Whistle-stop tour…

A lovely man called Paul, who spends his days in Cardiff City Centre on a little buggy, ferrying less mobile folks to and from the shops, sorting out the bollards and such like, gave me a tour of the city this morning.

The aim was to find suitable locations for a temporary wall in place of the Millennium Walkway, while we sort out a permanent, purpose built wall. My requirements are that it is well-lit, with high footfall, pedestrianised, and BIG. These are the two options I’ve given to Matt at the Council:

Charles Street – it’s off Queen Street and away from the road. There are no shop windows and lots of bare wall. It’s fairly peaceful and can be seen from the main shopping area.

Old Custom House Building on Custom House Street. It’s a listed building so we couldn’t paint it directly but we could put up boards all the way around. There is already hoarding a bit further along, which could also be used, and two railway underpasses at either end.

If anyone has any other suitable locations please let me know.

Shout out Dan Green who joined us on our whistle-stop tour.

Building a wall…

It all comes down to money.

The Millennium Walkway costs £55,000 per year to maintain. Advertising on the Walkway will bring in £100,000 per year. We, as artists CANNOT compete with that!

Advertisers don’t want their shiny corporate image tainted with being associated with graffiti… let’s not take that too personally. We can’t share the space with them. BUT, we can share in some of the money that they’ll bring in to our beautiful city.

I’m pleased to say that Matt, Cath and Elaine from Cardiff Council, get it. They understand what we want for Cardiff – for it to be a place where everyone, no matter their financial or housing situation, their demographic or cultural background – everyone has a right to the spaces in this city.

We discussed the need for places where people can come together to paint, to gather socially and have real ownership of these spaces. The council have agreed to build us a new wall, somewhere safe, well-lit and central to Cardiff. They have also agreed to put a section on licence forms for building contractors, to legitimise painting on their temporary hoarding. They will also be securing permission for us to legally paint at skate parks and possibly building walls in these locations for us to paint.

On Monday I’ll be arranging to meet with Paul from Cardiff Council, to walk around the city centre and identify areas where we can paint legally. If not on walls, then on hoarding that the Council will put up for us. If anybody wants to join us on that walk around, or has ideas for suitable locations, please do let me know.

So although we didn’t ‘save’ our wall, we’ll be building a new one, and will transform Cardiff in the process. Thank you everyone who signed the petition – this is your city. I’ll keep the petition page open so I can keep you informed as things progress, because we now need to make sure these promises are kept.

Thank you also to Councillors Sarah Merry and Chris Weaver, Dan Wilson (Grassroots) and Oner Signs.

Knitting and Graffiti… Good for our mental health.

In 2015 I was asked by RSPB’s Phil Burkard to paint a mural as part of a partnership bid with Cardiff Council to transform the Millenium Walkway into a shared space with public artwork and spaces filled with wild flowers. The bid to Kew Gardens was unsuccessful, but I have continued to work hard to transform the area anyway, into a space which is filled with public artwork, and used for community events.

Community has always been important to me and I am active in my local area, leading and supporting projects and activities to encourage inclusion and interaction. I love bringing people together – for an international Bboy event, a Graffiti jam, for a small community meeting or a knitting group. Knitting and Graffiti may not appear to have anything in common but our ‘Pins & Needles’ group in Tongwynlais has the same collaborative way of working as a paint jam where graffiti artists come together. The creative things we do together are important to our mental health and wellbeing, and the wellbeing of society. Some people are more fragile than others, and we support one another to learn and grow through creating.

Past & Unity, 2017. Photo: Benjamin Jenkins

Graffiti is an art-form that isn’t widely understood, and although Banksy has been instrumental in bringing street-art into the public consciousness, he is not a graffiti artist. Graffiti is about lettering – putting your name on the wall so that people can no longer ignore you, your culture and your way of life. A way of life that doesn’t necessarily fit into the clean, consumer lifestyle that we are encouraged to buy into yet can rarely afford.

I set up a petition out of frustration at the lack of inclusion from Cardiff Council in discussions that are happening about selling off the Walkway for advertising. We had spoken about possibilities for utilising graffiti artist’s skills, like we did for the Rugby World Cup where each artist did a piece in the flag colours of one of the teams, but these discussions have come to nothing. Thank you so much to everyone who has signed the petition, and for all the wonderful, diverse and heartfelt comments that you’ve made.

I’m pleased to say that I’ve been invited to a meeting with the Council on Friday afternoon – I’m taking Keiron from Oner Signs, Dan from Grassroots and Councillor Sarah Merry to back me up. I’ll let you know how it goes…

SIGN THE PETITION

Cardiffian article about the petition here
Tongwynlais.com article here

Video of 2016 International Women’s Day paint jam here

we not in new York

In 2016 I heard that Brecon was holding a women’s festival. Having been involved in a number of events for International Women’s Day I contacted them to see if I could paint for it. I was too late but the organisers kindly included me in the programme for 2017.

I spent a day in Brecon speaking to people about it, trying to find a suitable wall, and permission to paint it. I came away with a couple of options and followed it up with National Parks, whom I didn’t realise have so much control over what the town looks like.

Speaking to business owners, the Town Clerk and members of the Chamber of Trade, it was clear that there is a lot of concern about derelict buildings and empty shops. My final choice was to paint a boarded up building on the High Street.

As soon as I started putting on the base coat emulsion people started thanking me for improving the appearance of the shop. PLAN Brecon posted some images of my work in progress on Facebook, sparking a discussion which I followed with fascination. One of the first comments ‘Don’t need this type of art it sends out the wrong signals we not in new York’ initially made me chuckle, but on reflection I think this insight was actually quite astute.

I learned my art-form by painting on legal walls with friends. In Hip-Hop culture, we have an ‘each one teach one’ ethos. Graffiti is a community-led form of alternative education which grew from the political situation in 1960’s New York. Extremely poor areas of the city had been left isolated and deprived, and young people in those areas instigated what has been referred to as one of the most important art movements in recent years. The authorities, rather than addressing the social problems at the time, blamed graffiti – a visible, easily identified target. The media portrayal from this time is what has shaped our understanding of the art-form right up to this day.

When I was growing up, Brecon was a thriving town, and like many it has suffered from online shopping, large retail outlets and chain shops sucking money away from independent ‘High Street’ businesses. I’m pleased to say that my mural has sparked some positive exchanges online, which I hope will lead to real projects and more people working together.

Change must come from grassroots level, and can only happen if people are able to work together, putting aside their differences. Street art is not permanent – that’s the point – it’s part of an evolving landscape. A landscape which now needs to adapt quickly to thrive. The internet has brought shopping into all of our homes, and we may need to re-think what a Town Centre could become, before it becomes isolated and deprived – like parts of 1960’s New York.

Further reading: Taking The Train – How Graffiti Art became an urban crisis in New York City, by Joe Austin.

Read the discussion on PLAN Brecon’s facebook page here.