25th October 2015
Look at the mural pictured above. Now look at those red bricks at the top of it. Those red bricks have such appeal don’t they? Could you imagine if that mural wasn’t there and instead we, the people of Glastonbury and all those who travel miles to visit our historical town, were treated to a lovely wall of red bricks in its place? It’s quite a unique prospect isn’t it? Truly something we’ve never seen before, right? Of course, I’m being facetious – unfortunately that’s what one side of a divide actually wants and sadly it’s going to a committee to decide whether or not this mural stays.
In this opinion piece, this particular opinion is that it’s a rather short-sighted view that this mural should go. In a world where we are consuming photography at an unprecedented rate it’s my view that art installations, the likes of street art included, can play a large role in generating tourism and boosting our economy. I may be wrong though – I don’t think many people went to Weston-Super-Mare for that whole Banksy Dismaland thing did they?
Hands up if you’ve ever looked at someone’s Instagram post and thought, “I’d love to go and see that!” – Okay, you can put them down now. It’s no surprise that tourism boards across the globe are opening Instagram accounts and posting their very own ‘tourism porn,’ inviting the masses consuming visual greatness via this relatively new medium to pay their territory a visit by flaunting their best bits. Sure, they can rely on scenic landscape views, buzzing city centres and historical landmarks and that does have an appeal, but the modern day tourist, who by the way is likely to be snapping and sharing online images that they find aesthetically pleasing, also wants to be surprised and discover something off the beaten track. So, surely we should be encouraging the creation of new things they can discover?
Hashtag ‘Streetart’ into Instagram right now and you’ll see there’s over 14 million posts of images featuring street art. In a recent study it was announced that 28% of Internet users worldwide use Instagram and 55% of those are aged 18-29 (Details here.) So, for the sake of argument let’s say 7 million of those postings about street art are from users aged 18-29 and then consider that in the next 30 years towns like Glastonbury will heavily rely on those in that age group to visit our town and thus boost the local economy – holy shit, we better start creating some street art. Oh wait, it’s okay, we already have some… Unless…
By now I’m hoping that you’re in agreement that street art is a growing trend and as more and more people are taking and sharing photographs it’s likely that they will photograph and share any street art that evokes pleasure in them. So, ignoring the fact that there is a large proportion of local people that love this mural, it’s probably not doing our tourism prospects any harm either now is it? Sure, we need to rely on those wanting to come and see Glastonbury Tor, The Abbey, Chalice Well and the like to attract people but why not be open to other avenues such as the creation of new tourism sites? Let’s not get complacent.
Okay, okay, that may sound pie in the sky, but is it? I’m not purely talking about street art but surely those town meetings like the one being held to discuss the removal of the mural should be focussing on what we can do to make Glastonbury an even more appealing prospect for people to visit? In years to come when young people are researching where to visit on their travels we want them to read a blog post that not only mentions our historical stalwarts but also the quirky art pieces brought on by the freedom to create, a thriving underground scene and a High Street that hasn’t been swallowed up by commercial ventures. Those ‘new’ aspects are important and may be the deciding factor in getting them to venture here and not elsewhere.
When I visited Toronto I wasn’t only advised to go to CN Tower and Toronto Islands by locals, I was told to visit Kensington Market, a neighbourhood jam packed full of street art and I’ve got news for you – not only was it busier than CN Tower but I also enjoyed it more. The Dutch city of Rotterdam, home of the former largest port in the world, has seen its tourism figures on the rise since its city council commissioned innovative and celebrated architects to create eye-catching new landmarks that are now highlighted in all their tourism marketing material. Like Rotterdam, a city considered ugly by many after heavy bombing in World War II led to heavy rebuilding of bland structures from the 50s to 70s, Cologne now celebrates a juxtaposition of new architecture sitting amongst structures built hundreds of years ago as a result of their post-war rebuilding efforts.
Closer to home, Weston-Super-Mare saw a spike in tourism numbers this summer due to the aforementioned Dismaland and in Bedminster, Bristol, the Upfest street art festival, which has over 14,000 likes on Facebook, saw many local businesses benefit from the influx of visitors over the weekend it was held. You could barely move on the streets by the way. What I’m trying to point out is that the ‘new’ may not be your cup of tea but it shouldn’t be dismissed on your taste alone.
So, bringing it back around to this mural in Glastonbury, I’m not saying it’s going to change the world or bring hundreds of thousands of people to the area over the next few years, but taking it down is surely a step in the wrong direction. No rules were broken – it’s not like they sneakily painted it in 20 minutes in the middle of the night and in fact many locals, myself included, watched in awe as it was painted over days.
I’d agree that spaces should be designated for street art and no one wants to see buildings peppered with artwork without permission being granted, but in this case local people should be thanking the artists for doing their bit to make our area even more appealing and perhaps to a new kind of tourist. Perhaps then there could be a meeting held to discuss how other creatives can also contribute something that may well bring visitors to our town in future.
Article by Arran Dutton