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First Coat is a street art festival showcasing large scale artworks in public spaces around the Toowoomba CBD.

2015 was the second year for the festival after a hugely successful launch in 2014. Designed to turn the centre of town into one tremendous open-air art gallery, the First Coat festival brings arts, culture, music and celebration to the region for three days in May each year. Presented by Kontraband Studios, in partnership with Toowoomba Regional Council and GraffitiSTOP, the festival was extended this year to include an impressive suite of side events, including live music and arts forums.

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The brainchild of First Coast is artist, curator and Kontraband Studios co-director Grace Dewar. Driven by a passion to make art accessible to the community, she has created a spectacular event that doesn’t just bring tourism to the local community, but has now been recognised by The Sydney Morning Herald as one of the country’s top 50 outdoor events. Together with fellow co-director, artist and sign-writer Ian McCallum, the two have pulled off an extraordinary feat, bringing in high profile street artists from around the globe to this regional Queensland centre. This year more than 30 international and local artists descended on Toowoomba to participate in the festival. Each artist was designated a wall in a neglected space, notorious for being tagged with graffiti, to transform with incredible artwork.

Headlining the festival this year was Mark Paul Deren, aka Madsteez. This Californian legend has exhibited his artwork around the world, including Art Basel, and created a range of sneakers with Nike. The list goes on. His huge, colourful artworks ‘stop you in your tracks’. Madsteez chose none other than Steve Irwin as the subject for his mural, at 6 Neil Street. “It was a true honour to pay my respects to not only an Australian legend but a legend to the world,” he said.

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One of the most beautiful artworks is by Melbourne artist Adnate. Located at 49 Neil Street, his ‘One and the Same’ mural formed part of the pre-festival event and is a celebration of the region’s multiculturalism, highlighting the festival’s partnership with local community groups.

Brisbane-based design team Frank and Mimi, called their work ‘The New Frontier’, “a visual acknowledgement that Toowoomba is on the cusp of evolving an important new dimension to its identity as a regional city.”

Although it is hard to say just how many people attended the festival this year, Dewar and McCallum do know that the 2500 maps they printed off were given out in the first few hours of the festival opening. The success of the event is undeniable. By showcasing otherwise neglected parts of the city in a new light to its residents, the festival successfully re-engages people with the street, allowing them to take pride and ownership of their streetscape. Public art of this scale tells a story about community and the diversity within it. If it’s enough to make people stop and consider for a moment, then it is doing the job.

Words by Alice Thompson | Images by Luke Shirlaw/@dymskov