Thirteen days ago, the artist Maser finished his “Repeal the 8th” mural on the outside wall of the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar and packed up his paints.
Now, it’s unclear whether the red heart and white vintage letters will be able to stay.
On one side, a flurry of emails and complaints – from whom is yet unknown – to the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and Dublin City Council.
Ultimately, it looks like the council’s planning department will decide what should happen.
The Department of Arts, Etc. have had 100 emails so far complaining about the mural, but a response from its press office said it isn’t getting involved.
“The Project Arts Centre enjoys curatorial independence, and the Minister therefore will not be intervening,” it said in an email.
The Project Arts Centre is on a long-term lease from the Temple Bar Cultural Trust so it is kind of a public building, but the department isn’t interested.
“Project Arts Centre is a private company,” says Project Arts Artistic Director Cian O’Brien. “We’re not a public body in the sense that the National Museum or IMMA would be.”
But they are still subject to planning regulations.
Under the planning regulations, you don’t usually need planning permission to paint the outside of a building or structure.
But if you’re painting a mural that isn’t on a hoarding or a temporary structure, then you do.
Three Murals Later
On 11 July, Dublin City Council received a complaint to their planning department relating to the artwork. (The council couldn’t confirm who filed the complaint.)
In addition to the department’s 100 email complaints, O’Brien of the Project Arts Centre said he also got several complaints, some about the content of the mural, others about the perceived planning issues.
“I imagine the city will have to enter some kind of formal process,” said O’Brien. “In that case we’d have to figure out what our options are. From my point of view, I would really hope to keep the artwork there as long as possible.”
The funny thing about the wave of complaints is that it’s not the first time that Project Arts Centre has put a mural in that spot.
In April 2015, artist SUMS ONE painted a Yes campaign mural on the outside of the building that remained in place until the following January, when artist Will St Leger painted the words “Troubles Fade Out In The Open”.
But this is the first time the Project Arts Centre has faced complaints.
“In my time at Project Arts we’ve had two works, two mural artworks prior to the Maser piece,” says O’ Brien. “We didn’t know we needed planning permission for murals as we never had any complaints so it never became an issue.”
O’Brien says he’s not sure what their next step is, if they’ll apply for planning permission or not. “As a public building, not necessarily a public institution …we’ll work with the city,” he says. “We don’t want to break the law.”
Public Space for Public Art
So it looks like the complaint will now wend its way through the planning department and be ruled on by an enforcement officer.
It’s entirely a matter for the planning department, says Ray Yeates, Dublin City Council’s arts officer.
Dublin City Council does have a designated space for street art on Shaw Lane just off South Richmond Street, said DCC planning department officer Siobhan Maher.
Art is okay there, she said. “It has an agreed planning exemption and is in partnership with Dublin City Council, in addition it is subject to a number of conditions and is curated by a Street Artist,” she said.
It was the same deal with the “Love the Lanes” project in 2014, which was run by the council at Crampton Court near the Project Arts Centre.
On Saturday, a group of city councillors from across parties, except Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, publicly voiced their support in an open letter to the Project Arts Cente for the mural.
“The objections to it are politically motivated,” says Rebecca Moynihan, a Labour councillor who is deputy lord mayor, and has said she will use that position to highlight the need to repeal the eighth amendment.
“I think this semi-censorship of artistic expression and using legal mechanisms available to censor artistic expression is actually a much bigger issue,” she said.
Ultimately, says Moynihan, Project Arts Centre is a private company that pay their rent and did not use taxpayer money for the mural.
“Even so, taxpayer money is used in the production of art and we don’t specify what political stances artists have to take in that and that’s a very fundamental principle in a democracy, that you don’t interfere with the self-expression of artists,” she said.