An Irish arts collective has called for an overhaul of planning laws after being sued for creating a mural of Sir David Attenborough.
The work was unveiled in the Portobello area of Dublin in 2019 to celebrate the naturalist’s 93rd birthday and was warmly received by local residents.
However, the group, known as Subset, were taken to court by Dublin City Council for failing to secure planning permission for the mural and two others.
Under the Planning and Development Act 2000, Irish artists must seek permission from the local authority to create a mural.
“We all say it’s so serious it’s a joke,” one of Subset’s co-founders – who asked to remain anonymous – told Sky News. “It’s very difficult, very stressful.”
“There are many ramifications, which make it incredibly difficult for us to pursue our larger vision and our greater ideal for Irish arts and culture, while we are constantly embroiled in legal proceedings.”
“All of this makes day-to-day life incredibly difficult. The impact it has on the crew, our resources, our time, our energy, it’s difficult.”
The collective says it only paints murals with the full consent of building owners.
Henry Hopkins, owner of the house with the David Attenborough piece on its gable, is a fan of their work. He told Sky News that before he was approached by Subset the wall was continuously graffitied and was “an eyesore”. This problem had largely ceased once the mural was painted.
But no planning permission had been sought for the piece, nor for “Horseboy,” a mural of a boy atop a horse, or Think & Wonder, a mental health-themed piece that appeared on the gable end of a cafe on Grantham Street. . The council issued enforcement warnings to Subset, demanding that they remove the murals, but they refused.
“We’re not just going to bend the knee and turn around for authority,” the band’s spokesperson said. “Especially when we believe that the stance or stance we are taking is one that we believe will benefit Irish arts and culture, and Irish society at large.”
The collective calls for new legislation to remove the role of local authorities in the creation of art in public space.
They want a model like the one found in Sydney, where artists can create a mural with the building owner’s consent, as long as the material is harmless.
The spokesperson said that “our ultimate motivation is a change in legislation which will be a catalyst for more creative exploits, more artistic endeavors and generally an improved society”.
For now, the case against Subset is in limbo. Dublin District Court recently heard that the council wanted to strike out their case, but Subset’s legal team fear it was just a ‘tactical move’ before the council started fresh proceedings against artists in a higher court. The judge assigned to the case adjourned the case until September.
In a statement, Dublin City Council told Sky News it could not comment as ‘the murals cases continue to be the subject of ongoing legal proceedings’ and ‘further legal proceedings are also being considered. concerning painted murals in the public domain within the city”.
However, speaking in general terms, an official said the council fully supports public artwork in appropriate locations, and once approved through the appropriate channel.
“Public art is incredibly valuable to a society and to a culture”
Dublin City Council had authorized at least 35 large-scale public art installations in the past year and had previously commissioned Subset to paint murals in approved locations.
Murals and other forms of art in public space have proliferated in Ireland in recent years.
At the Icon Walk, a public art installation on Bedford Lane in Dublin, there are approved murals and a piece of council-commissioned tile hanging above.
Alternative Dublin’s Eric Conlon leads walking groups, guiding locals and tourists through the capital’s many examples of street art. He says the murals discourage anti-social activity.
“In this aisle, this public art gallery is constantly bringing people down the aisle,” Mr. Conlon said. “Before, there wouldn’t have been many visitors, but now there are always hundreds of people walking around here. This traffic reduces the problems that would have been found here before.”
The subset spokesperson said: “I think it’s pretty widely accepted that public art is incredibly valuable to a society and a culture. The bone of contention seems to be how it takes shape and how it manifests, and the process by which it happens.”
The group says it is losing money as individuals and businesses appear reluctant to hire Subset as legal proceedings continue.
The co-founder of the collective is resigned to the situation. “It’s just another day,” he said. “It’s just…bite the gumshield and finish the fight.”
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