Early last month Broadsheet announced world-famous photographer Spencer Tunick would headline Chapel Street’s winter arts festival Provocaré. The New York State-born artist is known primarily for photographing large-scale nude shoots in public locations, sometimes featuring thousands of participants.

More than 10,000 people have so far registered interest in getting their kits off for Tunick’s shoots across the two weekends of the festival, and three locations have already been secured. The artist had hoped the rooftop car park of the Chapel Street Woolworths could be used as the final location for shooting.

“He fell in love with that location and just had a vision of what he wanted to do with it,” Chapel Street Precinct Association (CSPA) head of business Chrissie Maus tells Broadsheet.

But much to the artist’s and festival organisers’ chagrin, Woolworths is refusing to play ball.

“At Woolworths, we will always put the convenience of our local customers first,” says Woolworths Group Limited in a statement.

“The request for the photo was on the weekend, which is the busiest time of the week for shopping in our stores, and as such we must ensure customers have convenient access to our store when we are open.”

Broadsheet understands Woolworths Group Limited responded to the festival’s request to use the car park in mid-April.

The site was chosen for its panoramic views of Melbourne, which would be used as a backdrop to the nude models. There’s also a number of nearby architectural icons, such as Prahran’s Love and Lewis building, visible from the roof top.

The shoot was planned for Saturday July 7 and would have wrapped up by 9am, with between 500 and 1000 participants expected to attend.

Maus says four reconnaissance trips to the site found the car park quiet at that time of day, and that the car park rarely gets busy until later on. The CSPA also offered to find alternative parking for Woolworths’s customers at the nearby Prahran Market, Maus said.

“It’s not only [Woolworths] saying no to us, it’s also Woolworths saying no to the hundreds of small businesses in that area that would have seen a huge spike in sales on that day in the coldest month of the year.”

Maus thinks the decision also goes against Woolworths Group Limited’s own corporate messaging. One section of the Woolworths Group site says, “We are proud to be an important contributor to communities across Australia and New Zealand.” Woolworths currently supports charities including White Ribbon – which aims to end domestic violence against women, and supports food programs including OzHarvest and Foodbank.

“I think it’s a prudish decision and I’m also saying it’s selfish and incorrect, and I’m also saying their response is inauthentic,” says Maus. “I think if your strategic plan and values state ‘community’ you have to be razor sharp on what your community is around you. They show a complete lack of understanding about the community and their values … the largely adult population of Prahran.

“One decision by a company [which] claims to strategically focus on community is acting in complete juxtaposition, saying they are looking after their customers but it’s a completely inauthentic response.”

Tunick has previously staged his shoots at Unesco World Heritage sites such as the Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland. He was also granted permission to shoot on the steps of the Sydney Opera House in 2010 for his work The Base, for which he photographed 5200 people. In 2001 Tunick photographed 4500 naked people arranged on the banks of the Yarra River, down St Kilda Road and in Alexandra Gardens for his installation The Unfamiliar Familiar.

“My work has long brought out the common themes of community, individual identity, and the challenges of making the arts an inclusive experience rather than an exclusive experience,” the artist said in statement.

“Working on the Woolworths Prahran rooftop car park provides an amazing opportunity to let the citizens of Melbourne become the artist themselves – to remind the citizens of Melbourne that Woolworths has a symbiotic relationship with them. Ultimately, the final images will document an extraordinary moment in the timeline of Prahran.”

Provocaré festival and the Chapel Street Precinct Association have launched a petition to try and sway the decision of the supermarket giant. Click here to have your say.