Bristol has had a long history of street art starting with graffiti. Although murals are a more acceptable form of street art in Bristol, graffiti is still very much present in Bristol’s streetscapes. There have been controversies regarding whether graffiti should be considered a form of street art or not in Bristol. There has also been much debate about whether Banksy, the reputed street artist whose hometown is Bristol, is a graffiti artist or a mural artist. This was evident in a newspaper article which stated “Bristol city council is planning to let the public vote before murals on buildings, walls and fences are scrubbed clean or painted over. If citizens decide they like it, the work will remain.” This quote indicates that Bristol City Council, who administers public art in Bristol, is giving the choice to the public to choose how they perceive street art in the city of Bristol.
How street art is incorporated in Bristol
Street art in Bristol is seen to make a positive contribution to the local environment and there have been many positive responses from the public regarding street art in the city. Bristol also has a street art trail map which the public can use to explore street art around the city. Many local authorities and other institutional sponsors are producing public art strategies and other guidance that seek to constrain the work of public artists so as to ensure diversity of provision. As street art is part of the public art, Bristol City Council is diversifying the rage of artists contributing to the city’s image. This also suggests ‘Imagineering’ as the Bristol City Council seeks to employ specific artists to create a particular image for the city. In many instances, the Council has considered the public’s opinion on street art because the public’s image of art contributes to the overall image of the city. This is evident in a Banksy mural that the Bristol City Council approved after gaining the public’s perception about the artwork. For example, this is evident in the following quote:
The Bristol City Council has allowed a mural by artist Banksy to stay after there was “overwhelming support” from the public. The work shows a woman in her underwear standing behind a suited man leaning out of a window, and a naked man hanging onto the ledge. An internet discussion forum held by Ask Bristo Forum at BBC showed 97% of submitters supported the work. There were only six people who wanted the work removed (Artdaily, 2006)
This indicates that even the general public is involved in decision making of street art in Bristol. This suggests a higher level of democracy involved in street art in Bristol in comparison to most other cities worldwide. In both instances, however, the perceptions of the public are considered by the officials to create an image for the city. This has contributed to Bristol marketing itself ‘as visitable’ where the fame of Banksy and the art of Banksy and other reputed international artists who draw on Bristol’s walls create a sense of place for Bristol where street art is part of the marketing of the image the city has created.
Bristol has also been marketed as “one of the street art destinations of the world” (Dogliani, 2015).This is because street art is prominent in a particular district to promote businesses in the area like it is with murals also painted on “houses and shops plastered with ground-to-roof murals” which indicates that street art is vastly spread around the city almost in every neighborhood. This positive vibe in Bristol for street art has also attracted a lot of artists and even locals contributing to a positive change for the city walls. Because the Bristol City Council has been open to receiving input from the public, there has been less controversy over murals, although the topic about whether graffiti is still legal is an issue in Bristol. Although art is a cultural product it has individual effects where the public’s opinion also needs to be strongly considered rather than just the administrators. One initiative the Bristol City Council has been doing is having direct discussions with the public on the effects street art has to individual perceptions.
Therefore, street art is an important part of Bristol. Artists like Banksy have not only had a tremendous effect on the landscape of Bristol but have also left impressions throughout the world, indicating that street art is gaining momentum. It is important to raise awareness about street art so that other countries around the world embrace the idea. As graffiti was not embraced, murals are becoming more popular and having an impact on our cities. Banksy has also written a book on his artworks and although he is a very controversial figure, he has left a mark on street art. Even India is being influenced by Banksy’s art to make public spaces more democratized and useful to the people.
Also Read: Growing Culture of Street Art in India