How an explosion of colourful street art is transforming this regional NT town

In the Northern Territory outback town of Katherine, murals have been transforming once ordinary buildings and shopfronts in an explosion of colour.

The change is thanks to the K-Town Street Art event, an inaugural art festival aimed at brightening up the regional hub of 10,000 people through more public artworks.

With Katherine already home to portrait murals of well-known figures, such as land rights activist Vincent Lingiari, organisers say the new artworks have been a welcome addition to the town streets.

Katherine Regional Arts executive officer Jacinta Mooney said while Darwin hosted a street art festival every year, this was the first time Katherine had held its own event. 

“We’ve done lots of murals in Katherine before … but this year was the first year Katherine received funding for a street art festival,” she said. 

“We did 10 murals in 10 days.”

An Aboriginal man wears a wide-brimmed hat and looks up to a mural of Vincent Lingiari on a sunlit brick wall

A mural of Vincent Lingiari has been turning heads in Katherine for years.(ABC Rural: Max Rowley)

Ms Mooney is a long-time advocate of community arts, and was this year awarded the Creative Australia Ros Bower Award for Community Arts and Cultural Development.

She said the Katherine street festival had attracted artists from all over Australia, including Celeste Mountjoy — known by her artist name of “Filthy Ratbag” — from Melbourne, as well as local NT artists including Tilly Townsend and Kamahi Jordan-King.

“It was great — the public seemed to really appreciate it,” she said.

“Looking at the portrait murals is a really strong feature of Katherine now.”

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One artist part of the Katherine event was Darwin-based artist Luke Pearce, who painted a mural of his dog Baxter on the back of Katherine’s ANZ bank branch.

“He’s my best friend and he’s been such a good helper all week,” he said.

Originally from Melbourne, Mr Pearce said he had travelled to towns all over Australia, but said “the arts scene here in Katherine is just incredible compared to a lot of places”.

a young man and a dog in front of street art

Mr Pearce with his dog Baxter, the subject of his mural. (ABC News: Samantha Dick)

Max Paez, from Katherine Regional Arts, painted his mural in a style he had been developing for more than a year.

“I do one image and that leads onto the next image and I try to create a kind of story-telling that is not so literal,” he said.

a young man standing in front of orange street art

Max Paez painted a “dreamlike” mural on the side a building on Katherine Terrace.(ABC News: Samantha Dick)

Mr Paez said he hoped passers-by would interpret his artwork in different ways.

“I’m trying to create something that, each time I look at it, it’s interpreted differently,” he said.

“There’s no linear flow to it. It’s very random and chaotic and bizarre and dreamlike.”

Mr Paez said it was a “real privilege to be asked to do some artwork and contribute to the art-scape in town”.

a man wearing a blue shirt and orange cap painting a wall

Kamahi Djordan-King says the street murals have changed Katherine for the better.(ABC News: Samantha Dick)

Katherine artist and drag performer Kamahi Djordan-King said the street art festival had “beautified the area”.

“It’s to raise the spirits as well, because we do come together as a community,” he said.

“I’m rapt to be involved and a part of it.”

ABC Arts Week graphic

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