Legal protection for street art in designated zones

Street art takes the form of not only isolated pictures but sometimes covers an entire building facade, for example the Prince of Wales (Gloucester Road), the Cadbury pub and the Welcome to Montpelier signs, the Little Shop (Cheltenham Road), The Duke of York pub, I could go on and on. I am not referring to the territorial 'tagging', wherein an artist quickly sprays their 'tag' on a wall in an unreadable style. This sort of 'art' doesn't really produce a work for people to look at and enjoy, it just communicates occupation, and, in the wrong place, can ruin a wall.

I am suggesting providing support to the artists of Bristol who want to create something for all passers-by to gaze upon with enjoyment, in carefully selected locations (with owners' permission), by protecting those artists in those places from prosecution by using a byelaw. This isn't a brand new idea for Bristol, but a continuation of the ongoing hard work done by community organisations in the city to promote street art and ensure artists have adequate space in which to practise.

There is already an idea on this site suggesting a designated gallery for street art [1] and ones for promoting artists within a creative "harbour" [2] or in the old ParcelForce centre [3]. However no-one has yet suggested assigning small zones across the city, which could be designated "street art friendly". This would be in effect an array of practice walls, upon which all budding and established artists would be permitted to try out techniques and compositions. I only know of two such places: the wall opposite the South end of Picton Street, where it joins Ashley Road (and painting there is still just as illegal as anywhere else, as far as I know, although I could be wrong), and the PRSC Outdoor Gallery on Jamaica Street where the turnover of paintings is very fast - clearly the wall is in hot demand!

Practice walling is already done across Bristol, but at the moment, artists wanting to prominently display their efforts and hone their painting and spraying skills on most walls are under constant threat from the law. It is understood that laws against graffiti exist to protect the natural and built environment from unnecessary damage, but it would be great to see their application relaxed or rebuffed in these specific areas, so long as artists agree to stick to the allocated surfaces. Artists could then practise there without fear of prosecution. Of course, many artists will
paint anyway, willing to run the risk of prosecution. But there exist budding painters in Bristol who won't take the risk - they need the reassurance that they would not be breaking the law by painting on city walls. I am one such painter.

Nelson Street was, in my eyes, a great success story, turning a bunch of grey, extraordinarily shabby buildings into a spectacular outdoor gallery. However, brilliant street artists don't just appear, they need to be able to train. They need surfaces upon which to practise and then galleries in which to showcase their works. There is a rise in the use of vacant buildings e.g. shops for the display of art, but think how much better it would be to proudly display art for arts sake in the outdoor environment, as opposed to confining it to abandoned shops, as if a cultural afterthought?

What places to choose for these zones, and how? Two types: private land, and public land. Property owners could be invited to allocate part of their building facade, garden wall, fence or other part of their property as a street art practice zone. Public landowners (e.g. Bristol City Council) could do the same, with appropriate community consultation to determine the extent or placement of zones. This zoning could definitely be a temporary status. There would be nothing against a landowner withdrawing the 'practice wall status' in order to return the wall to their control, for their use when needed. A notice could be displayed, warning artists that the practice wall period has ended and that any further painting could result in prosecution. Any further enforcement wouldn't be necessary if artists learned to respect the zones and not paint any further once the period had ended.

The scheme could possibly be administered like this: land owners could be approached by painters wanting to use their land, and then if persuaded, the landowner could give their written consent for the artist to contact the council and agree the practice wall zone. The costs of putting up a notice or border for the wall should (I feel) be borne by the first artist to use the wall i.e. in submitting an application to create a practice wall, the artist would need to stump the necessary cash to meet costs associated with zoning. If it was a public area or wall, the artist could simply apply or petition the council, and then if the council identified any costs with providing the zone to the artist (e.g. installation of signage), the artist could decide whether to fund the wall, and of course could volunteer to create such notices for the council to reduce the cost of zoning.

I dearly want to see this idea succeed and not get tangled up in council red tape. All that is needed is a simple byelaw, which would exclude artists from prosecution in certain locations, which would be clearly marked. Costs of designating the zones would be met by artists (who could of course find their own funding, possibly through crowdsourcing).

Why the contribution is important

Like it or loathe it, street art and graffiti are an important part of Bristol culture, identity and indeed its tourism. We are famous for it. Walk along Stokes Croft, Nelson Street or even Richmond Road and you will often see people ambling along with their cameras, taking photos of beautiful pictures that have often taken the artists quite a while to create, and with a great degree of skill. Street art attracts visitors to this wonderful city and it starts friendly and exciting conversations between strangers in the street (such is the warm, sociable Bristolian way).

Tasteful, artistic graffiti fosters creative spirit and a reputation for diversity, artistic talent and modernity. I believe art in this city in all its forms should be carefully nurtured and encouraged and that this is one way of doing so.

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by user479921 on January 05, 2014 at 09:46PM

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  • Posted by user251846 January 07, 2014 at 12:37

    Graffiti art is OK, but becomes exceedingly monotonous upon repetition, as most grafitti artists - however skilled - tend to be rather limited in their visual vocabulary and political nous. The whole point of such art is that it's temporary. To enshrine it in such ways gives it far more weight and credibility than such a pleasant - but ultimately shallow - genre deserves. I would not support this.
  • Posted by user479921 January 08, 2014 at 14:00

    I respect your comments but disagree wholeheartedly. Why should good works of street art or graffiti, those that stimulate the senses and the mind, be temporary? If they're good art, why shouldn't they stay for longer? In any case, you've missed the point, because in my proposal I don't demand that any art on the practice walls should be more than temporary anyway, the point of a practice wall is that it can be overwritten by new artworks quite quickly.

    Limited in "visual vocabulary" or "political nous"? These are opinions of the individual. Your subtle bigotry aside, again, if any given person disagreed politically with an advertisement, they'd still be breaking the law if they tore down the billboard. So, why shouldn't an artwork which some enjoy (though others might not) be displayed, particularly because with this idea, if the person looking didn't like what they saw, they could paint what they deemed "better" artwork over the top?

    Such is the nature of the graffiti scene, it's transient and progressive, all I'm talking about giving it protected sites to work with. Maybe if the city's graffiti artists had more walls to practise on, with devotion, their 'visual vocabulary' might improve to a level deemed acceptable by you?
  • Posted by user382075 January 08, 2014 at 20:14

    This sounds like a great idea, intelligently and sensitively thought out and presented. If this reduced the graffiti in area where it is not ok I would be wholeheartedly in favour of it, in the right place it can brighten up and add interest to many drab unwanted areas. I'm afraid I can't see anything in favour of the unsightly tagging which crops up everywhere, and can!t see this plan reducing that.
  • Posted by user251846 January 10, 2014 at 09:54

    Hi Dzfoakes!

    Points well made and taken, but we already have a street of buildings (Quay Street?) dedicated to graffiti art once a year, such art is in evidence already in many parts of the city (Stokes Croft being a good example, as you say). I'm not a fan of it myself (as is evident) and I find the naive (although mildly amusing) political posturings of Banksy and his lesser imitators rather annoying, but if it will benefit the artists to have walls/areas where such work can be made free of the risk of illegality I'd happily support it, as long as illegal sites are covered up. As for tagging, well, that isn't grafitti art, anyway, it's just vandalism and I doubt whether genuine artists would want to be associated with it (I was going to say 'tarred with the same brush', but I suppose it should be 'sprayed with the same can'...).
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