Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Re-imaging Communities Programme

Here is an interesting development on the community murals front. I have mixed feelings about this - on the one hand it’s great to see a positive transition to messages of hope and peace, on the other hand I think politically motivated murals also have a place. What do you think?

Re-imaging Communities Programme

Re-Imaging Communities is a three year programme that will help all communities in urban and rural areas to focus on positive ways to express who they are and what culture means to them. The programme aims to replace divisive murals and emblems with positive images and to develop mural art and public art such as sculpture, street furniture and mosaic. In order to help achieve a peaceful, inclusive and stable society, we believe that communities and agencies need to work together to remove the barriers, such as flags, emblems and offensive murals, which divide communities and act as a source of conflict.

This programme will encourage local communities to work creatively in tackling these issues, connecting the arts and artists to areas not usually associated with them and allowing art to enrich communities. They will be locally tailored and community driven.

- Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/5163170.stm

£3.3m going to replacing murals
Monday, 10 July 2006, 12:31 GMT 13:31 UK

The government has been giving more details of how £3.3m is to be spent replacing paramilitary murals in NI. It has said the scheme will be open to all communities.

NIO Minister David Hanson said the Re-Imaging Communities Programme would give people the opportunity to reclaim public spaces for their community.

"We want to improve prospects, build community capacity, improve public service and ultimately free communities from paramilitary influence," he said.

Culture Minister Maria Eagle said the programme would have a positive impact on communities.

"The purpose of the 'Re-Imaging Communities Programme' will be to engage local people and their communities in finding ways of replacing divisive murals and emblems with more positive imagery.

"New murals and public art will transform parks, housing estates and built-up areas across Northern Ireland, celebrating the aspirations of the whole community and helping people feel part of their own local community."

New murals which have been painted in loyalist areas of Belfast recently include portraits of football legend George Best, the building of the Titanic, decorated soldier Blair Mayne and David Healey scoring for Northern Ireland against England last year.

A UDA mural in Tullycarnet has now been replaced by that of Catholic war hero James Magennis, who received the Victoria Cross.

Frankie Gallagher, from the Ulster Political Research Group, which is linked to the UDA, said replacing murals in Tullycarnet in east Belfast had already been a success.

"We were ahead of the game to say something positive," he said.

"It was a big risk at the time and we were quite frightened and apprehensive at times and wondered how would this be taken.

"But after we did it, people in Tullycarnet, pensioners and right down the age scale were proud of our estate and the message we were sending out."

Belfast Alliance councillor Tom Ekin welcomed the new funding, adding that the money would be well spent "if it helped people to move on from the past".

"I think murals have reflected a time in our history and they must change as time has moved on," he said.

"More people are starting to say, indeed, the whole city, the whole of Northern Ireland is reflecting this, change is happening."

However, SDLP North Belfast assembly member Alban Maginness said people should not be paid to remove paramilitary murals.

"It is clear that any paramilitary murals designed to intimidate or mark out territory should be removed," Mr Maginness said.

"Indeed their very existence is illegal. That is why today's announcement really beggars belief.

Old masters change murals: Northern Ireland's political street art is one of the main tourist attractions for visitors to its principal cities of Belfast and Londonderry.

In the second of two reports, the BBC News website's Marie Irvine reports on the moves to change the face of some of east Belfast's loyalist paramilitary inspired art.

Paul Hoey is a self-confessed "bad boy".

At least that's how he introduces himself to me with a rueful grin when I meet the lanky loyalist for a tour of the political street art of east Belfast.

Hoey is referring to his past. He is simply wise enough to acknowledge that in some eyes he will never escape the label he earned as a former UVF prisoner who served five years in prison during Northern Ireland's Troubles.

Now, like so many ex-paramilitaries, he is involved in a variety of community projects.

Paul is meeting me to explain the reasoning behind the decision - made over the last year or so - to transform some of east Belfast's hard-edged militaristic murals into softer canvasses.

The new emphasis will be on celebrating the achievements in sport, literature or music of the "sons of Ulster" rather than the dogs of war.

There's no doubt they are a tourist attraction and they help generate income for the wee shops along the road.

Traditionally, the art of the paramilitaries in this part of the city, like many others has been obsessed with the insignia and weaponry of the paramilitary world.

The painted images often feature balaclava clad men, in guns and camouflage uniform.

Although the murals are striking they are also a fairly frightening clue to the darker side of conflict for visitors and those passing from one part of town to another.

But Paul Hoey says they are not about staking out turf or intimidating outsiders.

"They're just a legacy of the last 30 odd years. It's not about marking out territory - if it was there could be another 50 or 60 murals up."

In fact, he says, the UDA's murals along the Newtownards Road at the locally nicknamed "Freedom corner" continue to be a major draw for visitors.

"You get busloads of tourists stopping there. You see people trooping out and getting their photos taken in front of them.

"There's no doubt they are a tourist attraction and they help generate income for the wee shops along the road."

But it is changing some of the murals that is dominating discussion at present.

A year or so ago, after much community consultation a decision was taken to remove some of the old warlike UVF and Red Hand Commando murals in favour of a softer approach.

Paul explains the thinking: "If there is somebody coming to invest in east Belfast and there's a militaristic mural on a wall near where they are thinking of opening a business, it will put them off."

To date five murals have been changed and another is under consideration.

"They won't all come down, that is a nailed on certainty," said Hoey who adds that many people in the UVF are waiting to see if the UDA will reciprocate its move and take down any of their murals too.

Among the new images are paintings of footballing legend George Best and the children's writer C.S. Lewis.

Belfast born singer Van Morrison is understood to have turned down a request to feature his face on a mural.

The murals which have been changed are simply painted over, one canvas disappearing under another like the hidden paintings of the old masters.

"They're not lost, we take photographs before, during and after" explains Paul.
"You can also buy copies of those in the Union Jack shop along the road here."

Despite the changes, the wall space where the murals stand is still associated with the UVF and Paul Hoey says this creates a reticence among the artists to be identified in public.

"Way back when the Troubles first started, you had people you wouldn't think would be involved from a variety of backgrounds like school teachers, civil servants, a whole range of different people who've been involved as artists on the murals.

"Obviously, there is the connotation that if the artist is doing UVF murals then maybe that would make him part of the UVF organisation. "These people aren't involved in anything they are just artists but there is still targeting going on in Northern Ireland." It is a peculiar state of affairs for outsiders to think of a paramilitary group commissioning artists to paint pieces but that is exactly what happens. A firm is contracted in to put up the scaffolding, insurance is taken out against accidents and the rough work is completed by less skilled workers before the main artist comes in.

He will sketch and then fill in the final outline, sometimes by hand, sometimes using a projector to scan the image onto the wall. As a result, each mural has a final cost of something in the region of £3,500 to £4,000.

Perhaps it is not a bad price for a one-off original.

Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL). Northern Ireland



A new £3.3 million arts programme aimed at tackling visible signs of sectarianism and racism has been launched by Ministers David Hanson and Maria Eagle.

Speaking at the Belfast Wheel in King William Park at the junction of the Lisburn Road and University Road, Social Development Minister, David Hanson said: “The Re-Imaging Communities Programme is one of 62 actions included in the Renewing Communities Action Plan. I believe that each of these, in its on way, will contribute to a better future for Northern Ireland – a shared future.

”Renewing Communities sets a challenging agenda for change for all of us. We want to improve life prospects, build community capacity, improve public service and ultimately to free communities from paramilitary influence. This will require a genuinely joined up approach from Government, a good example of this we can see in this announcement today.”

Culture Minister, Maria Eagle said: “The purpose of the ‘Re-Imaging Communities Programme’ will be to engage local people and their communities in finding ways of replacing divisive murals and emblems with more positive imagery.

“New murals and public art will transform parks, housing estates and built-up areas across Northern Ireland, celebrating the aspirations of the whole community and helping people feel part of their own local community.”

The new programme will support a wide range of community led projects with grants of up to £5,000 for small projects and up to £50,000 for larger projects. It builds on the success of the Arts Council’s previous ‘Art of Regeneration’ programme.

Maria Eagle continued: “Investment in the arts makes a very positive impact on building bridges across the community divide. The arts bring people with shared and different ideas and aspirations together on common ground in a way which will contribute to a shared future. Government is creating the right conditions to make this happen through schemes like the one we are launching today.

“The Belfast Wheel is an example of the type of community project that the ‘Re-imaging Communities’ programme can achieve. Public art of this kind has a key role to play in raising aspirations and in promoting positive community identity and cohesion. This is important for the regeneration of our communities both urban and rural, bringing hope, pride and economic prosperity.

“As a result of today’s announcement I am confident that we can look forward to many more creative and interesting projects across Northern Ireland,” Maria Eagle added.

The Minister also announced a new £100,000 ‘Place, Identity and Arts’ small grants programme, aimed at fostering arts projects promoted by groups which have difficulties on religious and moral grounds with accessing funding from the National Lottery. This programme is also one of the actions in the Renewing Communities Action Plan.

Arts Council Chairman, Rosemary Kelly paid tribute to the partners in the initiative and added: "The Arts Council is delighted to be taking the lead role in delivering this important programme which places creative regeneration at the heart of work in local community neighbourhoods. The Re-Imaging Communities Programme will help all communities in both urban and rural areas of Northern Ireland to focus on broader expressions of civic and cultural identity and to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone."

Further details of both the ‘Re-Imaging Communities Programme’ and ‘Place, Identity and Arts’ programme can be obtained from the Arts Council for Northern Ireland (ACNI) .

1 comment:

lee mclaughlin; architectural design student said...

If we look at the work of Lebbeus Woods it is apparent that these political problems are headlined in his work and accepted for the cultural impact that they generate, no matter how antagonistic or vivid. However, in his appropriation they are transformed in a manner that creatively seeks to transcend and consecrate them. He has dedicated a career to creating radical new forms of space that are responsive to the uncertainty and continual shifts of contemporary society. Though speculative, his work is grounded in real-world conditions and aims to provoke new ways of thinking; for instance, in Sarajevo, he was trying to speculate on how the war could be turned around, into something that people could build the new Sarajevo on. It wasn’t about cleaning up the mess or fixing up the damage; it was more about a transformation in the society and the politics and the economics through architecture. It was a scenario – and, I suppose, it was a “what if?

He goes on to say that there’s not enough of that thinking today in relation to cities that have been faced with sudden and dramatic – even violent – transformations, either because of natural or human causes. But we need to be able to speculate, to create these scenarios, and to be useful in a discussion about the next move. No one expects these ideas to be easily implemented. It’s not like a practical plan that you should run out and do. But, certainly, the new scenario gives you a chance to investigate a direction. Of course, being an architect, I’m very interested in the specifics of that direction – you know, not just a verbal description but: this is what it might look like” (Woods, Without Walls; An interview with Lebbeus Woods Oct 2007).

The ‘discussion about the next move’ is something that i believe could have potential in Belfast just as it did in Sarajevo. “Old cities continue to be reduced by the same violence, and for the same old reasons. They will become new cities. When they are rebuilt, on what form of knowledge will it be, and to what - and whose - ends?” (Woods, 1997, pp15).

If critical discussion is generated in Belfast [with regard to the Murals or to the Peacelines], amongst planners, architects, politicians and the people can new forms of order and knowledge be established in a collective effort?

“It is natural to want to replace something important lost to the destruction of war. Ideologies count on this desire among people, and thus make restoration (or the promise of it) their first principle of reconstruction. They believe that the phoenix can again rise from the its own ashes. Important civic and cultural monuments no doubt should be restored to their undamaged condition, as tokens of past coherence that might serve as models of civilized thought and activity. However, such restorations inevitably reaffirms a past social order that ended in war. The attempt to restore the fabric of old cities to their former condition is, therefore, a folly that not only denies postwar conditions, but impedes the emergence of an urban fabric and a way of life based upon them.” (Woods, 1997, pp15)

To re-assert a question i have set myself in an academic design thesis with respect to the ‘peacelines’ in Belfast; were these oppressive divisions of corrugated steel and concrete to be overcome, [or similarly the Murals superficially covered up or 'toned down] would the physical and factual reminders of separation in Belfast, be sacrificed as in Berlin when the the Maur (wall/Barrier) was reduced to nothing - an enforced forgetting in the interests of a new unity? Is this better than violent conflict at least? To which i would point out that the answer would arguably be ‘yes’ in respect to continued violence in Northern ireland but the absence of visible lessons of past failures could potentially encourage the lessons to be lost just as quickly as the structures themselves.

This therefore means that the structures held within Belfast as a manifestation of the conflict, either damaged through its duration or erected as a physical construct of a specific need at a specific time in our culture’s history could bear grounds for this new way of thinking and promote a new knowledge by yielding to them rather than an active denial of their existence enforced by local governments in need of enlightenment.

Architect David Chipperfield alluded to similar conceptions as proposed by Lebbeus Woods. The Neues Museum on Berlin’s Museum Island was left to decay after suffering bomb damage in World War II. The British architect David Chipperfield is now rebuilding a part of Germany’s analogy of the Louvre and is conserving everything that remained without replicating or re-instating what was destroyed. He is filling in the gaps using progressive and modern materials, a blend that has won both friends and foes. Many people want the museum to be restored as exactly as possible to its prewar state. Others, in line with thinking proposed by Woods hail the coexistence of historical evidence and contemporary aesthetics.

In the atrium, the architects have avoided replicating a gold star pattern on the ceiling, leaving panels clean and drawing the eye to the original work. Where paintwork has peeled and flaked away, Chipperfield Architects have sought to fill in the gaps in a lighter shade, leaving it instantly clear what survived and what didn't.

Chipperfield's contribution to Museum Island , which is a Unesco world heritage site, has incensed those he describes as ‘fundamentalist restorers.’ The Gesellschaft Historisches Berlin, or Society for a Historic Berlin, campaigns for the centre of Berlin to be restored as exactly as possible to its prewar state. Yet it and its campaigners seem to be losing their battle and Chipperfield is winning over Berlin's cultural establishment. It was forced to give up an attempt to petition for a referendum because enough signatures could not be attained. At a ceremony in mid-september 2007 to present the unfinished museum, German Culture Minister Bernd Neumann said culture should “not deny the reality of the past”. The most recent museum to reach completion, the neo-baroque Bode, was returned to its former Wilhelmine splendor by architects Heinz Tesar of Vienna and Christoph Fischer of Berlin, who recreated it to look as it did when first built.

Chipperfield points out that such restoration to reconstruct original buildings in their entirety often involves over-painting and removing plaster to ensure consistency; “We are not trying to memorialize the war'' with the design of the Neues Museum, he said. “However, by definition, the way that the building has experienced time is really important.” (Hickely, 2007)

The effect of ‘time’ and ‘historical evidence’ which the Neues Museum [re]design aims to maintain a dialogue with is transparently relative to Lebbeus Woods’s concepts on the ‘scar’ and i believe resolutely applicable to Northern ireland at a critical time in its history. These murals and walls are in effect, physical manifestations that DO reflect a situation, a culture in its history and it is something that we should respect, if not for ourselves but for future generations to understand where they came from and what they came through.

“the scar is a mark of pride, and of honour, both for what has been lost and what has been gained. It cannot be erased, except by the most cosmetic means. It cannot be elevated beyond what is, a mutant tissue, the precursor of unpredictable regeneration.
Acceptance of the scar is an acceptance of existence. Healing is not an illusory, cosmetic process, but something that [by articulating differences] both deeply divides and joins together. The new forms of knowledge, those that give the greatest weight to individual cognition and not to abstractions representing the authority of power external to experience, mandate a society founded on differences, not similarities, between people and things.” (Woods, 1993)

In many respects, looking at the ‘peaceline’ on Cupar Way for example or the many political and paramilitary murals that dress the terrace gables in the partisan communities in Belfast generates a completely new order of things when presumed in this type of context - it could be a new way of organizing and conceptualizing space between two bitterly diverse communities. If the ‘wall’ or the mural is accepted in such respects a new train of thought could posit something radically different than their inherent initial single-mindedness.

Both the mural and the wall in belfast must be respected as an integrity, embodying a history that must not be swept under the carpet, of superficially painted over in haste in a rapid desire to move-on and succumb to the homogeneity of globalization.

there is an apparent lack of critical discussion, thinking and action on issues both artistic,architectural and political in Belfast. I can only comment with personal intuition from growing up in Northern Ireland through its political and violent ‘Troubles’ but the lack of this critical discussion and the issues that it could/ should be addressing are continually,willfully and frustratingly airbrushed for posterity.

It is however, understandable why this is so; perhaps its because we have gone through a particularly turbulent time over the last few decades and the wounds have not yet healed; perhaps its easier and better for some to not have to remember the past horrors. Perhaps its because Northern Ireland, now benefitting from peace, is entering the ever-growing consumer society that really doesn't care. Perhaps people associate political thinking and action only with being part of political parties. Northern Ireland, through peace, has entered the globalist western world of inward investment at a critical time - a time where the western world view seems to be slowly going through a massive paradigm shift in the face of a militant middle-east crisis, with the result that we are beginning to ask new questions, develop new ways of doing things, making new methods and places for our culture to talk with itself in a meaningful way - these questions could be carried through in Northern Ireland to an extent not seen elsewhere in Europe and some of the thinking in Woods’ work may help to generate such a vibrant and creatively diverse city.