Laneways have long had a bad rap. They are the historic home of (at best) suspect and (at worst) murderous characters, a place of noxious and usually overflowing garbage bins and home to that most ubiquitous of urban fauna, the rat-as-big-as-a- cat. Somewhere ‘dark’ and ‘laneway’ also got intrinsically linked, giving these already visually unappealing spaces an air of menace as well.
The best description laneways could ever hope for was ‘dreary’ or ‘dirty’, at least it was a step up from ‘dangerous’. A major cultural makeover for these unloved city thoroughfares has been way overdue. It really was quite simple: lanes were underutilised because they were unpleasant, dirty places and unpleasant, dirty places attract dodgy people and correspondingly nasty activities. Change lanes from dirty and unpleasant to picturesque and playful and laneways could be re-born as quirky intimate city spaces.
Laneway lovers took on the challenge, re-imagining these mini streetscapes and doing the work to make it happen and the result has been extraordinary. The challenge to bring lanes alive has been so enthusiastically taken up across the world that there are now countless websites dedicated to ‘lane love’. Jump online and be inspired by images of urban laneways which have been successfully transformed into art and sculpture galleries, open air cafes, bars, music venues, spoken word stages, street markets and grassy, flower-filled thoroughfares.
Redeveloped laneways are now the darling of urban renewal and have become a measure of how sharp and cutting edge a city is – a measure of its ‘cool’ credentials if you like. Laneway renewal has come to Newcastle and in the West End the eastern end of Beresford Lane has become home to a constantly growing public art gallery.
It all began a year ago when sculptor and mixed media artist Mark Aylward became frustrated at the view from his workshop an ugly tagged wall in Beresford Lane. He got permission from the building’s owner, ORCA, and transformed the wall into a playful fishscape mural assisted by Newcastle Now, Hunter Development Corporation and the Department of Juvenile Justice. Mark created a series of fish stencils with his partner Helen Stronach and his son Jonathan and together they brought the wall vibrantly to life.
Mark and Helen’s can-do attitude broke Beresford Lane’s uncared for curse and soon other artists came on board transforming the little street into a delightful stretch of murals. Many of these were inspired by the businesses whose back walls they were making over with the result being a giant double bass player and trumpeter, and a jitterbugging couple behind a record shop; rabbits jumping out of a hat behind a magic shop and behind Newcastle Florist a beautifully oversized bunch of flowers.
Some artwork seems to have come out of nowhere: a spaceship heading skyward leaving a trail of smoke in its wake and my favourite, a glamour girl with a pop gun which, instead of delivering a deadly bullet from its barrel, instead produces a flag bearing a demented smiley face.
This part of Beresford Lane is now an eclectic street art space and a playful thoroughfare, but the lane isn’t finished yet, there is a lot more room for artists to create. Indeed the laneway it seems has now come of age.
Beresford Lane isn’t finished; if you would like to contribute art work to the lane or anywhere else in the West End please contact Newcastle Now. Phone: 4929 4644 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call into Shop 1, 137 King Street, Newcastle
Have you chosen the West End as your home or as the perfect place to run your business? Do you have a West End tale which deserves a wider audience? What inspires and infuriates you about the West End? If you have a story to tell I would love to talk to you! Here’s how to find me: email@example.com; 0413 250 1550413 250 155.