A highlight in the May calendar for fans of outdoor art is FirstCoat, the Toowoomba street art festival. First Coat is an initiative where local and international artists are invited to revive a city wall with colour, drama and creativity.
During the festival legal walls are volunteered by local businesses for the event and artists are each assigned a large-scale design space. The success of the event is due to the cooperation between the regional council, businesses, sponsors, artists and the First Coat team.
While we’ve enjoyed the huge murals on previous visits to the regional city this is the first time we’ve been in town for the festival. Now in its third year, the 10-day event is definitely attracting more international attention and making Toowoomba one of Australia’s top destinations for murals on legal walls. Contrary to what the critics might expect the region has struck a successful balance between its zero-tolerance policy on graffiti and a modern regional city that celebrates creative expression.
I’ve written before about my love for the Toowoomba street art around the city and in the latest event another round of 25 murals was added to that collection. Come take a look.
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The murals in progress
Although the murals are there for the long term there are benefits to heading in during the festival. Mainly of course to watch the artists working and have the opportunity to chat with some of them. Across the 10 days, you’ll also find live music, art workshops, performance arts and other exhibitions.
As we weaved our way through the city lane-ways on the final Saturday there was a combination of completed works and others still underway. Adding to the atmosphere there’s live music and of course, the chance to try out some of Toowoomba’s growing cafe scene. By this point, some of the artists were checking out colleagues’ creations and preparing for that night’s closing party. Here are a few where the creators were still onsite working and engaging with the crowd.
Gimiks Born painting here is a favourite artist for his previous year’s mural featuring a girl holding a swan. Knowing he only had a couple of hours to go on the moose at this point before the family headed back to Brisbane I was amazed at the detail in the finished mural, you can see it on his linked Instagram account. Next time we’re in the area we’ll definitely pop back to see the finished version.
Vans the Omega
Another one still being worked on while we were walking around late in the day was by Vans the Omega, an Australian artist from South Australia. It was close to finished when we stopped by and is a great example of his work incorporating shapes and intricate patterns.
Several artists we noticed had sketched their designs but it was interesting to see he was working from a small photo taped to the wall. It’s always impressive to see an artist working on something of this scale where they keep perfect perspective despite only looking at a fraction of the canvas at a time.
Although he calls Adelaide home he’s spent the past 15 years travelling and creating his art on walls around the world. It’s hard to imagine a better outcome than being able to combine travel and artistic skill leaving your mark on each city as it leaves its mark on you.
This one was in the early stages but they come together amazingly quickly, he had a complete version up on Instagram by Monday. Fintan also painted the huge elephant on Ruthven Street / Union Street during an earlier festival which is probably one of the most prominent sites in the centre of town. Although we claim him as a Brisbane artist he’s worked on large-scale art projects all over the world in recent years.
Toowoomba street art festival favourites
The town now has around 80 murals after 4 years of hosting the festival. Given most are in lane-ways and back streets it’s not an overpowering feature of the city. If you walk or drive through Toowoomba it’s the parks, huge trees framing the wide avenues and heritage buildings that you will notice first. The progressive nature of the area though is peeping through and we love their outdoor art gallery.
And make sure you grab a coffee and a bite
The first time we headed out to the Toowoomba Street Art Festival we failed miserably at finding a decent coffee let alone lunch. I’m very happy to say that as we returned in subsequent years things had changed a lot on that front and these are three of our top spots that we wandered into on our walk last time and we would recommend.
Admittedly chosen for their artistic bent in line with the ‘street art’ theme of the day but we would absolutely return for their coffee and quality. We also made a mental note of a couple more to try out next time we’re passing through.
Update: Sadly we note that 2 of our top 3 cafe picks are now closed, it’s been a tough time for regional Australia and hospitality in general due to a variety of factors in the past year so we’ll be headed out that way again shortly to try out some more local spots and update our suggestions here very soon.
If you’re in the southern Darling Downs area or looking for a day trip from Brisbane or the Gold Coast, then Toowoomba might be a surprising but fun choice.
Do you enjoy street art? Where are some of the more unlikely places where you’ve spotted some stand-out art recently? We’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments below.