Street art turns an industrial workplace into a cultural experience

Street art turns an industrial workplace into a cultural experience

At the Harbor industrial area in the city of Linz (Austria) you see gratifying faces working hard on the storage and container facilities. Street art has turned them into an outdoor museum. ‘Mural Harbor’ is not the kind of project to transform a post-industrial urban area to new use in a way that contributes to development of a city. It is about turning an active industrial workplace into a more cultural and pleasant experience for the people.

This area in Linz is the largest harbor on the upper Danube river and an internationally significant logistics centre. Around 3.5 million tonnes of goods are handled year after year in the public port of Linz and in the voestalpine factory harbor. Leonard Gruber used to work there and was bored to see grey walls everywhere in a land so well located on the banks of the Danube river. 

‘Actually the location of the industrial area is amazing, directly at the water. It has great views of the river, although with big handling facilities, container terminals and huge storage buildings surround it. I just thought this place could attract so many street art artists’, explains Leonard. Not an artist himself, he used to work in the snow- and skateboarding business and came into contact with some street art artists who often designed the boards.

Mural by the artist STOHEAD from Berlin (Germany)

He spoke with some of them and informed them about the attractive walls at the harbor. First came the German artist STOHEAD who painted just one wall. But as with so many of the best local projects in cities, they often just start small and end up having a much more positive impact as initially thought. The response was overwhelming. Other well-known artists like ROA and ARYZ stopped by to paint.

Mural by the artist ARYZ from Barcelona (Spain)

So the number of murals began to grow and the Linz Harbor became the Linz’s Gallery by accident. Leonard started asking for permissions from the harbor’s operator Linz AG Hafen. It became a big supporter of the project, also financially.

It wouldn’t have been very smart not to do so. A positive work environment improves teamwork, raises the morale, increases productivity and efficiency and, most importantly, a positive work environment reduces stress in employees. Urban street art is a powerful tool in provoking an engagement of people with their environment and in re-socialising public spaces in the city.

According to a study by Claire Malaika Tunnacliffe at the Barlett University, encounters with urban street art within the everyday create social interstices, opening up ways of seeing and feeling the world differently; allowing for a creative feedback loop between artist, individual spectator and society. Indeed, the Global Citizen foundation reported about how many street art projects around the world have transformed communities and cities.

‘I have met the children of some of the workers at the harbor and they told me how proud they are of their fathers working at the beautiful gallery ‘Mural Harbor’, points Leonard out proudly.

Mural by SIZETWO from Graz (Austria)

He started acting as a curator for further ongoing additions and founded the citizen’s cultural association ‘Mural Harbor’. Its mission is to use street art forms, which ‘have the potential to brighten up the lives of us city dwellers for a minute’.

The ‘Mural Harbor’ project has been embraced by the City administration of Linz for obvious reasons. And also the sprayer company Montana Cans is hugely supportive of this, in its own words, amazingly unique project. Montana Cans has been following and influencing the German speaking graffiti scene since the mid-90s and during that time, Montana has become friends with many artists and curators.

Today ‘Mural Harbor’ has surpassed 100 murals created by artists from 25 different nations. Street art is accessible and inclusive. It is not confined to galleries and museums; it reaches a big crowd: it is the art of the people.

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