Expanding beyond their traditional applications in construction and maintenance, MEWPs (Mobile Elevated Work Platforms) find creative use in areas such as street art. An excellent illustration of this is the Darwin Street Art Festival, which has artists from all over Australia and abroad leveraging Haulotte elevating work platforms to create murals on buildings at height. These machines are provided by United Equipment, which enjoys an exclusive partnership with the festival. As of the conclusion of DSAF23 in September 2023, a total of 107 murals have been added to the Darwin cityscape through this festival. In this interview with David Collins, Director of the Darwin Street Art Festival, and Faizal Poulter, Business Development Manager at the Darwin branch of United Equipment, we explore the dynamics of this partnership.
Could you introduce us to both the Darwin Street Art Festival and United Equipment?
David Collins: The Darwin Street Festival is an international festival run in the Northern Territory and supported by the Northern Territory government. We bring national and international artists here to create a world-class art gallery on the streets of Darwin. We’ve also been successful in empowering and training up both indigenous and non-indigenous local artists by having them work alongside the best names in the street art industry.
Faizal Poulter: United Equipment is one of Australia’s largest providers of access equipment including forklifts, container handlers, scissor lifts, boom lifts and telehandlers. I’m the Business Development Manager at the Darwin branch and I specialize in MEWPs, for which Haulotte is our main supplier.
Could you tell us more about the partnership between the Darwin Street Art Festival and United Equipment?
Faizal Poulter: David and I go back to high school days, the partnership started when I joined United and found out about David’s involvement with the festival. Originally, he was working with another access supplier, and I kept pushing him to come to United. David initially split his jobs between United and the other supplier until last year, when one of the managers that David used to work with at this other supplier left the company, and so I took the opportunity to convince him to do a 100% partnership with United. For as long as I’m here at United, I don’t think David will be going anywhere, we’re good friends and he’s happy with the service and the pricing. Whenever there’s an issue with the machines, we’re always able to respond very quickly.
MAXIGIG – DSAF @charlieblisscreative
How did the Darwin Street Art Festival come to be, how many artists do you receive, and what kind of art is showcased?
David Collins: The festival was conceived in 2017 through a partnership between my company, Proper Creative, and the Northern Territory government. It started in Darwin City and has expanded into the northern suburbs and beyond. It was originally a project to revitalize the city and entice local people into the city, but its success has expanded beyond the local audience thanks to interstate participation and the media coverage that followed. It’s transformed into an attraction for both locals and interstate travelers.
We hit our 108th mural this year, and we feature 15-30 murals each year. Most of them showcase Territory-themed art that shares local stories and icons, but they don’t always need to tell a Territory story. Sometimes we get some fun colors just to brighten up the space. We actually invited some artists from Papua New Guinea this year, and they were able to share their culture here through their art. We try to keep 70% of our artists local to the Northern Territory, and 30% national and international, and we also try to work with locals and local businesses as much as possible.
What are the biggest challenges when organizing the festival?
David Collins: The main thing is the heat, so we make sure our artists stay hydrated and paint in the cooler parts of the day. We also need to consider access to buildings, but thanks to the Haulotte machines we have, our artists are able to reach unique spots that wouldn’t normally be painted.
How do you select the MEWP that will be used during the event?
Faizal Poulter: I start by working with David for a site inspection of the buildings. I use my laser reader to measure the height of the building, and then I consider the width of the machine and how exactly we would be able to put the machine into position given the constraints of the environment. After all that, I give David the final recommendation on which machines to use, for example, an HA41 RTJ PRO articulating boom (130-ft / 41 meters) for a 12-storey building.
Depending on the different requirements of each site, I could supply him with an all-terrain scissor lift like the Compact 10 DX or 12 DX, the 50-ft HA16 RTJ PRO, the 70-ft HT23 RTJ PRO telescopic boom, the 60-ft HA20 RTJ PRO, or the 80-ft HA26 RTJ PRO.
How do you organize the training for the street artists?
Faizal Poulter: They’re usually qualified operators who have their own license, so I would just inspect their license before watching them operate the machines. The artists we received from Papua New Guinea this year were actually the first ones I had to train, and it’s a funny story.
At the start of the festival, I discovered through the news that they were going up and down ladders with paint in their hands despite there being a machine parked right next to them. I was confused so I called David about it, and I found out that they were scared of the machine because they’d never seen one before. So, I went on-site the next day and gave the boys a quick rundown on how simple the machine is to use, and they each learned it in less than half an hour.
Aurora Campbell – DSAF @charlieblisscreative
Is the use of MEWP in street art industry becoming more and more of a thing? Is it a recent practice? How do street artists use them?
Faizal Poulter: It’s really simple for the street artists to use the machine. They drive and park the machine next to the wall, lower and position the boom with the ground controls if needed, then switch the selector to basket controls. After that, they jump on the basket, lock on their harness, and operate from there. From the basket, they can rotate the boom, maneuver to the parts of the wall they want to paint, and also drive the machine if needed.
Ever since David started, he’s always used MEWPs, and I think all street artists around the world now use MEWPs, otherwise if you choose to use scaffolding, the budget will blow out of proportion. It’s really expensive
The next edition of the Darwin Street Art Festival will go ahead in May 2024, and David has confirmed that the festival will continue to receive funding from the Northern Territory government for at least the next four years. Beyond the festival, David also actively collaborates with Faizal and United Equipment to utilize Haulotte machines for numerous projects under his own company, Proper Creative. For the foreseeable future, David and Faizal are set to continue creating an impact together through street art.
The street art takes some height with MEWPs
and how MEWPs became an essential and mandatory equipment for street artists.