Can Scaffolding Be a City Scoped Canvas?

Scaffolding is prevalent in every city around the globe. It’s synonymous with ‘possibility’, ‘new’ and ‘excitement’ on the building being built beneath it. There are of course those who do not see the scaffolding as possibility and more as an ugly eye-sore, predominantly more people feel this way funnily enough. So, what can be done to heal this divide between people. Construction will invariably be a part of the landscape and as more cities expand, it’s inevitable that construction will always be present and ever-expanding for the foreseeable future.

A not-for-profit collective called ArtBridge based in New York City had a great idea for tackling it, dubbing the project ‘City Canvas’ in 2019. The project was simple enough, cover up the ugly scaffolding with an array of beautiful imagery from commissioned street artists and brighten up the permanent staple of the city.

It went off to a resounding success with various stories and articles praising the move and commenting on the inherent beauty of the scaffolding art and the artists that created them. There were political portraits cascading across skyscrapers, flowery murals across long extension construction canvases.  The success continued from the media to an impressive response from the general public, with the whole aim of the project being to get people off their phones and to look up – which it certainly achieved in spades. Instead of commenting on the ugliness of the construction coverings, people were photographing them, tagging people and creating conversations.  

Scaffolding around a home being constructed

The unification of the art community, the political powers that be, as well as the mayor’s office is certainly inspirational to say the least. Senators were remarking on the impressive scale of some of the projects as well as the overall unique vibe that each one brought to the already unique New York streets. He went on to comment on the opportunity it presented for artists with marginalized backgrounds and unique narratives to express their own stories on the landscape, bringing the project from a small idea, into a chance to give voices to the disenfranchised. 

It stands to reason then, that a city like Sydney, can learn from its American counterpart. The city, which has its own impressive array of scaffolding-clad sites could be the key to bringing artists out of the shadows and into the commissioned world of street art. With COVID-19 halting the careers and aspirations of so many in the art world, a community project like ‘City Canvas’ for Sydney could marry two protruding issues into an absolute positive for all involved.

What is needed? Well, a strong community leader would certainly be a start, to get the ball rolling so to speak. As previously mentioned, the positive results of the scaffolding project for the community and especially the artists are palpable and measurable with New York’s example. With scaffolding providing the canvas, there is no limit to the impressive possibility to showcase young Australian artists.  

Scaffolding can only be the beginning, a way of introducing the idea that not all street art is graffiti, which it often is associated with. Smaller suburbs in the inner west of Sydney have shown this already with spots like Newtown and Surry Hills having wonderous works of art across boring blank brickworks, with the right push, more and more artworks can be associated with Sydney, bringing our notoriety to the levels of Berlin.

It seems that scaffolding can be seen for its possibility, in lieu of the building that will be revealed underneath, it has the potential to be a possibility for a canvas on a metropolitan scale.