Melbourne’s moving artworks

Accomplish • Pulse #2 • 3 min

Created in the late seventies, the Melbourne Art Tram wraps public tramways   with artworks. The result of a creative partnership between different players   in the city. The idea is to give people the opportunity to be touched by original Melbournian artworks. Returning after a 20‑year interlude, the project’s blending   of public transport and great local artists has proven hugely popular.

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A blissful return to the simplicity of creation

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“The Melbourne Art Trams project could only happen in Melbourne, with our world-class artists and our world- class tram network,” says Jonathan Holloway, Melbourne Festival’s  artistic director.

Now in its fifth year, the annual project invites artists and community groups from the Australian state of Victoria to submit designs that will adorn trams on Melbourne’s iconic network, the world’s largest. It’s a revival of the ‘Transporting Art’ scheme, which ran from 1978 until 1993. The workmen at the Preston Workshops where Melbourne’s trams were painted watched with interest as renowned artists transformed trams into mobile artworks, and over the following four years, a total of 16 trams were painted.

The Melbourne Art Trams project involves eight trams each year.  The trams are no longer painted, instead the artwork is transferred onto ‘vinyl’ and ‘wrapped’ around them. The project takes contemporary art to a mass audience. More than 1.8 million people board a Melbourne Art Tram each year, and many more experience the designs as they travel on the city’s 250 km network. The public can vote for their favourite design and the winner of the People’s Choice Award receives an A$5,000 prize.


The Melbourne Art Trams project is made possible through a creative partnership between Melbourne Festival, Creative Victoria and Public Transport Victoria in collaboration with Yarra Trams, which operates Melbourne’s entire tram network. And Keolis Downer Victoria, the operator of Yarra Trams, facilitates the project each year.

The partners start each February with a public expression of interest for Victoria-based artists. Their selection panel ensures that the artists are representative of Melbourne’s diverse communities, and include at least one emerging artist and one community entrant. The eight successful applicants are chosen in June, and the artists then work with Yarra Trams to adapt their designs to the intricacies of the tram’s class they have been given to work with (some parts of the trams cannot be covered because of safety or passenger requirements). The trams are then wrapped and are launched in October, coinciding with the annual Melbourne Festival, one of Australia’s leading arts festivals.

In addition to having their work paraded through Melbourne’s streets for six months on a twenty-tonne canvas, the artists each receive A$5,000 – and they can double their money if they win the People’s Choice Award.


The public has fallen in love with the Melbourne Art Trams, and it has become one of the city’s major annual public art projects. It has also put the city on the map internationally, with many tourists taking photos that they share with friends and family around the world.

“There’s huge anticipation and build up each year when we unveil the designs for the eight trams,” says Philip Askew, General Manager Marketing and Digital at Public Transport Victoria, the authority responsible for providing, coordinating and promoting public transport in Victoria. Passengers can track the real time location of each of the trams using the city’s TramTracker app.

 “I’m still amazed by the reaction of people on the street when they see these colourful wrapped trams passing through the city or their neighbourhood.”

“It creates a real connection with our passengers and adds to their sense of pride and shared ownership of Melbourne’s tram network.” “It’s great kudos for the tram network to be the carrier of this art each year, cementing our place as the iconic image of Melbourne and our role in the community”, adds Emilie van de Graaff, Director, Passenger & Network Innovation at Keolis Downer. “And the trams look fantastic. We love watching this come to life each year and hope it will continue for a long time yet.”



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