June 10, 2022 | By Graeme Kemlo

It made international headlines when Melbourne City Council workers, told to clean up graffiti, water-blasted a Banksy stencil of a rat parachuting to Earth on the wall of the city’s most visited street art site, Hosier Lane.

Admitting its mistake, the council now actively promotes the city’s street art that adorns laneways and bare walls. It also features on Visit Victoria’s website and contributes an estimated $60 million in annual tourism revenue. However, a number of CBD art locations are under threat from developers wanting to demolish old city buildings in favour of high-rise apartments. Some sites have already been demolished.

While the art movement that started as graffiti tags in out-of-sight laneways has been a thing in Melbourne since the 1990s, it is now a formal part of the tourism offering and the council has a management policy to differentiate graffiti tagging from street art.

Melbourne street art tours are popular with both interstate and international visitors. Hosier Lane and the nearby AC/DC Lane receive an estimated 80,000 visitors each year. There are scores of other sites across the CBD and tour operators report not only school groups and leisure visitors, but business teams and visiting journalists also take tours of the art. Even souvenir postcards that routinely show Flinders Street Station or a tram now feature street art.

Some businesses have hired street artists to lend some street cred to the office, by having murals applied to external and internal walls. Artists such as big-wall specialist Matt Last, who uses the pseudonym Adnate, has earned valuable corporate commissions both here and abroad. He even has a hotel named after him in Perth, courtesy of the Accor’s Art Series Hotels, with a 25-storey mural of his work covering one wall of the hotel.