Artist: Astra Howard
Date Installed
Installed 2016
Laneway between Crown St and Wilshire St, Surry Hills
Tags: Community, Performance, Text

Surry Hills NSW 2010, Australia

Artwork Description

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 passers-by to think about diverse issues that affect them, from the local to the global.

– Astra Howard

Village Voices text archive

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

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 six 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 sports fields 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



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.

Get arts and culture updates from City of Sydney News.

Sign up