Catching up with Askew One the other week, we had a huge chat about how street art impacts the environment.
While our conversation began with how wasteful spray cans are as a tool for painting, it spiralled into a whole movement-wide issue. The illegality of graffiti doesn’t exactly inspire writers to take their used cans with them when they’re done… The competitive culture amongst spray paint brands doesn’t inspire them to improve the design to minimise waste…
And then we got onto the festivals.
As a highly praised artist in both the graffiti and street art scenes, with exposure and fans worldwide, Askew One has been to a butt-tonne of festivals. And he has seen first hand how wasteful this movement can be.
You can listen to the full conversation with Askew One on the podcast below or read on for excerpts about how festivals are handled and who is doing it (mostly) right.
Waste in Festivals
Obviously, in the last decade, I found myself at a lot of these festivals, doing several a year on a kind of consistent circuit and the amount of waste… It’s wild, you know!
You’ve always had your artists who have worked minimally and been really considerate from the start. Roa is an example of someone who has always worked with minimal spray paint and a lot of roller paint. He keeps it really basic. I looked at him early on and realised he is really concerned with this, but a lot of people come, they fly in — they fly in, for starters –, they have to work in a really short, high pressured time frame — usually, no longer than ten days to achieve the impossible.
It’s really hard for us to travel with our own equipment, so we’re buying all new equipment at each place we go, putting that onto the festival organisers and then there is an abundance of leftover product and waste.
Workarounds To Do Better
The festivals usually end up with a sponsor, and you’re going to get whatever the product is that’s from the sponsor. It’s up to you to choose whether you want to use that product or not.
The idea would generally be that you wouldn’t be seen using a competitor’s product at their festival because that would be in breach of their agreement.
That was another thing that compelled me to paint a lot more with a brush at festivals and unveiled to me just how economical they were, how much easier it was to maintain the equipment. I could clean up brushes, and they could be reused, I could clean up trays, and they could be reused.
Also, I didn’t have to have every colour under the sun because I could mix. You could work wet directly on the wall, and you can mix any colour that you want if you have like five colours to work from. If you work from a five colour process of RGB and black and white, you can kind of get everything you need. You might only need one additional colour if you want something particularly loud.
That revealed to me that there is a more economical way to do this, but you’re always going to overrun on your order, and there is always going to be excess leftover.
Successes and Fails Across the World
How these festivals deal with that, I’ve seen such radically different approaches.
Nearly every American organised festival is awful. Nothing is their concern: not paying artists, not feeding artists correctly, the influence of large property developers with their own agendas, strange political figures that are involved in these things with a longterm agenda to gentrify and push people out of the neighbourhood.
Everything about American festivals is just horrible, with definitely some good acceptions. There are some exceptions.
I would say overall that the Sea Walls guys — because it’s part of their mandate — try. But it’s not perfect all the time. Some situations are just so complicated.
We went to Churchill, Manitoba. It’s like every bit of waste that’s ever gone to Churchill, Manitoba, is pretty much still there. Every car that has ever been driven in Churchill, Manitoba, is still there in a decaying state on the side of the road. It’s so isolated, and things can only come on a train line. So that created an interesting dilemma for them, but overall they have a dedicated team.
There are two guys, Simon, who is from New Zealand and Kai, who is from Hawaii. The two of them basically drive around and sort out the paint to condense down paint, clean up buckets correctly, and maintain equipment so that everything could be reused. That was their role, and that’s one of the only festivals I’ve ever seen that has anyone actually doing that, but in saying that, I am not too sure if there was even a way to get all the leftovers out of that town after it was finished. Potentially everything that went there is still there.
The New Zealand and Australian festivals are really way above anybody else as far as their track record and their thinking around any of this.
Better Festival Management
I think that if you’re an ongoing festival, it’s basically sorting and cleaning up everything. Condensing everything and putting it aside for the following year, and then recycling your waste.
The Street Prints festival in New Zealand, they do that.
There is always a surplus of paint for the following year, and they encourage people to work from that paint before they purchase additional supplies.
You could also use Resine, a New Zealand paint manufacturer that’s also available in selected sites in Australia. They have a recycling program, they recycle leftover paint, and they recycle the pots. You can take everything back to the store, and they will do it. But there is no equivalent to that in America.
Expanding on the topic of better festival management, Askew One explores other angles like improved community engagement, diversity and management on his Patreon blog. Check it out here.