Belfast Council to look at “street art walls” to combat antisocial graffiti

Belfast council is to look at providing “street art walls” across the city in a bid to encourage “safe and legal” art and cut down on graffiti tagging.

At a recent Belfast City Council committee meeting, elected members agreed to a report from officers outlining the financial and other implications of a motion proposed by SDLP Councillor Gary McKeown.

The motion states: “The council recognises the transformative benefits that street art can have on communities and welcomes the enhancement of spaces across the city through the creation of public artwork, such as in entries in Belfast City Centre, across the Holylands, and on utility boxes through the Belfast Canvas project.

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“In many places, works have become tourist attractions and are creating a real sense of civic pride. However, the council also acknowledges the concern and frustration that particular types of graffiti such as tagging can cause to communities, and the cost of its removal.

“To encourage a vibrant street art culture in this city and help people to develop the skills required to realise this, the council believes that it is important to facilitate the creation of such art in a safe, legal and positive way, enabling creative expression through this medium and reducing the proliferation of antisocial graffiti.

“This council will therefore work with the street art community to support the continuing development of a positive street art culture in this city and, in particular, will provide “street art walls” which will allow people to create artwork legally.”

It adds: “In addition to identifying Belfast City Council property to facilitate this, the council will also work with public, private and third sector partners to identify locations across the city which can be used freely by people for ad hoc street art and collaborative projects.

“The council will also work with street artists and groups, youth providers and other partners to engage with people who could benefit from getting involved in street art and support mentoring and skills development to empower them to express themselves through this route.

“It will also consult and work with artists and groups to develop a better and evolving understanding of how it can support street art. Taking this approach, the council aims to support the vibrant street art scene in Belfast and help develop the next generation of street artists to enable it to continue to flourish, while reducing the impact and cost of negative graffiti by encouraging a positive alternative.”

A council officer told the City Growth and Regeneration Committee: “We have a related action in the City Imagining Work Plan. We can bring something back in, but just to stress, and we have some scar tissue on this, it is a complicated matter with regard to ownership and permissions and so on.”

Sinn Féin Councillor John Gormley said: “I welcome the ambition set out in the motion, enabling creative expression and reducing the cost and impact of negative graffiti. Members will be aware that negative and antisocial graffiti is a source of great annoyance to many of our citizens and removal is both a challenge and a cost we could well do without.

“I feel it would be good to have some reasonable assurance that the street art project would bring the desired benefits and lead to a reduction in unwanted graffiti. Therefore I propose a report be brought back which should include examples of cities, I think Norwich is one, that have similar street art projects, along with evidence of tangible benefits achieved, particularly in terms of reducing the cost and impact of negative graffiti.”

DUP Councillor Ian McLaughlin said: “I welcome the fact a report is being brought back. Currently some of the “street art” as we call it, is actually illegal, and it would be wrong I think to reward people who are engaging in illegal activity by paying to put street art on in certain parts of the city. We need clarity around that issue.

“Secondly I would like the council to consider communities that have stepped up to the plate over the past number of years by re-imaging what are referred to as so-called “contentious” murals, be it of a paramilitary nature or whatever.

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“Some of these murals in inner city areas have fallen into disrepair, and when community groups have tried to access funding from council and others, to brighten these up, they are very often told the responsibility of the maintenance of these things lies with the community group.

“I think that is quite unfair. So I would like to ask the council if they could look at some communities that have engaged in re-imaging projects, and could find a way to help these communities spruce up what they have.”

Councillor McLaughlin’s request will also be included in the street art report.

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