Seek permission or ask for forgiveness? Activating art on the High Street.

Kerry O'Coy
Nov 18 · 12 min read
Image for post
Image for post
Pasting a large Jeremyville mural on a disused billboard — without permission (shush)

For a few years, I co-produced an event in Birmingham called Eye Candy. It was set up as a bi-annual illustration and design event where we invited international, UK and locally-based artists and illustrators to paint walls, host workshops and talks, and sell affordable art.

The event was originally produced in partnership with Southside BID (home to the city’s Gay Village and Chinese Quarter) and the BID’s manager Julia was instrumental in brokering relationships with local businesses and getting permission for us to paint on the side of buildings, car park walls and erect work on disused spaces (as well as dangle giant inflatable tentacles out of empty office block windows).

Image for post
Image for post
Giant tentacles by Filthy Luker for Eye Candy

Being scared to activate…

It isn’t that easy to get up and paint a wall; it takes confidence to start to change a space that doesn’t belong to you. Our problem on the High Street is usually about understanding (or knowing) who owns what.

Image for post
Image for post
Seven9Signs artist Jim painting the Bostin commission piece on Dudley High Street

And of course, someone asked: ‘Do you have permission?’

When you get caught out… art activism

The work on Dudley High Street stemmed from workshops with people from around the area — our artists Dan and Jim hosted several weeks of signwriting classes getting ideas for words, chatting about projects, sharing stories, connecting communities and connecting with people. It was important to us that people felt involved in the project and that they got something out of it, that they had a say and felt involved.

Image for post
Image for post
Hosting free signwriting workshops with artists Dan & Jim for Paint Dudley
Image for post
Image for post
Image — Press Association, Jen Reid stands in front of the statue by Marc Quinn
Image for post
Image for post
Image — Banksy

“Transport for London confirmed on Tuesday evening that the work was removed “some days ago” due to strict anti-graffiti policy, but that it would welcome Banksy to recreate his message “in a suitable location”.
Quote from The Guardian. Read the article here.

“…in a suitable location” = a place where permission would be granted by those in authority. Of course we all know: Banksy doesn’t quite work like that.

Image for post
Image for post
Wooden Geo Fox by Anna Garforth commissioned by Eye Candy in 2013
Image for post
Image for post
Fafi commissioned by Eye Candy

“I knew what I wanted to do in terms of design. Something quite bold and playful but I gave them some options of different colour palettes because some of my work is quite bright and I wasn’t sure if everyone would like that style all over the street.”

The mural had offered ‘a sense of ownership to their area’ said Walala of the piece. Although the team still had to get permission from the council, luckily London’s Major, Sadiq Khan, had contributed to the project and had seen the value of brightening up the street.

Image for post
Image for post
Walala Parade — image courtesy of Wood Street Walls

CoLab Dudley

Observations, interactions and reflections from a social lab on Dudley High Street

Kerry O'Coy

Written by

Publisher of magazines, team member at CoLab Dudley, Content manager at Creative Black Country

CoLab Dudley

Observations, interactions and reflections from a social lab in Dudley town centre

Kerry O'Coy

Written by

Publisher of magazines, team member at CoLab Dudley, Content manager at Creative Black Country

CoLab Dudley

Observations, interactions and reflections from a social lab in Dudley town centre

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store