On 22nd-23rd February Hastings’ Observer Building opened its doors for streetsmART, a unique celebration of graffiti and street art. Over 300 visitors took part in a five-hour ‘slam’ event on each day, with workshops in drawing, painting, stencil-cutting and spray-painting, producing 60 pieces of art between them.

Young Artists
PICTURE: John Cole

In Gotham Alley behind the building, two major new works were painted on the walls over the weekend, commissioned from professional international street artists, Joe Holbrook and Pablo Allison:

Missing in Action, Joe Holbrook’s painting, is about his beginnings as an impoverished self-taught artist and his disappointment after plucking up the courage to acquire spray paint illicitly, to find that another artist had beaten him to it, leaving an empty space on the shelf where the black spray can should be. Joe says, “I am from Kent and used to visit Hastings and the surrounding areas as a teenager, creating graffiti using the materials that the piece is about. To give back to the town after all these years in my current position is heart-warming.”

Pablo Allison’s work, The Beast of the Train, paints a poem written by Pablo’s migrant friend, Jeramias Estrada, about the experience of those who travel on The Beast (an unofficial transport train used by suffering refugees) towards the hope of a better life. Pablo translated the poem from Spanish to English and painted it on The Alley walls. Pablo, who has been documenting the journeys of migrants and refugees in Central America, describes his work as “for anyone who has empathy towards people in a more vulnerable position who are trying to lead a better life”. Pablo has previously spoken at OPEN about the plight of South American migrants and refugees. Check out the Refugee Buddy Project (based at OPEN, which might temporarily be closed) to find out more, and meet (or now e-meet) people with first hand experience of the struggle.

In addition to witnessing these new works being painted, visitors to streetsmART were able to listen to talks by Joe, Pablo and the event’s curator Stephanie Warren (of Stella Dore Gallery). The event also included exhibitions, stalls, films, a DJ, food and the unveiling of a new set of gates to the Alley created by local sculptor, Leigh Dyer. 

“People of so many ages got stuck into painting this weekend’ says Margaret Sheehy of MSL Projects who produced the event. ‘It was a rare chance to watch two new artworks being painted and learn about the life of a professional street artist.”

‘It was really full of colour, fun and excitement’, said Emily age 8. 

• streetsmART was supported using public funding by Arts Council England and presented in collaboration with Stella Dore Gallery, St Leonards, and the Observer Building.

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