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Peter Dornauf: Street art rejuvenates urban landscape 18 April, 2017

OPINION: Apparently Christchurch is listed in the Lonely Planet Guide as one of the top cities for its street art, along with London (famous for Banksy), and New York.

Obviously, the people who make these calls have not visited Hamilton recently. If they had, they'd have seen that the city is blooming with bold, brightly coloured graphic images both in the CBD and in Hamilton East. This is a fairly recent phenomenon promoted by people associated with BOON, a biannual street art festival involving Creative Waikato, to animate the precincts by way of street art on a spare wall near you.

The latest round of paintings took place a couple of weeks back with artists from around the country contributing to the rejuvenation of the urban landscape



Story from - Photography DOMINICO ZAPATA/FAIRFAX NZ

Two sites have felt the presence of the artist spray can in Hamilton East while others in the city, especially a wall in Collingwood Street, have presented spectacular murals with funky abstract and pop art designs.

My particular favourite, created two years ago, would have to be a work by Hamilton artist Eliza Webster and her dancing, prancing figures cavorting across the wall beneath the Claudelands overbridge. Jeremy Shirley is another who has brightened up many a bus shelter across the town. He's also painted the mural that adorns the wall adjacent to the Riff Raff sculpture.

Hamilton is well served by its creative community and Mesh is another arts organisation which has added enormously to the city street art in the form of modern, eye-catching sculptures. A fourth is in the pipeline, gratis to the city, to be located near the riverbank.


Two other philanthropic groups which enhance and add value to the look of our streetscape are Toti and Riff Raff Public Arts trust which have donated works that both celebrate and commemorate the past as it pertains to Hamilton and its history. The Riff Raff statue also features in Lonely Planet.

A city that ignores its past and heritage becomes a barren, soulless place, lacking a sense of history, identity or continuity. It may seem odd but there is another form of street art that people may not immediately associate with the term which has the capacity to embody the positive qualities mentioned above. Buildings that line the streets of a city are where both history, memory and aesthetics intersect. These constructions, architecturally designed, are in reality giant forms of sculpture. Some are beautiful, some less so. A city with soul will have administrators who carefully construct and implement legislation that both protects the past and enhances the future look of a place in terms of its architectural character and inheritance.

Hamilton and it administrators have been a little slow out of the blocks in this department. Heritage consultant Dr Ann McEwan proposed back in 2013 that the historic Euphrasie House (a rare Spanish Mission-style building on Clyde Street) be listed by Heritage New Zealand. The proposal was received but never actioned. Now the building is being demolished. Someone also, it seems, didn't look too closely at the "independent" commissioner's independence, who granted resource consent to demolish the beautiful heritage site. It's been pointed out that the man had a working relationship with the diocese, and thus a potential conflict of interest was involved.

Dr McEwan was on one of the panels that advised Hamilton City Council on matters of heritage preservation but those voluntary panels were astonishingly disestablished in the very first meeting of the new council back in January of this year.

Recently the demolition crew have gone in and started to dismantle the beautiful old convent, prompting some in the community to use another form of street art to declare their abhorrence of such action. Various denunciations were drawn in chalk on the wall adjacent to the building, statements that summed up people's anger toward the Bishop and the diocese. Words and phrases such as, "sacrilegious desecration", "sinful", "May God forgive you", "Urban Terrorists", "Hamilton Vandals" and "Shame on you, Bishop Steve", were chalked up on the parameter red brick wall.

The bishop had been visited by both local and national politicians on both sides of the house, but their pleas and offers of help obviously fell on deaf ears.

The whole sad scenario was summed up by an online blogger who wrote: "What annoys me as a Mickey Doolan is they paid millions for the cathedral to be done up and revamped when there was nothing wrong with it as it was and then they come out and say this grand old building has got to go because they can't 'afford' to do it up."

There are even some seasoned parishioners who have stopped going to church in a silent protest against the recent destruction involving the demolition of the presbytery and now the convent.

While some conserve and preserve, others pull down and destroy. It appears to many that the demolishers are currently in the ascendancy in this town. Street art can do only so much to create a community and city with heart and soul when up against people with a lack of vision and imagination.

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