Thriving Townsville street art scene ‘on par’ with world’s best, says public art researcher

It may seem unlikely to some but this North Queensland city is fast emerging as a hot spot on the international street art map.

Buildings in Townsville’s CBD are adorned with eye-catching art that has transformed the city into a head-turning public gallery.

The colorful works form the basis of a Griffith University investigation into how public art is used to drive urban regeneration and boost social capital.

blue and green artwork with man's face
Dr Matthews says the quality of street art in Townsville is of international standard.(ABC North Queensland: Zilla Gordon)

Researcher Dr Tony Matthews assessed 26 artworks that form part of a public art walking tour.

“They were right on par with anything you would see internationally in terms of quality of art, quality of delivery, quality of materials, choice of location,” he said.

The city was one of three regional Queensland locations chosen for the investigation, which involved researchers interviewing key producers of public art, elected officials, urban planners and public art specialists.

sugar glider painting on white brick wall
The street art trail features work by internationally renowned artists, including ROA.(ABC North Queensland: Zilla Gordon)

The findings have been published in the international journal Cities, which Dr Matthews believes will thrust Townsville onto the international stage.

“The major importance of this research is not that it looks at public art, but also that it looks at regional cities in Australia that are doing really well and are coming up and should be of attention internationally,” he said.

The process

But it hasn’t happened overnight.

When Townsville artist Garth Jankovic arrived in the city in 1992 the scene didn’t exist.

turtle rides crocodile on mural
Townsville artist Garth Jankovic says it has taken years for the scene to develop.(ABC North Queensland: Zilla Gordon)

“I was pretty much the OG [original gangster],” he said.

“The council came on board in the late ’90s and actively started participating and nurturing the scene.”

brick wall featuring painting of man wearing a white shirt
Jankovic has been immortalized in the scene he helped create.(ABC North Queensland: Zilla Gordon)

Working alongside friend Nicky Prior, Jankovic pioneered combining First Nations scenes and Euro street styles to create the mural Girroogul and the soap tree, which forms part of the street art walking trail.

“If you go to Melbourne, it’s very European graffiti style,”Jankovic says.

“Townsville’s a bit more, you know, you have a bit more understanding of the demographic [and] if you combine street art and graffiti with traditional stuff, you win over a lot more people.”

The 48-year-old has been so instrumental to the scene, his portrait features on the art trail, painted by mentee and good friend Lee Harnden.

“I don’t go there often because it spins me out,” Jankovic said.

Tourism potential

The Griffith University study identified a variety of figurative and abstract styles and vivid colours.

Dr Matthews said, considering the quality of the works, more could be done to promote the trail as a tourism drawcard.

collection of images painted on a blue wall
Townsville City Council says it’s looking for opportunities to expand the street art trail.(ABC North Queensland: Zilla Gordon)

“I know the city has a walking guide for the public art trail and it’s quite popular with tourists and has brought tourists in,” he said.

Townsville City Councillor Liam Mooney said it was an ongoing project.

“We are always looking for diverse street artists to work with and for property owners within our CBD and beyond to have a canvas for these artists to work on as well,” he said.

blue wall mural with two colorful turtles
Townsville’s street art trail includes more than two dozen works.(ABC North Queensland: Zilla Gordon)

Councillor Mooney welcomed the Griffith University study findings.

“It legitimizes what I believe — that we should be spending our time, our effort, our resources on art spaces,” he said.

Jankovic said the Townsville street art scene reflected the character of north Queensland.

“It really makes people that come there think that it’s not just an outback town, or a sea town or a tropical town,” he said.

“It’s a bit of a melting pot of all those things put together and I think the street art really captures that.”


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