Vicious Social Media Debate Over Public Art in Byron Bay

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Known as a home of peace, love and mung beans, a new public art project in Byron Bay has keyboard warriors embroiled in a vicious online battle.

The Elysium 2481 project is aimed at beautifying a laneway in the northern New South Wales town’s CBD.

The project includes several brightly coloured murals, a striped painting on the road’s surface, a light installation, and a metallic sculpture.

Co-curator Rebecca Townsend said she was disappointed by the intensity of the negative comments responding to the piece in several public Facebook groups.
“Facebook gives people a voice who wouldn’t otherwise have one,” she said.

“I think it’s very negative and nasty and I think if any of the artists in this laneway had heard what some of those people had been saying, they would’ve been really upset.

“I think people need to start thinking about the people behind these projects before they rubbish them.

“It’s bad manners. It’s like the Trump world of bullying and saying what you want.”

‘Classic Keyboard Warrior Behaviour’

The comments included one post urging a woman involved in the project to take her own life.

It has since been removed, but was captured as a screenshot by social media safety expert Kirra Pendergast, of Safe on Social.

“It was classic keyboard warrior behaviour,” she said.

“I’ve been teaching kids about this in schools for a long time now, and then they see mum and dad behaving like this over a piece of street art.”

Ms Pendergast has reported the post to Facebook.
Other comments alleged a conflict of interest between Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson and the project’s creators because he had a family member involved.

However, the person in question was a volunteer, and Cr Richardson said he had been open about their involvement from the moment the council agreed to contribute $20,000 towards the project.

The majority of the negative comments were critical of the art itself, describing it as ‘un-Byron’.

Local Artists Know Byron Well

However, Ms Townsend believed the art was reflective of the community.

“Byron is bright and colourful and joyful and that’s how I see this laneway,” she said.

“I think what people mean is that it doesn’t have iconography connected to Byron … but five of the artists in this project are locals, so surely what they want to do is reflective of what Byron is because they live here.

“We wanted to do something more contemporary that’s been done in Byron Bay and something that reflects something that’s going on in the global street art movement and for us, that’s abstraction and colour and form as opposed to old graffiti-style artwork.”
Ms Pendergast, who is also a long-term Byron Bay local, believed many of the comments were from old-timers who felt unhappy with the broader, changing face of the town.

“A lot of the old local families that don’t get out and mingle in the community, because they don’t feel comfortable in their community anymore, will get on Facebook and start revving things up out of control,” she said.

“Art is different for everybody — I like it, my mum hates it.

“There’s absolutely no need to use it as a platform to attack people involved in the project.”

Source: ABC

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