Could the work of Banksy be listed?

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23 August 2011

A study by a member of Burges Salmon’s specialist planning team has explored whether the work of the well-known British street artist, Banksy, could be protected as a listed asset. Solicitor, John Webster, undertook the research as an advanced postgraduate student in the University of Bristol’s School of Law. His study, published in the Journal of Planning & Environment Law, seeks to address whether the works of Banksy, given their cultural and financial value, could benefit from the protection of the Listed Building Acts.

In 2006, when a piece of Banksy’s work appeared on a blank wall of a clinic overlooking Park Street in Bristol, the city council took the unusual step of holding an online poll asking the public for their view whether it should be kept or removed. The poll gave a result of 93 per cent in favour of keeping the work. In 2009, at the time of the ‘Banksy versus Bristol Museum’ exhibition in the city, the council then took the step of carefully removing the results of an overnight paintball attack, which had covered parts of the wall with blue paint.

“There is clearly a strong interest in Banksy's work that appears to be celebrated in popular culture as an artist in his own right,” says John. “It can be argued that his work, due to its political and social statements, carries a cultural significance in modern society. The public has indicated that this needs to be kept and by extension, preserved. An application for listing is one of these methods. The effect of Listing would also ensure that the work could be preserved for future generations and grants could be applied for to preserve the work.

“A positive approach by local authorities to graffiti finds itself at conflict with existing legislation, which is aimed entirely at prevention and removal. These powers can override the intentions of the property's owner. Even if the owner of a wall wishes the graffiti to stay, the local authority could still serve a notice if in the authorities opinion is detrimental to the amenity of an area.”

Support for a listing application for a Banksy may be found within the recent Grade II listing of the Abbey Road Crossing. Famous due to its appearance on the front cover of the Beatles Album, English Heritage took the view that the asphalt and zebra stripes applied to the road itself were capable of being listed as a structure.

On listing, John Penrose, the Minister for Tourism and Heritage, stated: “This London zebra crossing is no castle or cathedral but, thanks to the Beatles and a ten minute photo-shoot one August morning in 1969, it has just as strong a claim as any to be seen as part of our heritage and as such it merits the extra protection that Grade II listing provides.”

There are currently no English Heritage Guidance documents on street art or graffiti. English Heritage is directed towards preserving the historic environment rather looking forward from “prospective” heritage of the present and saving for future generations.

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