Experience the Northern Territory’s cultural revolution

Melbourne-based street artist Kaff-eine's work on show in Alice Springs.

The Northern Territory is described as the world’s biggest art gallery 65,000 years in the making.

From Aboriginal carvings on the Tiwi Islands and rock art in Arnhem Land to basket weaving in Katherine, Indigenous artistic expression has been a major drawcard for business events visitors.

Two street art festivals in the Northern Territory are reimagining Darwin and Alice Springs for both locals and visitors alike, expanding the scope of creative expression and redefining how it can be viewed.

The Darwin Street Art Festival saw 30 artists paint 17 murals over 10-days including a three-storey mural depicting a Larrakia woman holding a python.

The mural was painted by Larrakia artist Mim Cole and Melbourne-based street artist Kaff-eine and encapsulates the collaborative spirit of the festival which expanded to Darwin’s northern suburbs for the first time.

Organised by local gallery owner David Collins, the festival also spread its influence as far afield as Katherine and Tennant Creek and connected to the Alice Springs Street Art Festival along the Stuart Highway North with a series of roadside works by Kaff-eine.

“I wanted the community to have world class art for free,” he says.

“I always wanted the community to do big murals and it be locally led. You don’t have to go inside a gallery to see it, when it’s out on the street it is for everyone.”

Launching five years ago, Collins had no idea of the festival’s flow on effect in the years to come.

Darwin Street Art Festival is turning the city into an open air art gallery.

“It helps people move through the city in different ways which I had no idea people would do,” he says.

“The first year was hard, pleading with people to paint a massive mural on their wall for free.

“But now they are coming to us. The expansion into the northern suburbs is permanent, there’s no stopping it now.”

The festival has always been about collaboration attracting local, interstate and international talent.

“Some of our artists hadn’t worked a scale before so it was good to team them up with people who were versed in that,” Collins says.

“We are artist led and we get good feedback so when I reach out to people inviting them to come they are like ‘hell yeah’. The festival definitely has a rep now.

“I feel like we are having a cultural revolution here. More and more people are interested in arts and culture.”

The Darwin Street Art Festival expanded this year beyond the CBD.

Down the highway, the Alice Springs Street Art Festival also prides itself on cross collaboration.

“This year we had artists exploring what central Australia and Alice Springs means to people,” says Jeanette Shepherd, general manager of festival organiser Red Hot Arts.

“From cowboys and girls to abstract art reflecting the different colours of the landscape.”

A partnership with Iltja Ntjarra (Many Hands) Art Centre saw local artists collaborating with Kaff-eine for a work on the river front.

“We have a really creative community here in Alice Springs with strong support for the arts especially where they can see these artworks are beautifying the streets and laneways of the town,” says Shepherd.

“The festival also runs alongside other programs which have a street art component such as the Revitalise Alice Street Art project which saw paintings on 15 or so walls and shutter doors throughout town.

“In the last few years there has been quite a lot of new street art pieces popping up around town.”

A mural takes shape on Alice Springs Hospital wall.

Alice Springs is developing a deep cultural foundation that celebrates everything from visual arts to dance and music through its festivals, including Parrtjima, the Street Art Festival and the Desert Festival, according to Shepherd.

“Alice Springs does rock an arts and culture festival,” says Shepherd. “People come to Alice Springs to check out what it does that is quite unique.”

An online public arts map has trails people can do within the municipality of Alice Springs that highlight different art works.

On a bigger scale, the NT Government has invested $106 million into art centres and cultural attractions across the Territory to build a “nationally significant Arts Trail” showcasing the best of the NT’s art, artists, events and much more.

Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Chansey Paech says the Arts Trail will “firmly position the NT as a cultural destination”.

Business events are increasingly looking to create immersive experiences for their delegates, with the street art festivals adding more depth across the NT’s cultural offerings.

To find out more about how the Territory can enrich your event head here.