Hyperlocal news about Melbourne's first suburb: Fitzroy 3065

sense of entitlement


Yesterday the Facebook page Street Art Melbourne posted the following:

People get all upset about a Banksy disappearing, how about an iconic Melbourne wall that has now been destroyed and replaced by shitty rock posters? For shame. Everyone call Moreland council 9240 1111 and complain. Goodbye Leicester st.

Dean Sunshine posted this photo to illustrate the scene.

Photo by Dean Sunshine / copyright: used under the fair dealings provisions of the Copyright Act 1968 / 2012

Hmmm. There’s something fundamentally wrong with this. First, Leicester St is in the City of Yarra. Second, the wall is private property and its owner is not obliged to consider the feelings of the people who illegally graffiti their property, or fans of street art, when they rent it out as advertising space. Third, it is not the role of local government to protect illegal vandalism from legal private property transactions.

The community corrected the page about which local government region the street is located in, but otherwise the contributions to the conversation exhibit a surreal sense of entitlement and suggest that the participants suffer from a fundamental lack understanding about how the real world works.

Let me explain. Someone owns the building. They may lease it to another occupant, such as a business. Either the landlord or the tenant is responsible for maintaining the exterior. To save money, they don’t paint over the graffiti, and it proliferates. Eventually, they discover that they can make money renting the surface of the wall to an advertising company, which paints the wall and installs the poster frames.

Advertising clients, including music publishers, buy a package of advertising that may include print, radio, outdoor (billboards and posters) and online through a media buyer. The advertiser would not know specifically where examples of their ads will appear.

The page posted:

Basically some company has come in and paid the owner of the building to put up the billboard pieces – companies like Plakkit, who have always been unethical in claiming space where street art is for their own purposes. This is only one of many instances where they have done something like this – money wins over art again.

Claiming space where street art is for commercial purposes? Street art does not own these walls, and to imply that it does is absurdly naive. Accusing the company of having ‘always been unethical’ is implausible and ridiculous, and could even be defamatory.

Professor Alison Young of the University of Melbourne, one of whose areas of expertise is ‘cultural criminology‘, posted:

Of course, the music scene isn’t the enemy but someone seems to think it’s OK to cover spots used by street artists with rock posters – it’s happening all over Yarra. Not cool – if musicians want to be the friends of street art, they should protest to gig promoters, record companies etc. But they don’t. Could it be that musicians actually do want to sell their products by using street art spots ? I could be wrong (of course!) but I haven’t seen too much evidence in Melbourne that people in the music scene really do much to help street art.

I think Young sees connections that simply don’t exist. Individual musicians don’t know where their work is advertised, particularly when that may be in many streets in multiple cities. They therefore cannot ‘want’ to advertise themselves over street art as they are not aware of it.

There is no known reason to see a link between musicians and a love of street art. I know of no evidence of a positive correlation that indicates that musicians like street art more than other groups of people. And why should musicians ‘help’ street art? This sounds like hippie logic. An artist of one genre cannot be assumed, or expected, to have an innate affinity with an artist of another.

The multiple series of commercial contracts and transactions between a musician and the placement of advertising of their work means that musicians have no direct control over where their work is advertised. This also suggests that they have little power to influence or change this. Additionally, they have little incentive to do so when removing some of this advertising may undermine their ability to achieve their own goals.

The placement of much street art involves petty criminal behaviour. In many instances, however, this causes no actual harm, physical or commercial, to property owners and is often ignored, even tolerated. But it is a trespasser and is consequently ephemeral, lasting as long as property owners and the weather allow.

People have different ideas about who owns what at the intersection of private and public space, but it is irrational to claim that street art has any right to exist on private property. Art is not a person and does not have rights. The law clearly states that individuals do not have the right to vandalise the property of others.

The toleration and longevity of street art in some urban precincts is far more generous and benign than could reasonably be expected given the prevailing legal parameters. Street artists and their fans should be grateful for that and should abandon their embarrassing sense of entitlement.


  1. Having been approached to have this type of hoarding for rock posters on my building recently, I know a little about the situation. First off I should state that I don’t have any street art on my building nor did I agree to have the installation of the hoardings.

    You require Council Planning permission to have legitimate corporate advertising displayed on the exterior of your building.

    The people offering the rock poster hoardings do not seek that permission. They install the frames which offer a form of aesthetic legitimacy. It gives the impression that the signage is corporate, permanent, respectable.

    It isn’t any of the above.

    Also the advertising portrayed isn’t subject to regulation by the Australian Standards Bureau.
    An advertiser could post anything in that space that was offensive to community standards and you would have no bureaucratic means of lodging a complaint.

    • So you’re suggesting that the posters are placed on the walls with the permission of the the building’s owner but still technically illegally as a form of graffiti?

      As I understand it, based on a previous situation in Fitzroy, the Advertising Standards Bureau has no authority to direct local governments to remove subjectively distasteful advertising as long as it meets objective planning conditions.

      The building owner may be liable if they effectively allow advertising on their property without a permit, but that is another matter.

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