As Some Graffiti Walls are Lost, Council Considers More "Legal Walls"

The city will be a little less colourful this June as the annual All City Tivoli Jam won’t take place in its venue of 11 years.

The demolition of the Tivoli Theatre on Francis Street in April meant the end to the event, where mainly graffiti artists, local and international, spent the day creating pieces of varying sizes and styles and socialising in the theatre’s large car park. There were skateboarders and DJs too.

Other graffiti walls in the city may also soon be gone.

Behind the Bernard Shaw pub on Richmond Street South is a 160-metre laneway, a treasure trove of big blocky neon lettering, cartoons and abstract art on hoardings. But it’s temporary. The hoarding surrounds the site of the redevelopment of the Tom Kelly flats on Charlemont Street.

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said it’s working with street artists in the city to find places that could serve as legal graffiti walls, going forward.

Councillors at a recent arts committee meeting were largely supportive of the idea – and pointed to positive examples of collaborative projects within communities to brighten up streets.

Reducing Tagging

Some councillors at the arts committee meeting on 13 May said designated areas for graffiti and street art might be a way to reduce tagging around the city.

“People with private gable ends are having serious difficulty with tagging,” said Green Party Councillor Claire Byrne. “They’re just like, ‘If we could get a really nice mural that might help to address that problem.’”

Independent Councillor Mannix Flynn said the city’s streets are “destroyed” with tagging and street art, and objected to moves to facilitate it. “Are we giving some credence to something that’s actually illegal?”

Siobhan Maher, the council’s public-realm strategy project manager, supported the idea of legal walls as a way to reduce bad tagging in the city.

“We do need legal walls around the city,” Maher said, so kids who are tagging can learn from established artists, and to protect the artists too.

Street artists find the planning permission process quite complicated at the moment, said Olan O’Brien, at the meeting.

“Maybe it could do with being a bit clearer perhaps,” said O’Brien, the owner of All City Records and its graffiti supplies store, which organised the Tivoli Jam.

The lane behind the Bernard Shaw pub. Photo by Aura McMenamin.

Dublin City Council, its Arts Office, and its Planning Department are supportive of street art, says Maher. But legislation says murals and street art require planning permission.

At the moment, a planning application fee is €80 and the council “encourages a pre-application meeting”, said a spokesperson for the council.

Emma Blake, part of the all-female street art collective Minaw, sees street art as a viable tourist attraction and laments that Dublin doesn’t have an annual street-art festival.

The All City Tivoli Jam “wasn’t a street art festival that was city-wide. But it was still really great to have that space and have that event. We’re losing our creative spaces,” Blake said.

One solution for the lack of street art in the city could be to make the planning applications less costly and complicated for artists, which puts them off of the process, she says. This way, they could do their work with less restrictions.

“[There’s] all the hoops you have to jump through and the costs of planning permission,” she said. “It’s hard enough to get by as an artist as it is without having to pay for these things.”

Urban artist and muralist Niall O’Lochlainn said he feels that graffiti artists are often turned down for permission anyway. “[It seems like] the council want to see something that’s going to add to the area, rather than a colourful graffiti piece,” he said.

Even if the owner of a building gives permission to an artist or commissions them for a piece, the owner has to apply for planning permission or risk having to later paint over the work, which Blake said has cost her and others artists paid work.

O’Lochlainn said that if the work on a building is smaller and no one complains about it, then the council hasn’t ordered it to be removed.

Bringing Pride

“Community-instigated projects”, as the council calls them, are one area where Dublin City Council seems to relax its policy on planning permission – as long as they’re not for advertising.

According to Dublin City Council, these projects can make an application for an exemption as a partnership with the council where they “address a secondary issue like tagging or graffiti, or highlight a social issue”.

At the meeting, Maher noted the giant squirrel on Tara Street, and the Dublin Canvas boxes as examples of pieces done by agreement with the council.

Further west in the city, in Cherry Orchard, local groups and artists teamed up to add a spark of colour a few years back.

Walking to work on a footbridge leading from Park West to Cherry Orchard Park, Patricia Slevin points to different painted motifs and messages of hope on the inside walls.

“It was lovely because it was so dull,” she says. There were just grey walls and needed cheering up.

The bridge had to be cleaned first. There were signs of bin-burning and drug use. “When you went in in the morning it was a new lease of life looking at it and saying, ‘This is gorgeous,’” she says.

Slevin works as a cleaner at Ballyfermot Star, a community-education and rehabilitation service.

Community Education Officer Sheila Ward explains that Ballyfermot Star partnered with a group called Down to Earth Community Arts in 2016 to stencil and paint the mural.

The aim was to turn the grey, drab bridge into something that would bring joy to people as they crossed the bridge and walked down to the centre, she says.

While a section of the wall has been burned out and there is some minor tagging, most of artwork and messages of hope remain.

Down to Earth also took their brushes to Cherry Orchard’s lamp posts and created a mural for the community centre. They turned the railing into jumbo colouring pencils.

In Inchicore too, KRIB Garda Youth Diversion Project put up a graffiti-style mural on Emmet Road that boldly reads “Lift Yourself Up”.

It’s being replicated over and over again.

Anna Maire McQuillan, founder of the Bluebell Environmental Group, says she wants to get in touch with KRIB to see how she can work with local groups to create a mural on a constantly-tagged gable wall in Bluebell.

The wall is next to the post office and people entering the area from the M50 see it straight away. “I want to give a good impression of the area when people come in,” McQuillan says.

At the recent council arts committee meeting, Sinn Féin’s Greg Kelly said groups had been in touch with him to see ask how they could sign up for walls in their areas.

Maher said that the council is working with CIÉ and its own council departments to deliver legal spaces. “Obviously, it will be in agreement with the local community as well.”

A council spokesperson said it’s been working to identify suitable locations. “The concept of legal walls works well in other authorities however the learning from the trial in Dublin was that art walls should be in areas already in use for street art to some degree,” they said.

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Authors:

Eimear Dodd: Eimear Dodd is a freelance journalist. You can follow her @dodd_ec.

Aura McMenamin: Aura McMenamin is a city reporter covering mainly the south-east of the city, and jobs. You can reach her at aura@dublininquirer.com.

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