastle