URBAN ART ASTANA, a street art festival, was held in Astana with the support of the city Akimat from 2017 to 2019. As a part of the festival more than 15 murals were created in the suburbs of Astana (currently Nur-Sultan). A mural is a general name for art works depicted on a wall or a large permanent surface. Ancient rock paintings, frescoes, Sistine Chapel paintings, monumental paintings, painted decorations on the walls, graffiti – and the big word for all that is mural. Murals are often confused with graffiti, but they are different. Graffiti writers tend to paint illegal images of words, phrases, and letters. To explain the difference shortly – graffiti originated in New York as a way of labeling local territories / districts by street gangs. A mural is a modern street painting, most often created legally; it makes sense and gives hints at some inner meaning. A mural always contains a unique image, a character, or a code. Art is inextricably linked to the creation of new ideas and their multiplication. The URBAN ART ASTANA Festival is not about decorating the urban environment as it might seem at first glance. URBAN ART ASTANA is aimed at introducing and promoting new ideas into the urban environment and for the good of the people. The ultimate goal of the festival is to support the simple idea that the city belongs to the citizens, and that changes begin with each of us.
At the same time art in public spaces is a way to make art accessible for the community, overcome exclusion between the city and its citizens, and promote emotional bonding with the place. In this regard a very large part of URBAN ART ASTANA is the selection of sketches that will ultimately be implemented in the city space.
The city is the intersection of the opinions and desires of a very large number of people, it is the ideas that we are trying to hear and understand. The opinion of Astana residents on this issue is extremely important since we are entering the space of their daily life and they should have a choice of how their city will look like. So initially, an open call was announced for everyone. For example this year we received more than 200 sketches from 104 artists from 26 countries including Japan, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Austria, Switzerland, Greece, USA, Germany, UK, Ukraine and others.
The first stage in the selection of works is a professional assessment by the jury; besides the contemporary art professionals the jury includes representatives of the city administration, town planners and culture experts. They review the sketches on the compliance with several parameters: the aesthetic value of the work, correspondence to the festival theme and the previous experience.
At the next stage the citizens are involved in the selection. The sketches that passed professional jury are put up for online voting. Taking into account the experience of 2018 this year the online competition is carried out by an independent SMM company on a special website. Together with online survey in each of the festival sites a festival team works with people offline in order to increase transparency and expand the festival accessibility.
After those stages of selection with the jury and citizens the qualified sketches are approved with the city administration and residents of the houses chosen for applying murals. Selection of works usually takes three / four months; and such a long procedure allows balancing between the expert vision and the expectations of the citizens. And it is the procedure that provides an opportunity to involve Astana residents in the city life, gain their confidence, sense their voting power and promote their citizenship. Imagine, you 'liked' a post yesterday, you made your choice and shared your views on how you see your city, and boom - tomorrow it becomes real, this sketch is applied on the facade of once dull and ordinary apartment blocks. Then you and your opinion resonate in the image of the city.