The Gibraltar Heritage Trust yesterday reacted angrily to the Government announcement of a new art project featuring graffiti art on the façade of the Ince’s Hall Theatre. The work which is in the process of being painted forms part of a project introducing street art/graffiti in Gibraltar as part of an urban regeneration programme the Government said.
The Trust responded immediately to the news revealing it had objected to the art installation at a DPC sub-committee meeting on Thursday 23 on the grounds that the historic Georgian building was the wrong choice for such a mural because of its heritage significance. It wrote to the Chief Minister Fabian Picardo immediately setting out its objections to the installation. To date the Trust has not received a reply.
Last night the Government said it regretted the rejection of this initiative by the Trust. The Government original statement earlier in the day explained the overall aim of the project was to revitalize areas locally that required redevelopment in an attempt to improve the physical appeal of building façades. It noted that this was a popular form of public art probably best understood by seeing it in situ.
The Trust in its own statement was clear that it did not oppose such an initiative “if it was well planned”. It pointed out that in fact they would support it but had been surprised that as a member of the Government’s Urban Renewal Committee the initiative had never been tabled in that forum.
The second Government statement last night claimed the Trust was in fact advised of the initiative in advance, and information on the proposal, including examples of the artist’s style of work, was channeled through the DPC subcommittee voluntarily for guidance and advice as has always been this Government’s practice.
But in its own statement the Trust had objected and had been disappointed by what it claimed was “the rushed manner in which this project has come to fruition”.
“It was only at 15:49hrs Tuesday afternoon that a mock-up of the artwork was uploaded onto the EGOV planning portal, but work on the preparation of the facade was already underway with a cherry-picker having been on site since mid-morning on Tuesday, signaling that the project was going ahead regardless of the outcome of the planning process.”
Given time, insisted the Trust, they would have worked with Government, through the DPC process, to identify a suitable place for such an installation to go ahead.
The Trust also accused the Government of not adhering to the rules governing the DPC Sub-committee and explained that if there is no consensus reached, the application must be referred to full DPC.
“However, as a GoG application it does not need approval in order to go ahead – as it only goes to DPC for guidance. But the Trust also points out that this was not tabled at this week’s meeting of the DPC.
“When asked why, the Ministers informed that they were awaiting the draft design which would be circulated via round robin that afternoon. This has not been the case and instead work on the installation has begun,” said the Trust.
The second Government statement explained that the artist Ben Eine works by designing his art on site and therefore it had not been possible to have a final proposal available until Tuesday afternoon after he was in Gibraltar.
“This was immediately posted on the Planning Portal. Government was aware of the subcommittee’s non-approval. It was also aware of the Trust’s own views as they had written to Government a few days earlier. Those views were taken on board in the process, with consideration being given to such things as ensuring the facade was in a sufficiently good state and ensuring also that the integrity of the building was not compromised in any way. The Government took the decision to proceed,” said the Government.
Meanwhile in its statement the Trust strongly urges Government bind itself to the DPC process “once and for all” it questioned where was the public consultation that formed part of the planning process and why DPC protocol has been disregarded?
The Trust insisted that “in this case it is a paint job on a historic building, but it could easily be a demolition passed through the system in this way.”
The Trust said it was not generally opposed to public art installations and organised street art as it believed such installations added an extra layer of interest to Gibraltar and could even be focused to enhance heritage aspects and open them up to a whole new audience and demographic.
“Art and its various expressions have a significant role to play and are a part of our collective Heritage, more so with Gibraltar being home to a wealth of talented artists and established events, both past and present,” it said.
But putting aside the installation itself the Trust sees the execution of the artwork on this building at this moment in time as being counterproductive to the conservation of this building.
“The building requires a full external refurbishment before any painting of any sort, otherwise, how will the artwork be curated going forward? The repair and restoration of the envelope of the building is essential to the sustainability of the investment in any internal refurbishments and the long-term survival of the building,” said the statement.
THE ART INSTALLATION
In its statement the Government said it hoped to be able to announce further projects for the creation of street murals by local artists very soon. The full details of the proposed initiative are still not known.
Heritage and the Environment Minister Dr John Cortes with responsibility for Urban Renewal said the Government was committed to revitalising Gibraltar and improving various areas that are currently in need of renewal.
“This urban regeneration initiative will serve to enhance this programme and will add a new dimension to our urban landscape, bringing together culture and heritage,” he said.
Meanwhile Minister for Culture Steven Linares spoke of being proud that the Culture team working alongside other Government departments – Environment, Heritage and Town Planning – were putting in place policy and procedures that will promote street art as part of the local cultural environment.
“The Gibraltar Government is fully committed to creating these street art initiatives in order to support its urban renewal plan. I am delighted that Ben Eine is in Gibraltar to kick start this initiative,” he said.
Gibraltar Cultural Services (GCS) on behalf of the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Heritage and the Environment, has been tasked with overseeing the first part of this art project.
Ben Eine is known for his alphabet lettering in shop shutters and walls in England, France and Sweden. Before being involved in commercial graffiti, Eine was a famous and highly credible writer in the underground London graffiti scene.
An artist of Mr Eine’s standing, said the Government, was in huge demand around the world and his availability during this time was a key factor in not losing the opportunity of having such a major player in the world of street art in our midst.
In relation to the wider street art initiative, it said this was now in its final preparatory stages and the Heritage Trust could rest assured it would be invited to participate both as a member of the Urban Renewal Committee and in its own right.
“Ben Eine brings to Gibraltar world class street art for the first time ever, such as is seen in major cities around the world in many different contexts. Beauty is of course, in the eye of the beholder. It will not be to the liking of all, but certainly will be to the liking of many,” said the Government.