Village Voices

Related to City Art
Installed 2016
Within a laneway, an installation of six rows of large white text backlit against a black background hangs on one wall. Through the exit of the laneway is a street at night with pedestrians passing.
A street in Surry Hills with shops. Between two shopfronts is a narrow laneway. On the laneway wall is an installation of six lines of large white text on a black background.
Close view of large white text on a dark background, reading, "...the doors to the... lifestyle of busy... woven through.... mixed with new... here and settled... together or all alone." Below the text is a rack of spare white letters.

Diverse stories and forgotten histories are shared as poems written by locals who are provided a public voice.

Artist: Astra Howard

Artwork description

Village Voices is located in a narrow, covered pedestrian laneway in Surry Hills, between the southern end of Crown Street and Wilshire Street.

The artwork consists of a black steel framework mounted to the brick wall of the passage, with space between the bars of the frame for 6 lines of text. The words are formed from large white capital letters, subtly backlit by lights set into the bars. The letters are interchangeable and additional letters are stored in a glass letterbox below the frame.

The design of this artwork was inspired by the flexible signs used by movie theatres, churches and sportsfields to communicate important current messages to their communities.

Village Voices is an interactive artwork, designed to capture and share diverse local stories and forgotten histories, in the form of poetry or prose. The artist Astra Howard, who worked for many years in local crisis homeless services, sought to give a public voice to people who have never had a chance to tell their stories.

Village Voices is intended to be a focal point for dialogue and interaction between visitors and local residents, businesses and community organisations.

The letters, which are changed every few months, display excerpts from stories composed during local community workshop events. There is also a drop box at the Surry Hills Neighbourhood Centre, where people can submit their own stories about Surry Hills to be considered for display, and submissions can also be made by email to [email protected].

“Public art can be the catalyst for discussion and debate about social, cultural, political and environmental issues. Through the constantly rearranged letters, this artwork recalls intimate games of Scrabble, prompting passersby to think about diverse issues that affect them, from the local to the global.”

– Astra Howard


Astra Howard is a self-described action researcher and performer, who collects and visualises data to create artworks that get people talking about the issues affecting their neighbourhood.

Her works have been commissioned by city councils, state governments, and art organisations in New York, London, Hanoi, Delhi, Beijing and Paris.

Many of these projects address social issues like homelessness, reflecting her work in this sector over many years in inner Sydney.

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